Rabbi Scores Religious Establishment
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Rabbi Scores Religious Establishment

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A rabbi who is a Labor member of the Knesset deplored the state of religion in Israel and delivered a stinging attack on the religious establishment which, he charged in a Knesset speech yesterday, was involved more in politics than in its spiritual calling. Rabbi Menachem Hacohen, the religious mentor of the Labor Party and Histadrut, blamed his own party for the state of affairs no less than the National Religious Party which controls the Ministry for Religious Affairs and the local religious councils that function in most Israeli cities and towns.

Rabbi Hacohen spoke during the annual Knesset debate on the Religious Affairs Ministry. He charged that rabbis were increasingly becoming State-employed kashrut watchdogs while their traditional role as spiritual leaders has diminished.

The local religious councils were often sloppy and inefficient in the use of the large funds made available to them, Rabbi Hacohen said, adding, the Chief Rabbinate itself was paralyzed by discord. He was referring to the perpetual feuding between the Ashkenazic and Sephardic Chief Rabbis, Shlomo Goren and Ovadia Yossef, since their election three years ago.


Rabbi Hacohen, himself an Orthodox rabbi, also assailed the yeshivas which, he said, were for the most part sealed off from the world around them and played virtually no role in the life of the State. He charged that most yeshiva students, legally exempt from military duties on religious grounds, failed to assume their fair share of the burden of national defense. The religious courts (bet din)

Although the Labor Party rabbi has long urged the separation of religion and State in Israel in the best interests of both, he did not refer to that issue in his Knesset speech. Instead, he urged Religious Affairs Minister Yitzhak Rafael to undertake a thorough overhaul of his ministry with a view to improving the services it is supposed to provide the citizenry.


But, Rabbi Hacohen was not the only Knesseter to inveigh against the Ministry for Religious Affairs and Rafael personally. Likud’s Gideon Patt called on Premier Yitzhak Rabin to dismiss Rafael on the grounds that his “negative public image” causes additional tension between religious and irreligious Israelis.

Aguda’s Shlomo Lorincz aimed his attacks at Rabbi Goren, whom he compared to Idi Amin of Uganda. Both of them liked to wear their Israeli paratroopers wings, he pointed out, and both of them practiced tyranny and vengeance and dictatorship.

The Independent Liberal’s Yehuda Shaari demanded that Conservative and Reform rabbis also be recognized by the Israeli authorities. Under the present rules, only Orthodox rabbis are recognized. He called for the appointment of one Chief Rabbi instead of the present two who, he said, feuded ceaselessly.

Rafael said he would ignore the attacks on himself and his ministry which, he said, were tendentious. He conceded, though, that a good deal needed to be done to improve religious services provided by his ministry. In the vote, all coalition members supported the motion “taking note” of the Minister’s statement.

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