The Rabbanut is organized, has a clear vision, and serves a vital role in protecting the Jewish nature – at least as the Rabbanut defines “Jewish” – of the State of Israel.
But last week, The Economist ran a troubling article about how the Rabbanut appears to have taken aim at the Karaite community. (See The Economist, Who’s A Jew: An old religious argument once again rears its angry head, May 18, 2013, Jerusalem.)
According to the article, “In recent months, rabbis working for Israel’s ministry of religion have deemed Karaite marriages invalid, fined their butchers for claiming to be kosher, and demanded that Karaites marrying Orthodox Jewish women should convert, sometimes having to undergo tavila, or baptism.”
Seriously? Is this middle ages?
Sadly, it’s worse than in the middle ages; in the middle ages there was a healthy degree of communication between Karaites and Rabbanites. (To be fair, though, it’s not like the Rabbanut is only focusing on Karaites today.)
This latest strife between the Rabbanut and the Karaites reminded me of the historical debates regarding whether the English should invite both Karaites and Rabbanites to settle in England in the 17th century.
One of the individuals helping to set England’s policy believed that the Karaites should not be invited. His opinion was summarized as follows: if the Karaites were invited, “the rabbinic Jews would not agree to come because the two groups were always in conflict with each other and could not live peacefully side by side.”*
Interestingly, this same individual believed it was the Rabbanites who oppressed the Karaites. Well, it took a full 65 years to break the “relative harmony,” as The Economist called it, between Rabbanites and Karaites in Israel. I wonder how long any harmony would have lasted in England.
Despite all this, I stand by my assertion that the Rabbanut plays an important role in Israel. My respect for the faith and devotion of Rabbanites is one reason I started this blog – so that Karaites (both new and historic) might develop a greater sense of pride in their own tradition and contributions to Jewish history and (more importantly) Jewish future.
The answer to the current religious disharmony, in my opinion, is not to disband the Rabbanut; rather, I hope that one day Israel fully recognizes the Karaut and other Jewish movements who want to set their own halacha.
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*See Wilensky, Mordecai; Thomas Barlow’s and John Dury’s Attitude Towards the Readmission of the Jews To England, The Jewish Quarterly Review, New Ser., Vol. 50, No. 3. (Jan., 1960), pp. 256-268, n.61.