11/21/2006

Austritt Today

German Orthodoxy in the mid-19th Century developed a doctrine called austritt to deal with the fact that the Jewish communities were being dominated by Reform. The doctrine essentially meant that the Orthodox community disenfranchised itself from the established community, and set up a separate communal structure. This was highly important where separation between church and state was incomplete, since having an independent community meant that the government recognized you as an independent religious community, not beholden in any way to the community from which you separated. R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch is the most well-known proponent of this doctrine, which remains implicit in Chareidi politics until today, and continues to me debated in some form or another, as it was debated then (yes, there were German Orthodox Rabbis opposed to it).

Fast forward 150 years, and the same situation is reversed in Israel. There’s no separation between church and state. In order to obtain certain basic services (basically, getting married, buried, divorced, or converted, but it extends, in the case of Judasim, to kashrut and cases seen by the Rabbinical courts as well) one must belong to a recognized religion. If you don’t really belong to any, tough luck. Find one. The largest and most influential religion in Israel, obviously, is Judaism. Those ‘Jewish’ services are controlled by a relatively loose confederation of Rabbis under the umbrella of the Chief Rabbinate. This Rabbinate has historically ignored all non-Orthodox expressions of Judaism, and has increasingly ignored even Orthodox expressions which are not beholden to a particular Chareidi power structure.

The Religious Zionist community continues to basically accept this state of affairs. There are still plenty of RZ Rabbis who hold Rabbanut-recognized positions (especially as Rabbis of small yishuvim, moshavim and kibbutzim, in which the election of a local Rabbi is least characterized by political horse-trading and most characterized by the needs and wants of the constituency), which means that there is essentially a Religious-Zionist sub-Rabbinate within the Chief Rabbinate, with its own hierarchy and power structure (though less rigid), which tries its best to serve the needs of its constituents and advance its halachic vision of the state.

It is getting increasingly harder to do that. Political horse-trading has reduced the office of Chief Rabbi to a joke; the influence of the Edah Charedis on the Rabbanut is known. For example, the Rabbanut recently changed the law to prevent weddings from being performed by anyone but the holder of a Rabbanut-recognized position. This severely limited the pool of Rabbanim who could do so, and was seen as a direct response to the fact that more and more people were turning to Tzohar and other ‘friendly’ Rabbanim who had semicha but were not necessarily recognized by the Rabbanut. At the same time, more and more Charedi Rabbanim are obtaining Rabbanut recognition, through the Edah Charedit, to perform weddings. Despite all of the nice-making between the Rabbanut and the RCA over the summer, there are still senior members of the Rabbanut court system who will not recognize the conversions of American batei din even if the Rabbanut grants official recognition.

The question is, at what point does this become intolerable? At what point does the Religious Zionist community declare austritt, unbeholden to the dictates of an official government-sponsored Judaism that takes their money and doesn’t answer their religious needs. I suspect (well, more like I know) that the Reform and Conservative communities in Israel are itching for the opportunity to declare themselves free of official Orthodox hegemony in Israel. Historically, Modern Orthodoxy/ Religious Zionism has always seen itself as part of an ‘Orthodoxy’ which includes itself and Charedi elements. Given current trends in Israel specifically, will that trend continue? Or will there be a ‘reverse Austritt’, with other branches of Judaism declaring their official, political dissociation from Chareidi hegemony?

UPDATE: Just saw this. Fuel to the fire.

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