I have written before about the need to separate state and religion in Israel. If anybody needed a reminder why this separation is essential for the continued vitality and relevance of the Jewish Religion in Israel, the recent political maneuvering in the run-up to the election of the new Chief Rabbis is a case in point.
The Chief Rabbinate of Israel has become just another political office, and a farcical one at that. For the vast majority of Israelis, it is devoid of almost any religious authority or significance. Arab Israelis certainly couldn’t care less; Ultra-Orthodox Jews have their own institutions; most secular Jews do not need the Rabbinate and their only interaction with it is an imposed one (when they want to marry/divorce or when they die); and many in the small National-Religious sector view the Rabbinate as a relic of the past and the Chief Rabbis as puppets doing the bidding of higher forces.
It is a good time to read again the words of Yeshayahu Leibowitz, written more than fifty years ago and still relevant today, perhaps more than ever :
The demand for the separation of religion from the existing secular state derives from the vital religious need to prevent religion from becoming a political tool, a function of the governmental bureaucracy… Religion as an adjunct of a secular authority is the antithesis of true religion… From a religious standpoint there is no greater abomination than an atheistic-clerical regime… We have a rabbinate invested by the state, which receives its appointment, authority, and pay from the secular government and confines itself, therefore, to the functions that this government allots to it… There is no greater degradation of religion than maintenance of its institutions by a secular state…
(“A Call for the Separation of Religion and State”, 1959)