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Events of recent weeks bring the wars of “The War Within” into sharp focus. The recently contoured coalition government in Israel recognized for the first time, as government policy, the salience of the sectarian issue, and designated as priorities housing, education, and army service. And, recent news stories report sectarian Haredi rebels in Jerusalem urging army enlistment of young Haredim.
Finally, the forthcoming election of a new chief rabbi offers hope, albeit scant, for significant change in the religious landscape in Israel. There is a cadre of centrist Orthodox rabbis in Israel who insist that the only solution to the Haredi hegemony over Israeli religious life is to develop a parallel rabbinic structure to the Chief Rabbinate.
But centrist candidate David Stav, a leader in the rabbinical organization Tzohar, which seeks reforms of the Israeli Rabbinate, has vowed a major transformation of the Chief Rabbinate, a re-examination of the position of women in religious and social life, an examination of sectarian Haredim and the draft, and a new attitude toward Reform and Conservative Judaism in Israel. Sounds great.
This, however, is the key question: Will the Chief Rabbinate continue to take its marching-orders from the Haredi leadership?
The “religious wars” recounted compellingly in “The War Within” may only be beginning. Stay tuned.
Jerome Chanes, a fellow at the Center for Jewish Studies of the CUNY Graduate Center, is the author of four books on Jewish history, sociology and public affairs.