For years, Israelis have rightly complained about the corruption of Israel's haredi-controlled Rabbinute, and about corruption associated with haredim in general. But what irks most Israelis more than the simple corruption and arrogance is the unwanted rabbinic intrusion in their lives.
Israelis are forced to marry in religious ceremonies. Jews must marry through the Rabbinute, non-Jews through various church and mosque organizations. This gives rabbis draconian power over Jews, which rabbis have used brutally. There are hundreds of cases of Jews, people whose parents converted in Orthodox conversions or who themselves have done so, who have been denied marriage permits and had their Jewish status "revoked" by rabbinic clerks too ignorant to recognize the errors they routinely make and too unfeeling to care about their effects. Jews are abused, humiliated and driven away by ignoramuses with shabby beards and dirty hats. And there is more. Much more.
Avigdor Lieberman, the right wing but secular politician whose party, Yisrael Beteinu just joined the coalition, aims to do something about this. He joined Olmert's coalition only after being promised what Israelis have longed for – a secular alternative to the Rabbinute. Israelis will now be able to choose between a religious marriage or a secular ceremony, like a justice of the peace in the US. If Lieberman gets what he was promised, Jews will finally be able to deal the rabbis out.
The Rabbinute, recognizing that its ship is sinking, is trying an end around – secular marriage for anyone not affiliated with a religion or registered as a Jew. This will help many non-Jewish Russians, but it will do nothing for the rest of us. If Lieberman sticks to his guns, and if the Labor Party can somehow manage to cooperate on a bill they endorse, the Rabbinute's ploy will fail, and Jews will finally be free of these criminals.
How corrupt is the Rabbinute? Very. Israel's former chief rabbi, Yisrael Meir Lau, took payments for weddings (and speeches, and more) when he was chief rabbi. These payments were illegal. He was warned and agreed – after being outed in Ha'aretz – to stop taking these illegal payments. But Lau lied, and continued to take money, and does so even now as he serves as chief rabbi of Tel Aviv. Even though Lau's henchmen claim most, the "lion's share" of the money went to charity, the payments are illegal and Lau knows it. Further, the charities supported are primarily Lau's own, and employ his henchmen and cronies. Lau is a leading candidate for president, backed by Mr. Corruption himself, Ehud Olmert.
This is only one of many such cases of corruption in Israel's haredi-dominated religious Establishment. One could say that absolute rabbinic power corrupts absolutely, and that is true. But it is also true that the system itself is corrupt. Its leaders, its employees, its rank and file are all laced with corruption and cronyism. They're criminals, and they need to be defrocked and stripped of all power immediately. Let's hope Lieberman succeeds. If he does, he'll be the next prime minister.