As a Torah-observing, orthodox rabbi, it pains me to say that the greatest obstacle to Torah observance in today’s world does not come from antisemitism and it does not come from assimilation. Rather it’s the result of a usually well-meaning, but highly inadequate (and, unfortunately, occasionally corrupt and often politicized) Rabbinate, especially in Israel where immense political power beckons. The establishment Rabbanut in Israel is mired in the past, committed to a modality of galut (exile) halacha which, certainly critical for our survival in the past, is now an obstacle to our future geula (redemption). In galut (the diaspora) we needed, and still need, self-protection to maintain our wisdom and traditions when faced with both active and passive attempts to remove Torah from us (and/or us from Torah). Thankfully, that is not the primary battle in today’s sovereign Medinat Yisrael (in spite of some media and political opposition).
I often ask why the “establishment” Rabbinate is not enthusiastically leading the efforts to mold and discover this new modality. Why isn’t active the engagement of the entire Jewish people in Israel in “bringing the Mashiach” (itself a problematic, and perhaps obsolete, way of thinking about Geula, Redemption, since, in the final analysis it remains passive–having someone else do it for us), creating Geula, rebuilding the Holy Temple so the Infinite Divine Energy, the Or Ein Sof, can flow with all its strength and vigor into our world, the goal of our leading rabbis?
I’ll accept that some, in deep knowledge, feel that the time is not yet ripe, that we’d be acting disastrously prematurely. But I suspect that the great mass of resistance and inertia comes from those who don’t know how to move forward. After all, with a two-thousand year momentum of maintaining a “holding pattern”, we’ll all be operating in new territory. Not only is this unsettling to many (although exhilarating for others), but it’s inevitable that we’ll make mistakes along the way. (Do our rabbinic leaders sufficiently trust God that He will surely guide our way?)
Even our wisest and best trained rabbis today lack the connection, the devekut, possessed last by our Talmudic sages. At some point, immediately due to Roman persecution, “real” smicha ended. Smicha, not to be confused with modern rabbinic ordination, meant much more than rights to a title and authorization to teach and to make halachic rulings. In it’s original form in meant receiving the deepest truths of Torah as first transmitted from Moshe to Yehoshua, through the Nevi’im (Prophets) to our earliest generations of sages, in a direct transmission even including the physical gesture of laying on the hands of the rebbe, the teacher, to the student. Whatever we have now, and there have been many wise rabbis who have vigorously taught brilliant students, it’s just not the same.
Perhaps it’s the self-awareness of every rabbi that regardless of the greatness of our own rebbe, regardless of our dedication and success in learning, there is a missing link and that there is infinitely more Torah we don’t know than we ever will know, that leads to their fear of unveiling what we may call Torat Eretz Yisrael, the Torah of today’s and tomorrow’s Land of Israel. Not only might we find that some protections we required in the hostility of galut, what some call “defensive halacha“, are no longer needed (and, some might have even become a burden and obstacle to our next steps), but we’re also on unchartered territory renewing the mitzvot of Eretz Yisrael for a future which includes a Bet HaMikdash (which quite likely might not be based on bronze-age technology), a return to Karbanot (sacrifices which might or might not include animals), the immediate and universal experience of The Shechina, the Divine Presence (perhaps even in a tangible, or at least semi-tangible awareness) and all the other wonders described and promised by our ancestors.
Even our greatest rabbis will be, at first, inadequately trained. That self-knowledge is terrifying and inhibiting. It’s going to be a “whole new ballgame” and we’ll all need to learn anew how, in this ultimately enhanced mode, to live in direct connection with The Creator.
אני מאמין באמונה שלמה (Ani Ma’amin b’Emunah Shlema), I believe with perfect faith, that The Creator is waiting for us, waiting to lead us through this great unknown.
כן יהי רצון, May it be His Will