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February 1, 2013

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, FEBRUARY 1, 2013 IM(;E 11A By Jonathan D. Sarna (Jewish Ideas Daily)--The public face of world Jewry will change this summer. Come September, both England and Israel will install new chief rab- bis. Jonathan Sacks, the bril- liant andwidely published chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, is retiring to be succeeded by the affable Ephraim Mirvis, currently rabbi of the Finchley Synagogue in North London. Yona Metzger, the chief rabbi of the Ashkenazi community of Israel, is completing his 10-year fixed term, to be suc- ceeded by whomever a special 150-member electoral assem- bly selects--for the moment, a subject of intense speculation and backroom maneuvering. The position of chief rabbi dates far back in Jewish history. In the Middle Ages, when Jews were treated as a corporate body, the chief rabbi served not only as the judge, scholar and supreme religious author- ity for his community but frequently bore responsibility Why America has no chief rabbi for collecting its taxes as well. Many a chief rabbi, as a result, was appointed or confirmed directly by the king. Chief rabbis today confine their authority to the religious realm, but their role is never purely ceremonial. Inevitably, they must also devote them- selves to promoting their own brand of Judaism (usually some variety of Orthodoxy) over all the others. Israel's Chief Rabbinate in recentyears has sought to undermine more liberal approaches to conver- sion and taken a hard-line stance on women's issues and on the thorny problem of who is a Jew. Rabbi Sacks alienated liberal Jews early in his ten- ure and promoted a centrist form of Orthodoxy that was disdained openly by those to his religious right. America is unusual in never having had an official chief rabbi. In 1888, a short-lived Association of American Or- thodox Hebrew Congregations imported Rabbi Jacob Joseph of Vilna to serve as chief rabbi of New York, but that effort ended disastrously. Consumers soon balked at the extra charges imposed in return for the rabbi's supervision of kosher food. Competing rabbis, some of whom also styled themselves "chief rabbi," offered their supervisory services at lower rates. Without its projected in- come stream, the association of Orthodox congregations that had brought Rabbi Joseph to America defaulted on its ob- ligations to him and went out of business. The unfortunate rabbi spent his last years as an impoverished invalid. No successor was ever appointed. A few Orthodox rabbis in other American cities carried the title "chief rabbi" for a time based on their learning and status. One or two even pretended to the title "chief rabbi of the United States." But none ever achieved recognition outside their own Orthodox circle. As a matter of law, the First Amendment precludes the government from recogniz- ing one religious authority as "chief" over another. Just as America introduced free- market capitalism into the economy, so it created a free market in religion. Contrary to expectations, this has had the paradoxical effect of strengthening religion in the United States. As Thomas Jefferson observed as early as 1820, religion thrived under the maxim "divided we stand, united we fall." In this environment, the creation in America of a government-protected form of Judaism under the authority of a chief rabbi was clearly impos- sible. Instead, American Jews accommodated themselves to the nation's competitive religious marketplace, which by and large has served them well. Rabbis, like their Chris- tian religious counterparts, win or lose status through their individual activities and accomplishments, exemplified by Newsweek's annual listing of the 50 most influential rab- bis of the year. American Jews have nev- ertheless been reluctant to recommend their free-market approach to religion to Jewish communities abroad. A recent conference hosted by the prestigious American Jewish Committee, for example, heard alitany of complaints concern- ing the Israeli Chief Rabbinate and its maltreatment of non- Orthodox Jews, Russian Jews, women and converts. But in the end, AJC called for "sig- nificant modifications" to the Chief Rabbinate rather than the embrace of the religious free market. A paper by former Undersecretary of Defense Dov Zakheim, delivered at the conference, argued that "what is needed.., is not the abolition of the Chief Rabbinate, but rather its transformation into a much more circumscribed, yet relevant and all-inclusive authority." Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveit- chik, America's foremost 20th-century Modern Or- thodox thinker, was wiser. Soloveitchik, who exercised vast influence on American Jewish life without ever hav- ing been selected chief rabbi, turned down the invitation to serve as Israel's chief rabbi because, he explained in 1964, he "was afraid to be an officer of the State." As England and Israel pre- pare to install new chief rabbis, Rabbi Soloveitchik's decision deserves to be remembered. "A rabbinate linked upwith the state," he warned, "cannot be completely free." Jonathan D. Sarna is the Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis ty and chair of its Hornstein Jewish Professional Leader- ship Program. He is also the chief historian of the NoDbnal Museum of American Jew- ish History. His most book is "When C, eneng Grant Expelled theJews"[ Nextbook]. This article was first published by Jewish Ideas Daily lu''. corn] and is reprised with permission. By Cnaan Liphshiz Divided Belgium nears belated consensus on Holocaust-era complicity ANTWERP, Belgium (JTA)--As the sister of Bel- gium's most powerful Nazi, Madeleine Cornet knew bet- ter than to inquire about the ethnicity of the three women she hired as housemaids in October 1942. Cornet did not want to further implicate herself by hearing what she already knew: Her new hires were Jews who managed to escape the deportations that her brother, the Belgian politician and Nazi collaborator Leon Degrelle,was busy organizing. The unlikely story of Cornet and her husband, Henry, was unearthed only a few months ago among a wave of articles in the Belgian media last year dealingwith the country's role in the Holocaust. The sudden focus on Belgium's Holocaust history reflects the country's belated reckoning with its complicity in the deaths of 28,902 Belgian Jews during World War II. In the last year, Begium opened its first Holocaust museum and, for the first time, acknowledged its role in the persecution of its Jewish citizens. It began in August, when the mayor of Antwerp admitted the country's Ho- locaust-era guilt, initiating a string of mea culpas by his Brussels counterpart and the leaders of several other mu- nicipalities and culminating with a statement from the prime minister himself. "We must have the courage to look at the truth: There was steady participation by the Belgian state authorities in the persecution of Jews," Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo said at a memorial ceremony in Mechelen, the point from which more than one-third of Belgium's Jewish population of approximately 66,000 was sent to Auschwitz, accord- ing to Yad Vashem, Israel's national Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. In January, a committee of the Belgian Senate endorsed a watered-down version of his Courtesy of Kris Peeters VIaams minister-president Flemish Prime Minister Kris Peeters, second from left, visiting Belgium's Holocaust Museum in Mechelen, November 2012. words, noting only that "some Belgian authorities" helped deport the Jews. The formal admissions of guilt have come late by Western European standards. Austria acknowledged its cul- pability in 1993; France and the Netherlands followed suit two years later. "I think the delay owed in part to tensions between Bel- gium's two parts, the Flemish- speaking Flanders region and the French-speaking Wallo- nian region," said Guido Joris, an editor of Joods Actueel, the Antwerp-based weekly that published the Cornets' story for the first time. "These dif- ferences meant it took a long time to arrive at a consensus." Indeed, even mundane decisions such as building a new university or hospital often lead to recriminations between the distrustful repre- sentatives of the country's two ethnic groups, the Flemish and the Walloons, who occupy three autonomous regions that make up a brittle federal entity the size of Maryland. Historian Jan Maes dis- covered the Cornets' story, tracking down one of the housemaids, Hannah Nadel, who now lives in Israel. Nadel recalled that visitors associ- ated with the Nazi movement would routinely dine at the house, while the three Jewish women hid in the basement. Nadel's mother sometimes would cook gefilte fish, which Cornet presented to her guests as "oriental fish." The bravery of couples like the Cornets was not as uncommon in Belgium as in other European countries. According to Yad Vashem, Belgium has 1,612 Righteous among the Nations, the desig- nation applied by the museum to non-Jews who saved Jewish lives during the Holocaust. The figure is the third highest in Western Europe, behind France (3,513) and Holland (5,204) and well ahead of Germany and Italy, with 500- some rescuers apiece. The Cornets are not on the list, as Nadel, 86, has never submitted their names. "We thought about it for a long time but we never did as we feared, at the time, it might get them into trouble with their heavily Nazi fam- ily," she told JTA. Like Degrelle, hundreds of Belgians--many of them police officers--were involved directly in hunting down Jews. Not a single Belgian municipality refused the Nazi occupiers' orders to register the Jews in their jurisdictions. Only one, in the Brussels region, refused to hand out yellow stars. These facts were docu- mented in a 1,100-page report, "Obedient Belgium," that was released in 2007 by the Center for Historical Research and Documentation on War and Contemporary Society five years after the federal body started its work at the Belgian Senate's request. The report found that the Belgian state collaborated systematically with the Nazi occupation in hunting down its Jews and Roma, or gypsies. On Jan. 9, a decade after the center launched its probe, the Senate adopted some of its findings. "Part of the delay owed to how on the French-speaking side, relevant documents had not been properly kept, whereas Flemish authorities archived them meticulous- ly," Maes said. "There were concerns this disparity in documentation could create a lopsided report." In addition, no politician was eager to add Holocaust Henry and Madeleine Cornet in their home near Brussels in the 1940s. complicity to the list of ten- sions that already burden the relationship between Wal- loons and Flemish, Maes said. There was another in- convenient truth as well. According to Dr. Eric Picard, founderofthe Brussels-based Association for the Memory of the Shoah, about 25 percent of the Jewish population in French-speaking Belgium was murdered, compared to 75 percent of Flanders' similarly sized Jewish com- munity. Historians attribute the disparity to a number of fac- tors: the availability of escape routes to French speakers; the close-knit nature of Antwerp's more religious community; and the Aryan affinity that some Flemish non-Jews felt toward Germany. Picard, a fiery 54-year-old psychiatrist from Brussels, says that while he's appre- ciative of the "enormous, albeit belated momentum" with which Belgian officials have addressed their coun- try's darkest hours, he fears some backslide is occur- ring, noting the difference between Di Rupo's sweeping acknowledgement of of- ficial complicity with the Senate's more conditional language. This, Picard says, is "Ho- locaust revisionism." He is disappointed as well by the Senate's failure to enact a special status for Holocaust survivors, as the 2007 study recommends, or to offer res- titution. Eli Ringer, the honorary president of Flemish Jewry's Forum of Jewish Organiza- tions, nonetheless calls the recent admissions of guilt "important milestone" and the opening in December of Belgium's Holocaust museum in Mechelen (or Malines, in French) a "significant step: Named the Dossin Bar- rdcks Memori,Museumand Documentation Cent fthe Holocaust and Hmnan Right the imposing building was inangurated by KingMbert H and is made of 25,852 bricks-- representing the 25257 Jews and 595 Roma known to have been sent to their deaths from the nearby barracks. "There were and there are many se," said Joris of the Joods Actueel monthly. "But at this late stage,: movement on  gec- for our country: