• Live
  • Open to the public
  • Hebrew

Roundtable on Spiritual Leadership at a Crossroads

The Israel Democracy Institute 4 Pinsker Street, Jerusalem

This Hebrew event is open to the public with advance registration.

Religious-spiritual leadership has always been at the core of Jewish communal life, rabbi at the center of the experience of the individual, the family, and the public. Today, however, centralized rabbinic leadership is weakening, and it is not clear which great rabbinic leaders will determine what the religious community will do.

How is the Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox community dealing with the split within its community? How is religious Zionism dealing with the tension between its liberal and more ultra-Orthodox streams? What will happen to the Sephardic ultra-Orthodox community in the post-Ovadia Yosef period? Are we indeed at the end of an era?

These questions and more were explored at an IDI roundtable entitled "Spiritual Leadership at a Crossroads" on January 29, 2014.

Religious-spiritual leadership has always been at the core of Jewish communal life, in which the rabbi has traditionally been at the center of the spiritual—and even the physical—experience of the individual, the family, and the public.

The doctrine of "daat Torah" that emerged in the 20th century, which mandates that rabbinic authorities serve as the deciding force in all areas of life—ranging from personal matters to national issues—reinforced the power of the rabbi. This phenomenon has been found both in the ultra-Orthodox community, where the gdolei hador—the "greatest rabbis of the generation"—have had supra-communal authority and have served as a source of political authority, and in the national-religious community, where some particularly charismatic rabbis have had massive numbers of disciples.

Today, however, we may be at the threshold of a new era, as there seems to be a trend of weakening in the authority of the centralized rabbinic leadership. Among the many reasons for this: The main religious authorities have died, leaving disputes about their successors and legacy. In addition, the media and Internet provide vast amounts of unregulated information to the public. Moreover, demographic growth has allowed internal diversification of the range of opinions, which makes it difficult to centralize authority.

  • How is religious Zionism dealing with the fact that it is internally divided, with liberal leaders on one side and "Hardal" (an acronym for "Haredi Leumi" meaning "national ultra-Orthodox") on the other?
  • How is the Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox community dealing with the split in its leadership and the deep rift emerging between the different parts of the community? 
  • How will the Sephardic ultra-Orthodox community function in the post-Ovadia Yosef era?
  • Have there also been changes in the Hasidic community, in which leadership has always been decentralized?

On January 29, 2014, these questions were explored at an IDI roundtable that brought together former Knesset Ministers, leading academicians, media figures, and representatives of the ultra-Orthodox and religious Zionist communities.


  • Mr. Arnon Meir, The Israel Democracy Institute


  • Mrs. Adina Bar-Shalom, Founder and Executive Director, The Haredi College of Jerusalem
  • Mr. Avishay Ben Haim, Correspondent for Haredi affairs, Channel 10 television; doctoral student, Department of Jewish Thought, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
  • Dr. Benjamin Brown, IDI Religion and State researcher; member of the Faculty of the Jewish Philosophy Department, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
  • Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, Head of the AMIT Orot Shaul Hesder Yeshiva and co-founder of the Tzohar Rabbinical Organization
  • Prof. Asher Cohen, Political Science Department, Bar-Ilan University 
  • Prof. (Emeritus) Immanuel Etkes, Jewish History Department, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
  • Rabbanit Hadassah Froman, teacher at the Bereishit School; study group moderator; continuer of the work of her late husband, Rabbi Menachem Froman.
  • Rabbi Moshe Grylack, Editor of Mishpacha magazine
  • Dr. Neri Horowitz, President, Agora Policy
  • Ms. Racheli Ibenboim, Executive Director of Meir Panim; social activist for the empowerment of Haredi women
  • Prof. Benjamin Ish Shalom, President of Beit Morasha of Jerusalem, Chair of the Institute for Jewish Studies – Joint Conversion Institute
  • Rabbi Itshak (Yitzhak) Levy, former Minister of Education
  • Prof. Yedidia Z. Stern, Vice President of Research, The Israel Democracy Institute; Prof. of Law, Bar-Ilan University
  • Ms. Ayelet Wieder Cohen, Clinical Psychologist; member of the Board of Directors of Kolech – The Religious Women's Forum
  • MK Eli Yishai, Shas Party, Chair of the Knesset's Homefront Preparedness Subcommittee.