Jews of both the Right and the Left routinely criticize rabbis for adopting an insufficiently vociferous political position. The right-wingers remember how the rabbis collaborated with the government during the evacuation of Gush Katif. Jews listen to high-flown rabbinical speeches and expect their rabbis to follow through. But rabbis are not biblical prophets; to expect them to condemn sinners in the Jewish establishment is unrealistic.

The Prophets delivered their fiery speeches at a time when the survival of Judaism was taken for granted. Jews intermarried little. The neighbors’ pagan religions were polytheist and accommodated Judaism; the Jews who slipped into paganism still practiced Judaism. For the Prophets, only the enemies beyond their control threatened Judaism. The Prophets, accordingly, lambasted Jewish sinners without restraint.

Today’s rabbis have a different agenda: conservation. In Poland or Morocco, under communism or Zionism – their only aim is to keep Judaism alive. Prophets purified the nation; rabbis preserve it. They cannot afford to offend Jewish sinners in high places. Bar Kochba’s revolt taught rabbis a lesson: since then, they have preferred oppressed, impure Judaism to national suicide in a glorious battle. Defeats crushed proud nation, but lowly Jews survived near-total exterminations. Rabbis cooperated with the rulers of Jews from the Romans through the Judenraten to Shimon Peres. Rabbis take money for Jewish causes from any donors, whatever the sources of their riches. Rabbis accept Jews of any behavior rather than alienating them with unrelenting criticism; that attitude created Reform Judaism, which permits everything. Such flexibility, however, sustained Judaism: Jewish notables in fifteenth-century Spain were as corrupt and assimilated as in twenty-first century America; rabbis worked with both groups.

For centuries, rabbis dominated Jewish life; they feel uncomfortable giving up their position to politicians. Traditionally, rabbis performed administrative, not governmental, functions – Jews had no opportunity to have a government, and administrative power was the highest. Rabbis jealously watch atheist politicians rising to supremacy in today’s Jewish milieu. Rabbis see their best chance for maintaining social status in the secular world by associating with politicians. The only alternative is the ultra-Orthodox attitude of dissociating from Zionism: politically zealous Jews come and go, but the ultra-Orthodox have to co-exist with the Arabs whether a Jewish state exists or not.

Jews long for prophets, but we only have rabbis.