As a Jewish Zionist from the depth of his soul and an ordained rabbi, who is involved in all of the contemporary streams Judaism; as one who made Aliyah from the US 39 years ago; and as scholar who’s been researching and teaching the various facets of Jewish peoplehood and Jewish culture in Israel and the diaspora (past and present) for many years, I have a suggestion to make to Mr. Verdiger. I suggest that when speaking about the needs of Jewish existence, he show more humility, be more respectful of the truth and be wary of basing his world-view on stereotypes.
The Jewish community in Ukraine also lights Hanukkah candles in public locations. For the second year in a row, the Conservative/Masorti community has been celebrating the Holiday of Light by lighting candles on a large Hanukkiya placed in one of the main squares of Ukraine’s capital, Kontraktova Square in the historic district of Podyl. This year, the Hanukkiya was attacked by vandals who drew a swastika on it on the very first night of the holiday, splattered a red liquid resembling blood on the 6th night and took down the leaflets explaining the meaning and traditions of the holiday in the meantime.
No one would deny that engaging with Jewish content in non-religious public schools is fraught with challenges including the allocation of financial resources to Orthodox religious organizations that have infiltrated the system, and at times, objectionable material in their textbooks. Although the Secular Forum shares the credit for exposing some of these failings, its main work is now in fueling an extremist, inflammatory campaign aimed at re-igniting the “Jewish-Israeli conflict” by arousing secular passions against Jewish culture in the state of Israel.
This Thursday I will be marching in the gay parade in Jerusalem, after marking Tisha B’av (the Ninth of Av) earlier in the week, with the reading of Lamentations and other customs associated with mourning.
The Kotel belongs to the entire Jewish people; and “Who is a Jew?” is not an Israeli issue but rather an issue facing Klal Yisrael, the collective Jewish people throughout the world.
The Kotel and conversion laws are ones that deal with intense controversies that divide the Jewish people. Surveys, including one conducted by the Schechter Institutes last month, say that most Jews in Israel are in favor of the Kotel compromise. Thus, even if the government has different stances, they must debate these issues in the light of day and not in secret. They must debate this issue not just when the dominant Haredi ultra-Orthodox voices are present, but also when those opposing Kotel restrictions are present.
During the past two months, we have witnessed three major cases of a lack of pluralism and tolerance in the State of Israel, most of them carried out by Israeli Orthodox rabbis. They seem to believe that there is only one correct way to be Jewish and that those who deviate from that path are not real rabbis and should be shunned. Since these Orthodox rabbis from different backgrounds seem to share this lack of pluralism and tolerance, maybe they are simply reflecting the concensus of Jewish tradition. Is this true?
I wish to first of all thank the Schechter Institute and the Award Committee who chose to award me, along with Eti Ankri, the honor of receiving the Liebhaber Prize, named for Rabbi Marc and Henia Liebhaber z”l, leaders in the North American Jewish community. There are two aspects to a prize – recognition for the past, and expectation of the future. Looking back over the many junctures of my past, I recall an abundance of tolerance as a way of life. Of these, I wish to mention three central influences.
In December 2013, Chancellor Arnold Eisen of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York gave a lecture in Hebrew at the Schocken Institute in Jerusalem entitled “A Vital Religious Center in our Day” with responses by Prof. David Golinkin, President of the Schechter Institute in Jerusalem, and Dr. Tova Hartman of the Ono Academic College in Kiryat Ono. In this month’s Responsa column, we are publishing the speeches given by Profs. Eisen and Golinkin, in honor of Israel’s 66th birthday. Both authors believe that Israel needs “a vital religious center” or “a middle way” between the ultra-Orthodox and the ultra-secular.
The following speech was delivered on Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at the opening event of the “Israeli Friends of Schechter” in the presence of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Dov Elbaum and Kobi Oz – Liebhaber Prize winners for 2013, the heads of the Schechter non-profits, donors, faculty, staff, graduates and students.