On April 30, 2018, The Schechter Institute and the Jewish Theological Seminary co-sponsored a very successful academic conference at The Schechter Institute in Jerusalem on the subject listed above. Speakers included Chancellor Arnold Eisen of JTS, Natan Sharansky, Chair of the Jewish Agency and winner of this year’s Israel Prize, MK Rachel Azaria, and many professors from Schechter and JTS. The following is a translation of my Hebrew lecture delivered at the conference.
How Jewish should the Jewish State be? As Israel continues celebrating its 70th birthday Rabbi Avi Novis-Deutsch, Dean of the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary, asks whether Israelis can decide what kind of Judaism they want to support in both the private sphere and in the public one. Should legislators be weighing in on what kind of Judaism to practice?
For some years now conventional wisdom has it that Israel’s policies toward liberal streams and Palestinians are to blame for the rift between us and American Jews. I would not deny that the treatment of liberal Jews at the hands of Israel’s religious establishment, with the tacit complicity of Israeli government’s, is a disgrace; every Israeli should be ashamed of it. This demeaning, offensive attitude plays a very real role in the growing alienation from Israel felt by Jews in North America. Yet I believe it is worthwhile reflecting to the diaspora what it is about their own behavior that is causing the two communities to move even further apart.
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?