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.
Neve Schechter’s Gallery in Tel Aviv is currently exhibiting “Sphere”. Several beautiful spherical paintings around the theme of the Omer Season (Leviticus Ch. 23) by two talented Israeli artists are on display, but what evokes a powerful response are four large screens on which women count to 49 in eerily male voices, each time turning around. Secular Israeli women, grappling with the tradition of counting the Omer, are providing a poignant commentary on the exclusion of women’s voices in Jewish tradition. What does this commentary reflect? Zionism was a revolutionary response to the crisis of Jewish identity in 19th century Europe. The framework of Jewish life that had assured survival for 1,800 years; a semi-autonomous faith community, regulated by Jewish Law and strong familial connections, could no longer swim against the powerful currents of liberal enlightenment, secular nationalism and socialism.
We once again witnessed the ridiculousness of the separation between men and women at the Western Wall when female journalists were forced to stand on chairs to see US Vice-President Michael Pence pray at the Western Wall during his recent visit. No one, not even the rabbi of the Western Wall, can explain the benefit or importance of this separation of the sexes.
Dr. Bat-Sheva Margalit Stern, associate professor of history at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, contrasts the leadership of Meir, who disavowed feminism, with the leadership of Ada Fishman Maimon, an advocate of feminism, one of the founders of Women Workers Movement and a member of Knesset. Watch the video to learn more about Meir and Maimon’s differing leadership styles.
I was born two years prior to the Six-Day War when Jerusalem was still a divided city, with barbed wire and concrete walls separating the two sections. Jerusalem totally changed by the time I grew up. It became a city without borders, an exciting and fascinating place, whose spaces were accessible to everyone. One could experience the city on a personal, one to one basis. My urban encounter spanned the entire city…
Distress signals sent out by secularists in recent months have been picked up loud and clear by the Secular Forum, though stridency does not necessarily ensure soundness of the writers’ arguments or best serve their interests. The most important step of any strategy is precise analysis of a given situation. Incorrect analysis leads to hasty action that fails to solve the problem or actually exacerbates it.
In recent months, acrimonious public debate has been raging in Israel over Jewish education enrichment programs. The Secular Forum has been especially vociferous against what it terms “religionization” in non-orthodox state schools, sounding the alarm at the prospect of secular children coming into any contact whatsoever with Jewish content. Were it not for the religious Minister of Education imposing his Jewish agenda, goes secularist reasoning, their children could be studying philosophy, Darwinian theory of evolution, and even Shakespeare.
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?