Thursday, June 29, 2017

Compromise Should Not Come at the Expense of Truth

Everybody’s got an opinion. Yours truly included. I will get to mine in a moment.  In a surprising reversal of a compromise  agreement reached between the Israeli Keneset and heterodox rabbis, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bowed to pressure from the Charedi parties that constitute part of his governing coalition and reneged on the deal. Nothing new here. I have already discussed this issue.

The vast majority of non Orthodox Jewish organizational leadership are bitterly disappointed with the Prime Minister and have made that disappointment known to him in very strong terms. Including reluctant protests from some non Orthodox Jewish congressmen. There has even been an urgent request to expeditiously resolve this issue by Malcolm Hoenlein, an Orthodox Jew who is the executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

There have also been some not so subtle threats by some heterodox rabbis to withdraw their support of the Jewish State.  If, they reason, the state will not accommodate the wishes of the vast majority of Jews in the world, and only cater the ultra Orthodox, why should they support that?

I hear that argument. But I don’t believe it. Because supporting the State of Israel has been just about the only thing exclusively Jewish that most of these movements urge their members to do. That they strongly urge their members to support various worthy social causes is laudable. But supporting things like civil rights is hardly an exclusively Jewish enterprise. Israel is really the only thing exclusively Jewish in that regard. Jewish Federations in America (that are made up mostly of people that belong to heterodox movements) allocate the lion’s share of their budget to Israel or related causes. I do not see that changing despite any implied threat to do so.

The push for an egalitarian space at the Kotel is a relatively new undertaking. 50 years have passed since God allowed us to retake possession of it… and only now do they clamor for it.

Where were they til now? I’ll tell you.

When they went to the Kotel, they did so the same way everyone else did. The same way the Pope, and Presidents did. They went to the men’s side of the Kotel and stuck a piece of paper into the wall with a message to God. (As though God would only read it if it stuck in the Kotel!  But that is another subject.)

No secular Jew that I am aware of ever complained that he couldn’t approach the wall without women being there. Few if any non observant Jews ever demanded that they have an egalitarian prayer service at the Kotel. There were some heterodox leaders a few years ago that asked for such a space and Israel gave it to them without any controversy. It is located at another section of the Kotel called Robinson’s Arch. It is still there. But it is hardly used. If I am not mistaken it is this space that is being expanded for eventual larger and more accessible use. This is still going on at Netayahu’s request despite his reneging on the deal.

Let us not make any mistake about it. The push for an egalitarian space at the Kotel is really just a proxy vehicle to  gain state approved legitimacy equal to that of Orthodoxy.  By asking that there be a a common entrance to both plazas so that people can choose which one to go to, the message becomes that Reform, Conservative and Orthodox are all legitimate versions of Judaism. Take your pick. You don’t want to be observant? Fine. You can be Reform. God is perfectly OK with that. That will be how it will be seen by most Jews of limited backgrounds.

If you are Orthodox  that it is anathema. It is promoting a lie. Even though most of us even in Orthodoxy fall short of full observance in a variety of ways, we nevertheless realize that we are falling short. We do not say its OK to not be observant. We instead admit it when we fail and ask for forgiveness. Which is what Yom Kippur is for.

Why are they doing this now? I don’t think you have to be a genius to know the answer to that. They are simply trying to survive. And Israel is their last best hope. I don’t blame them for trying.  I just strongly disagree with what they are trying to do at the Kotel in furtherance of that goal. Although I’m sure they think they are sincere in demanding pluralism.

For those on the outside looking in, it is not surprising that they see Orthodoxy trying to shove itself down the throats of a world desirous of pluralism. That is after all a worthy ideal in a vacuum. But if one is Orthodox and sees heterodox movements as a distortion of Judaism, it should come as no surprise that we oppose including movements that do that.  We are fighting for an ideal. Just like heterodoxy is.  It is unfair to criticize Orthodox opposition to a pluralism that legitimizes what we believe are distortions to Judaism. We are fighting for our ideals. Just like heterodoxy is fighting for theirs. I am surprised that there is so little understanding of this.

Orthodoxy is not prejudiced against any Jew. We do not wish to deny any Jew, whether Orthodox, Reform, or Conservative entry to the Kotel to pray - or not pray - as they wish. All Jews are brothers. We are all descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Our ancestors were all at Sinai. The Kotel is the one place where all Jews are equal. No one asks what denomination you belong to before approaching the Kotel. That is the way it has been and that is the way it should be. The Kotel should not be the place to fight our ideological battles.

That said, it may be surprising to some that I too think that the Prime Minister should find a way to compromise so that we can end the divisiveness. I for one do not believe that any of the heterodox rabbis are evil. I think they are just as idealistic and sincere as Orthodox rabbis. They believe they are fighting for a just cause just as we believe we are.

It does no one any good to alienate them. In a sense, their movements are about Kiruv too. We should recognize that and respect that goal if not the way they actualize it. The vast majority of the Jewish people are not observant. Many of them are abandoning any connection they have to Judaism. Some of whom are in danger of extinguishing their Jewish line by marrying out! In their own way heterodox rabbis are trying to reverse that trend. We should be doing the same. Alienating their leaders is not the way to do that. A compromise that will give each of us a bit of what we want is the best way to do that. I hope it happens.