|Illustration from Reuters via the Jerusalem Post|
I’m not sure whether it’s deception or just plain old fashioned stupidity. Although it pains me to say it, I think a recent statement by heterodox rabbis that was reported in the Jerusalem Post is a combination of both.
Why does it pain me? I know that many Conservative and Reform rabbis are sincere. They are true believers in their philosophies. Although I am in profound disagreement with them, I understand that in most cases they have spent the majority of their lives believing in the tenets of their denomination. They believe in what they do. I therefore completely understand their latest protest.
However, if the ‘letter of protest’ they read at the Israeli embassy in Washington is the best they can do - it shows that either they have a complete misunderstanding of how Israel treats its non Orthodox population, or more likely they are purposely making misleading charges against it.
What they seek is pluralism. Let us be clear what that means. They want Reform and Conservative Judaism to be declared legitimate denominations – right along with Orthodox Judaism. I don’t support them. But that is a legitimate demand to make of a democracy.
But they are not framing it that way. In an effort to gain wide support from non Orthodox Jews they are characterizing Israel’s refusal to recognize them as a rejection of all non Orthodox Jews.
This would be laughable if it weren’t so sad. Secular Jews are rejected?! Are they kidding? Secular Jews make up the vast majority of Israeli Jews (…although their percentages are shrinking in light of their low birth rate versus the much higher birthrate of Orthodox Jews.) To say Israel’s reneging on a plan to expand the egalitarian space is a ‘manifestation of a lack of respect for non-Orthodox Jewry both in Israel and in the Diaspora’ is such an obvious lie, I can hardly believe they said it.
What they are purposely ignoring is that most secular Jews in Israel don’t really care about Reform or Conservatvie Judaism. They are perfectly happy to be secular. To the extent that many of them are traditional means that they are to some extent traditional in the Orthodox sense of the word. They do not look to Conservative or Reform customs or interpretations of Halacha. They look to what their parents or grandparents did (in Europe if they are Ashkenazi; in the Middle East if they are Sephardi). None of which were Conservative. And if those ancestors were Reform they clearly did not look to their customs because Reform Judaism in Europe didn’t have any Jewish traditions. They ran away from them.
Now it may be true that secular Jews support the rights of heterodox movements to be considered legitimate. But that is surely not because they believe in the ideology of either Conservative or Reform Judaism. It is simply because they see Israel as a democracy which in this case is denying the rights of fellow Jews.
And yet the entire argument of these rabbis makes it seem like Israel is denying they rights of every secular Jew in Israel. And that by reneging on the deal they have betrayed the majority of Israel’s Jews, as well as the majority of American Jews. That is an obvious deception. The following two excerpts make that clear:
“These developments, offensive as they were, unfortunately do not stand in isolation but are only the most recent manifestations of a lack of respect for non-Orthodox Jewry both in Israel and in the Diaspora…”
“This... goes to the heart of whether Israel perceives non-Orthodox Jews as legitimate.”
These are lies, plain and simple, whether made intentionally or not. Had they said heterodoxy instead of non Orthodox Jews, I would have agreed with them.
To say they are upset by this is an understatement:
(I)t is painful to describe the anger, frustration, disillusionment and disappointment throughout our communities concerning the most recent developments with regard to the Kotel, conversion and the authority of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.
Yes, I’m sure it is painful. But that should not include implied threats of withdrawing support. As does the following:
“Our communities have long been the backbone of support for Israel,” it said. “In light of those facts, it is painful to describe the anger, frustration, disillusionment and disappointment throughout our communities concerning the most recent developments with regard to the Kotel, conversion and the authority of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.”
“…these straws have broken the camel’s back.”
I’m not buying it. Are they going to stop supporting Israel’s defense forces? Are they going to stop sending money to the Israeli poor? Are they going to stop supporting the important scientific and medical research being done in places like the Weitzman Institute and Hadassah Hospital, Technion and other universities there?
Are they just going to turn their back on Israel because their denominations won’t get official recognition?
And what about their stated goals of Kiruv towards Israel’s secular Jews? Are they going to abandon that too? Remember, no one is banning a single Conservative or Reform rabbi from coming to Israel and preaching their beliefs or opening up more of their schools.
They feel betrayed and I don’t blame them. A deal was made and suddenly withdrawn by the prime minister because of pressure from religious parties. Netanyahu, the consummate politician, does not want to lose his coalition. So he gave in to them.
For what it’s worth, he promised that this deal will be renegotiated with modifications that will be acceptable to all. I hope it is. Because the one thing I do agree with is this: “We have enough trouble with our neighbors, why do we have to fight with ourselves?”