Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
"An Israeli Spring?" by Yair Rosenberg in Tablet analyzes the current efforts by moderate religious Orthodox Zionists to wrest control of Israel's Chief Rabbinate from the ultra-Orthodox.
This is an important article on what is happening politically in Israel before the elections on January 22 that is likely to affect the next government under PM Netanyahu. The issue is whether the ultra-Orthodox Rabbinate will continue to control the office of the Chief Rabbinate and keep Israelis in a strangle-hold on issues of status, conversion, marriage, and burial, among other issues.
A “renegade rabbinic organization called Tzohar (meaning "window" and referring to the window in Noah's ark) has joined forces with Likud-Yisrael Bateinu (Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman's combined party) and the ultra-Orthodox party Shas to wrest control from the ultra-Orthodox Chief Rabbinate in order to promote a more moderate orthodox Chief Rabbinate thereby excluding ultra-Orthodox parties from the government (other than Shas) and relaxing many heretofore restrictive policies overseen by the Hareidi ultra-Orthodox.
Despite the strong support in the country for Tzohar, this DOES NOT MEAN RELIGIOUS FREEDOM for Jews in Israel. (Note: See comment below from Rabbi Stanley Davids of Jerusalem who explains this more fully). Even with a more moderate Chief Rabbinate, religious affairs would still be controlled by an Orthodox rabbinate. The article, though excellent in describing the political issues at hand, mis-characterizes the nature of Reform and Conservative Judaism in Israel.
Though originally born out of the Diaspora Jewish experience, both the Israeli Reform and Conservative movements are run by Israelis and are fashioned to Israeli needs, culture and religious/spiritual/moral outlook. As such they are increasingly more and more popular among Israeli secularists.
What is really necessary is the abolition of the Chief Rabbinate altogether along with its strangle-hold over Israeli religious life and the disbursement of government funds almost exclusively to Orthodox institutions. This means nurturing a religiously pluralistic society.
The following is quoted from the article (the complete article link is below and is well-worth your reading in its entirety):
“The solution in Israel should not be Rotem’s solution or Tzohar’s solution of ‘we will make Orthodoxy more moderate and it will solve everyone’s problems,’ ” said Yizhar Hess, executive director of the Masorti/Conservative Movement in Israel. “This is false! I don’t want to have a moderate Orthodox religious service. Each [movement] has its own identity. That’s how it should be.” In other words, no matter how benign this reformed rabbinate might prove, it would still be an Orthodox rabbinate—one that doesn’t recognize Reform and Conservative rabbis or their marriages and conversions. For Hess, the “smiley face” of the moderate Tzohar rabbi is the façade that masks a more fundamental problem: Israel’s lack of full religious freedom.
‘As well-intentioned as Tzohar’s mission may be … it has no problem with an Orthodox monopoly on Judaism in the State of Israel.’
“As well-intentioned as Tzohar’s mission may be,” argued Rabbi Uri Regev, CEO of Hiddush, an Israeli nonprofit organization promoting religious freedom, “it emerges that to it, American Jewish pluralism is anathema.” In fact, the organization “has no problem with an Orthodox monopoly on Judaism in the State of Israel.”
For these non-Orthodox leaders and their counterparts in America, the rabbinate as currently constituted is an unacceptable entanglement of religion and state. “The institution of the chief rabbinate as a state-funded and empowered agency strikes me as anti-democratic and doomed to failure,” said Rabbi Daniel Nevins, dean of the rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary. “As for Tzohar, I am impressed by their track record, but if they were granted political power, they too would be tempted to enforce their religious views and practices on the public. Political power corrupts religion; every group is vulnerable to this temptation. The only solution is to discontinue the state regulation of religion and to allow for freedom of conscience and equality of religious practice in Israel.”
Stav and Tzohar are indeed unapologetically Orthodox and make no secret of the fact that they would not recognize non-Orthodox forms of Judaism were they to attain the chief rabbinate. Why, then, do many secular Israelis and their politicians support Tzohar over a pluralistic approach? According to many, the answer is simple: American Judaism and its particular flavors have never made much sense to Israelis, or gained much traction on the ground. Brandeis Professor Yehudah Mirsky, who has written at some length on this question, explains that Israelis and Americans are speaking two very different languages when it comes to Jewish life and practice, which stem from two distinct historical experiences.”
The following comment was sent to me following receipt of the above on my personal blog from Rabbi Stanley Davids, Past President of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA) who lives in Jerusalem.
The article is fascinating both in the issues it raises and in the mis-conceptions that it engenders. ZOHAR, by the way, is named to allude to the skylight in Noah's Ark -- an interesting way of stating that its founders were looking for new sources of illumination in troubling times. Were that only truly the case.
I witnessed Rabbi Stav's presentation to the Jewish Agency's Unity of the Jewish People Committee. Let there be no doubt that he strongly supports an Orthodox controlled Chief Rabbinate -- and that in fact he and his organization do everything possible to avoid public conflicts with the Chief Rabbinate. Zohar is no friend of religious pluralism, no friend of mutual respect and recognition, no friend of any move designed to ease the blight of religious coercion in Israel.
I agree with Yizhar Hess's comments as well as those of Uri Regev. I would caution all who read the article that it is replete with error -- for example, the mood of the current electorate clearly puts socio-economic issues down the list of its priorities -- otherwise, Labor's polling numbers would be heading up instead of down, BUT "socio-economic" in any event has absolutely nothing to do with synagogue-state issues. The issue of freedom from religious coercion is no where being debated -- not by Labor, not by Yisrael Beiteinu, and certainly not by Bayyit Yehudi -- whose new leader has recently been espousing some radically troubling positions.
A final note -- I sat with MK Rotem in his office during the Knesset debate on his conversion bill. He was resolutely intractable, unwilling to even listen to the slightest possibility that his moves would lead to grave damage in Diaspora-Israel relations. He is a committed ideologue with whom reasoned discussion seems like a foreign concept.
Other than that -- thank you for opening up this incredibly important conversation.
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December 21, 2012 | 10:00 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Every year this season draws families, friends and colleagues together. There is love in the air, but also painful memories of breached trust and unresolved conflict. The power of forgiveness, the instinct for revenge and the need for reconciliation is ever present in our lives. Forgiveness may be the most difficult challenge we ever face. For those, however, who are able to forgive and are graced by others who forgive us, we are fortunate indeed.
Rabbi Abraham Twerski, in Forgiveness – Don’t let resentment keep you captive, writes that every experience we have in our lives is stored in the memory hard drive of our subconscious. Some are harmless, some edifying and others painful. Though we may have repressed them we are, nevertheless, the sum total of those memories. We are fashioned by them and we relate to others through our memory’s lens.
Rabbi Twerski says: “With every additional year there are more provocations (major and minor) and the sum total is cumulative…when we don’t forgive an offense, it remains in the subconscious and it joins similar feelings for the various complexes to which it belongs.”
Forgiveness is often misunderstood. Forgiving does not mean excusing the bad behavior of others or forgetting that we’ve been wronged. Rather, forgiveness means letting go of the anger, resentment and need for revenge.
What if the people who hurt us or offended us have not apologized and think they were justified in what they did? Are we supposed to forgive them? The answer is yes, not for their sake but for ours. Forgiving an offender is not about doing him a favor. Getting rid of our resentment and need for vengeance is for our own good so that those negative feelings cease to complicate our lives.
The ideal goal is reconciliation with the offending other. But this is not always possible.
I heard a moving story this week about a woman in her 70s who had not spoken with her sister in 40 years. One day out of the blue her sister called to inform her that she was dying, and before she died she wanted to see her. They met, her sister apologized for the wrong that had caused the breach and asked for forgiveness. They wept together and reconciled. After she died the surviving sister felt as though a heavy burden had been lifted from her, and the love she once felt for her sister returned.
As we encounter family, friends and colleagues during these final days of the year, perhaps now is our time to dig deeply, summon the courage, take the risk, and ask for and seek forgiveness of others.
Michael McCullough, in his book Beyond Revenge – The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct, extends the principles of interpersonal forgiveness to groups, communities and nations. He writes:
“The forgiveness instinct needs to be activated. When we do this we can change the world. Groups can be helped to forgive other groups, communities can be helped to forgive other communities, …and nations can even be helped to forgive other nations. Leaders… can offer apologies on behalf of their people to groups with whom they’ve been in conflict. They can also offer gestures that express remorse and empathy for the suffering of another group, and they can provide compensation to groups of people whom they’ve harmed – just as individuals can. When they engage in such gestures, it is often to great effect.” (p. 182-183)
Think of such gestures on the world stage that have been offered, and the effect. Pope John Paul II apologized to the Jewish people for Christendom’s participation in the Holocaust. Japanese leaders offered public apologies for war atrocities committed against China, Korea and other neighbors. The United States apologized to Japanese Americans who we interred in concentration camps during World War II. The Irish Republican Army apologized for the deaths of noncombatants during the war in northern Ireland.
Is it not time for Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas to apologize on behalf of their peoples for the pain and suffering experienced by non-combatants on each side as a first step to a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
It is never too late. Forgiveness can come at any time.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote:
If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.
December 18, 2012 | 8:24 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
The following press release was distributed today by J Street, Rabbis for Human Rights North America and Americans for Peace Now who organized this letter signing campaign:
More than four hundred US rabbis, cantors, rabbinical students and cantorial students signed an open letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu expressing grave concern about Israel’s plans to advance the construction of settlements in the controversial E1 area of the West Bank and authorizing thousands of new housing units in East Jerusalem.
In an open letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the rabbis, cantors, and students warn that the move undermines the territorial contiguity of the future Palestinian state and the prospects for reaching a two-state solution, while damaging US-Israel relations.
“We fear that building settlements in E1 would be the final blow to a peaceful solution,” the letter warns.
The letter also expresses concern that “the current situation in the occupied territories violates Palestinian human rights and undercuts the very values on which Israel was founded – democracy, liberty, justice, and peace.”
The full text and list of signers to date can be found here - http://org2.democracyinaction.org/o/5149/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=12297&source=jstreet.
The letter responds to Israeli government decisions announced the day after the United Nations General Assembly voted to upgrade the status of Palestine to that of non-voting state.
Construction in E1 would violate repeated commitments that Israeli governments have made to the United States since 1994 not to build there.
Thus far, the letter has been signed by more than 400 rabbis from 38 states and the District of Columbia. The majority of the signers are congregational leaders.
Americans for Peace Now, J Street and Rabbis for Human Rights-North America coordinated the appeal.
More details on the planned construction in the E1 area and its implications for the two-state resolution can be found at http://goo.gl/gPV5u.
December 16, 2012 | 8:43 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
As the new Egyptian Constitution passed its first go-around yesterday in a national referendum that non-Islamist parties acknowledge threatens civil liberties and the rights of women and minorities, we Jews have our own conflict with the encroaching influence of fundamentalist religion against the rights of Jewish women to pray at the holiest site in Judaism, the Kotel (i.e. Western Wall).
Two years ago I attended a prayer service at the Kotel with “Women of the Wall” on Rosh Hodesh (The new Hebrew month), which this group of religious women have been doing for a number of years. I reported on that event then which can be read here - http://womenofthewall.org.il/2010/11/praying-with-the-women-of-the-wall/.
That constitutes among the ugliest experiences in my Jewish religious life.
The issue of Jewish women’s religious rights at the Kotel has only intensified in this time. Media Line reported fully on the events of the past week at the Kotel
WOMEN DETAINED AT JERUSALEM'S WESTERN WALL FOR DONNING RELIGIOUS ITEMS http://www.themedialine.org/news/news_detail.asp?NewsID=36697
The ultra-Orthodox claim that these women are desecrating God’s name by donning tallitot and t’filin and praying quietly at the Western Wall in a group. But who is the real desecrater of the Holy Name? Certainly not these women!
December 14, 2012 | 9:03 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Last year I wrote in this blog about the symbolic importance of Hanukkah for Zionists, American liberal Jews and Habad Lubavitch. I reprint it below.
I also include a link to a study that asks whether or not Hanukkah is simply a Jewish Christmas. (The Economic Journal, Ran Abramitzky, Liran Einav and Oren Rigbi, Volume 120, Issue 545, pages 612-630, June 2010).
Neither piece is for the purpose of reducing the joy of this festival of lights. Rather, they are to help us understand from the view of the anthropologist and historian the significance of Hanukkah in our contemporary Jewish world.
Reinvention of Hanukkah in the 20th Century: A Jewish Cultural Civil War (first published, December 2011)
Noam Zion, a fellow of and the senior educator at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, spoke before the Board of Rabbis of Southern California last year on this theme:
“Reinvention of Hanukkah in the 20th Century: A Jewish Cultural Civil War between Zionists, Liberal American Judaism and Habad – Who Are the Children of Light and Who of Darkness?”
Noam offered a comprehensive view of Hanukkah from its beginnings (© 165 B.C.E.) through history and how it is understood and celebrated today by Israelis, American liberal non-Hareidim Jews and Habad. Based on Hanukkah’s tendentious history and the vast corpus of sermons written by rabbis through the centuries, Noam noted three questions that are consistently asked: ‘Who are the children of light and darkness?’ ‘Who are our people’s earliest heroes and what made them heroic?’ ‘What relevance can we find in Hanukkah today?’
Though religiously a “minor holyday” (Hanukkah is not biblically based, nor do the restrictions apply that are associated with Shabbat, Pesach, Shavuot, Succot, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur), Hanukkah occupies a place in each of the ideologies of the State of Israel, American liberal Judaism and Habad.
For example, before and after the establishment of the State of Israel the Maccabees served as a potent symbol for “Political Zionism” for those laboring to create a modern Jewish state. The early Zionists rejected God’s role in bringing about the miracle of Jewish victory during Hasmonean times. Rather, such leaders as Max Nordau, Theodor Herzl, David Ben Gurion, Chaim Weizmann, Jacob Klatzkin, and A.D. Gordon emphasized that Jews themselves are the central actors in our people’s restoration of Jewish sovereignty on the ancient land, not God.
For 20th century liberal American Jews Hanukkah came to represent Judaism’s aspirations for religious freedom consistent with the American value of religious freedom as affirmed by the first Amendment of the US Constitution. Even as the holiday of Hanukkah reflects universal aspirations, the Hanukkiah remains a particular symbol of Jewish pride and identity for American Jews and their children living in a dominant Christian culture.
For Habad, Hanukkah embodies the essence of religious identity on the one hand, and symbolizes the mission of Jews on the other. Each Hassid is to be “a streetlamp lighter” who goes out into the public square and kindles the nearly extinguished flame of individual Jewish souls, one soul at a time (per Rebbe Sholom Dov-Ber). This is why Habad strives to place a Hanukkiah in public places and why Hassidim offer to help Jews don t’filin. Every fulfilled mitzvah kindles the flame of a soul and restores it to God.
Noam concluded his shiur (lesson) by noting that the cultural war being played out in contemporary Jewish life is based in the different responses to the central and historic question that has always given context to Hanukkah – ‘Which Jews are destroying Jewish life and threatening Judaism itself?’
The Maccabean war was not a war between the Jews and the Greeks, but rather was a violent civil war sparked by intense enmity between the established radically Hellenized Jews and the besieged village priests living outside major urban centers (the High Priest in Jerusalem had already been co-opted by Hellenization). The Maccabees won the war because moderately Hellenized Jews recognized that they would lose their own Jewish identity if the radical Hellenizers were victorious. They joined in coalition with the village priests and together they took the Temple and rededicated it. That historic struggle has a parallel today in a raging cultural civil war for the heart and soul of the Jewish people and for the nature of Judaism itself.
The take-away? There is something of the zealot in every one of us, regardless of our respective Jewish camp. If we hope to avoid our past sins of sinat chinam (baseless hatred between one Jew and another that the Talmud teaches was the cause of the destruction of the 2nd Temple in 70 C.E.) we need to prepare our own constituencies to be candles without knives, to bring the love of God and the Jewish people back into our homes and communities. To be successful will take much courage, compassion, knowledge, understanding, and faith. The stakes, however, are very high – the very future of Israel and the Jewish people.
Is it any wonder that Hanukkah, though defined by Judaism as a “minor holiday,” is, in truth, a major battle-ground for the heart and soul of Judaism and the Jewish people?
December 12, 2012 | 8:37 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
There is now a joint letter being circulated nationally among Rabbis, Cantors and Rabbinical students to register our collective alarm about the Israeli government's decision to construct housing in the E1 Zone in Jerusalem.
The letter is co-sponsored by the J Street Rabbinic Cabinet (of which I am a national co-chair), Rabbis for Human Rights North America (RHRNA) and Americans for Peace Now (APN).
The letter below was sent to the J Street Rabbinic Cabinet of which 700 rabbis, cantors and rabbinic students are members. The same letter was sent by RHRNA and APN. I will report on this going forward.
In light of the Israeli governments' recent alarming announcement of their intent to construct 3,000 housing units in the E1 zone between East Jerusalem and Maale Adumim, J Street has joined with Rabbis for Human Rights North America and Americans for Peace Now to mobilize rabbis, cantors and rabbinical and cantorial students, to oppose such actions.
As leaders of our community, we hope you will join us in speaking out to Prime Minister Netanyahu against this move, which would effectively make the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict untenable.
As American rabbis, we also fear that construction in E1 damages the critical relationship between Israel and the United States. Construction in E1 would violate repeated commitments to the United States, dating back to 1994, not to build settlements in the area.
The Mishna (Pirke Avot 1:12) tells us, "Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving humankind and bringing them closer to the Torah." The commentary on this saying in Avot d'Rabbi Natan tells us that it is not enough merely to love peace, but that one must pursue it as strenuously as Aaron did.
For the sake of the State of Israel and the Jewish people, we urge you to cease plans to construct new settlements in E1, elsewhere in the West Bank, or in East Jerusalem. We pray that you follow Aaron’s example by returning to the negotiating table as quickly as possible. This unprecedented action requires an unprecedented response from the leaders of our community.
Rabbi John Rosove, co-chair J Street Rabbinic Cabinet
Rabbi Amy Small, co-chair J Street Rabbinic Cabinet
Rabbi John Friedman, co-chair J Street Rabbinic Cabinet
Rabbi Lawrence Troster, J Street Rabbinic Director
December 7, 2012 | 9:37 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and Egypt Dan Kurtzer is convinced that Middle East peacemaking is 'in Obama’s guts.' His new book aims to show the president how to move forward in “Pathways to Peace – America and the Arab-Israeli Conflict”. (Reviewed by Chemi Shalev in Haaretz)
If you read only one book on the Middle East this year, let this one be it. It has been sent to the Obama Administration and members of Congress.
The only reasonable conclusion to draw after reading this book is that the time is now to enter into final status negotiations between Israel and Palestine and that only strong American pressure will bring this about.
Essays are written by American, Israeli and Palestinian experts. All of them are compelling and enlightening. For me, as part of the pro-Israel pro-peace progressive Zionist community, the essays written by Palestinians are among the most enlightening because the Palestinian narrative is quite different from the Israel narrative.
The book argues effectively that the past cannot be prologue to the future. What is important now is what happens going forward. Playing the blame game for past failures at peace negotiations will doom future talks and a successful two-state solution, which is in the best interests of Israel, the Palestinians, the United States, Europe, and all moderate Arab countries. The alternative to a two-state solution is endless war, bloodshed and despair. What will be lost as well will be the Zionist dream of creating a Jewish democratic state in our national home after 2000 years of exile.
Ambassador Daniel Kurzter has done a significant service in the cause of peace. Kol hakavod to him!
December 5, 2012 | 9:42 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
We are at a tipping point in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The UN Palestinian resolution and Israel’s response are indicative of a sea-change in the Middle East. Time is quickly passing and for those who believe that it is vital for Israel to reach a two-state solution with the Palestinians for the sake of her own Jewish democratic character, peace and security, the window of opportunity is quickly closing, as a report shows fairly conclusively just published by “Territorial Jerusalem” headed up by long-time Jerusalem settlements’ expert Daniel Seidemann:
“As the entire world knows, Prime Minister Netanyahu has decided that Israel’s answer to the UN vote will be the construction of thousands of new settlement units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as the expediting of the E-1 settlement, which has long been recognized as the “fatal heart attack” of the two-state solution. Indeed, E-1 is not a "routine" settlement. If built, it is a game-changer, maybe a game-ender. E1 is the "binary"settlement. If you support E-1, you cannot possibly be in favor of the two-state solution; if you are in favor of the two-state solution, you must oppose E-1.” (Read the full report here.)
If true (and I believe it is), what can and should we American citizens do to support a renewed peace process?
We should be exerting concerted pressure on President Obama to reengage with Israel and the Palestinians to achieve a two-state solution, to visit Israel and connect personally with the Israeli population, and to visit Ramallah to connect personally with the Palestinian population.
This should all be done as soon as possible after his inauguration and the Israeli elections scheduled for January 22.
The President needs to appoint a new high level “A Team” led by him and his new Secretary of State to bring a plan with defined parameters addressing all the outstanding issues including borders, security, Jerusalem, water, and refugees, and then work diligently with both sides to achieve a two-state solution within a few months.
Doing so is clearly in both America’s and Israel’s best interests. This unresolved conflict has become a catalyst for radicalism across the Arab and Islamic worlds. It strengthens the hands especially of Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Al Qaida to foment anger in the Arab and Islamic street against America and Israel. It diminishes American influence throughout the region and weakens moderate Arab regimes.
A resolution of the conflict will not only help to reverse these trends but also stabilize Israel’s relationships with most of its neighbors and bring Israel back into positive relationships with the family of nations.
Yes, there is a high risk of failure, as this conflict seems intractable; but so too is there a high risk for inaction.
The general outlines of a two-state solution are likely already supported by the majority of Israelis and Palestinians. Israel, of course, cannot deal with Hamas unless it recognizes the right of Israel to exist and stops its terrorist attacks. A separate agreement, in the meantime, can be reached with Fatah (assuming President Abbas recognizes the futility of including Hamas as currently constituted and bravely goes forward to negotiate in good faith) with a future expansion of an agreement to include Gaza on another day.
Despite Abbas’ nasty remarks at the UN, he does support a two-state end-of-conflict solution. Only a month ago he was asked by journalists if he ever wished to live in the city of his birth, Safed, again. He said he would like to visit, but Safed is in Israel and he has no intention of living there. He wants to live with his own people in Palestine which is the West Bank and Gaza.
Winston Churchill noted in a speech in the House of Commons on November 12, 1936:
“The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.” (cited by Daniel Kurtzer in “Pathways to Peace – America and the Israeli-Arab Conflict,” 2012, p. xiii).
What was true in 1936 for the world is true now for the Middle East. The time for inaction is over. Bold and courageous leadership is needed now by the United States, Israel and Palestine before it is too late.