The equal opportunity to practise Judaism according every individual’s beliefs in Israel

Rabbi Mark Levin, Editor-in-Chief, Rabbis for Religious Freedom and Equality in Israel newsletter

The vision of Hiddush and the Rabbis for Religious Freedom and Equality in Israel opens with these words:

Imagine an Israel where Judaism blossoms in all its nuanced shades and colors; where religious and secular movements flourish side-by-side and those who explore beyond Judaism in search of meaning are able to forge new spiritual paths within Judaism.

We are the only organization in the Jewish world with the single mission of bringing pluralistic Judaism to the world’s only Jewish state. We take no sides in the competition between religious or secular Jewish movements. We believe that Israel is the State of all of the Jewish people who choose to live there, and we seek to enable Judaism to flourish by removing the interference or official state sponsorship of one stream or philosophy of Judaism over another. All Jews who believe Israel to be the homeland not only of Jews but of Judaism have a place among us.

A debate has flourished recently over ordination of women in the Orthodox

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Marriage freedom advocacy: our most united effort

10903999_10153629284553868_1051290180814195830_oEric Goldstein, CEO of UJA-Federation of New York, wrote in last week’s Jerusalem Post [link] about the nature of Israeli society. Is Israel the homeland of all the Jewish people, in which all of us can live according to our understandings of Judaism, or is there one recognized Jewish stream and the others have little or no authority?

Goldstein writes:

From its birth, Israel has stood as a source of inspiration and strength for Jews everywhere. And Israel reflects the aspirations of the entire Jewish people, about half of whom live outside of the Land of Israel. Our concern – shared by the 86 percent of Israelis who according to the Hiddush 2015 Religion and State Index support freedom of religion and conscience in Israel – is that these recent events will further distance many Diaspora Jews from the Jewish state and Israelis from Judaism.

Are the vast majority of North American Jews being detached from Israel as a practical matter?

We’re including here two readings

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Now or never – the need for political pressure

10903999_10153629284553868_1051290180814195830_oI shuddered in the late 60s when I read Simon Herman’s prediction that Israeli and American Jewish societies were growing apart. Now I am watching the fruition of his prediction.

Narratives matter. This weekend’s Haaretz contained an article [click here] about how the informal education system under the Natanyahu regime is purposefully teaching their right-wing political narrative in informal Jewish education: like trips and workshops.

The same forces are pushing the narrative that the only legitimate Judaism, the only traditional legitimate Jewish expression, is the Haredi version of Jewish life, without any understanding of the progress of history, and shunning the modern world around them. Their Judaism is obscurantist and anti-modern, anti-democratic, sexist and racist. That’s how the narrative is unfolding.

Earlier this week, Haaretz published an article by Eric Yoffie <a style="color: #ff0000;" href="https://ericyoffie.com/the-western-wall/

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How to proceed is the real question

10903999_10153629284553868_1051290180814195830_oIt’s reported by Leonard Baker that Mahatma Gandhi advised Rabbi Leo Baeck around 1938 that “All of the Jews of Germany at a given moment should commit suicide.” Gandhi thought the collective action would shock the conscience of the world. Gandhi clearly did not understand the Jewish nature. Baeck himself once commented that Judaism is the most life-affirming religion among world religions. With the possible exception of Masada, suicide is not the way Jews protest.

We may be entirely life affirming, as Baeck suggested, but we can be vicious with our opponents. It happened in the battles between the Hasidim and the Mitnagdim; it happened in the disputes between the Reformers and the traditionalists; and it is occurring again in Israel in the renewed fight over modernity and religious inclusion in Israel.

But, one might claim, the closer we get to making a difference, to threatening the establishment, the fiercer the fight will become.

I have little doubt that ultimately

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Hateful comments expressed in Israel regarding liberal Jews

10903999_10153629284553868_1051290180814195830_oIn his monumental work on Jewish law, Menachem Elon writes:

“… Nahmanides coined an apt and pointed term that illuminates the meaning of ‘doing what is right and good;’ A person who acts according to the technical and formal sense of the Torah’s laws, i.e.: who carefully follows only the explicit rules but not those implicit from the general spirit of the text, is ‘a scoundrel within the bounds of the Torah,’ (naval bireshut ha-Torah). Therefore, ‘The Torah’s method is to particularize and genernalize; for after stating the specifics of the law relating to all dealings between men — you shall not steal, you shall not rob, you shall not cheat, and the other prohibitions — it states in general terms: ‘Do what is right and good.’ in order to establish an affirmative commandment to behave with uprightness and fairness and all that is involved in the concept of lifnim meshurat hadin,’ for the good of one’s

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On Orthodox Conversion in the Twenty-First Century

10903999_10153629284553868_1051290180814195830_oA Conservative colleague once told me that the auspicious Rabbi Max Kiddushin told her that if a person says that s/he wants to convert a rabbi should convert that person immediately and teach the person later.

Little did I know at the time that Rabbi Chuck Davidson’s research, found in our newsletter of January 18th, would prove definitively that Rabbi Kiddushin’s viewpoint was well-founded in tradition, assuming that the person was as well-meaning as Rebecca Thornhill, the author of our principle article this week (available at IDEALS: Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals.)

I believe the Jewish world is once again, after 200 years, struggling with the concept of Jewish authenticity in light of Modernity. Ms. Thornhill’s overwhelming sincerity should impress any Jewish stream, and modern Orthodoxy is fortunate that such a sincere, Jewishly motivated and educated woman has chosen Modern Orthdoxy to live out her Jewish life. I hope you will take the time to peruse

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Judaism can marry modernity to traditional life

10903999_10153629284553868_1051290180814195830_oFor more than a century Jews have debated how to guide the Jewish character of a sovereign Jewish State. Until recently, few thought seriously in terms of national halakhic standards. The Founders envisioned a Jewish ethic, not ritual Jewish practice.

In Anita Shapira’s 2014 book, Ben-Gurion: Father of Modern Israel, she writes:

Just before the state was established, he [Ben-Gurion] reached agreement with the ultra-Orthodox Agudat Yisrael (Union of Israel) party on the celebrated “status quo,” assuring the state’s religious Jews (sic) that marital laws would be observed as they had been during the Mandate period and that the Sabbath and festivals would be part of the national calendar. Sensitive to tradition, he granted yeshiva students exemption from military service, but soon regretted it. In total contrast with his expectation that they would disappear completely, the number of yeshiva students steadily increased. But even though he sharply criticized the

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The right of Jews to control our own religious lives

10903999_10153629284553868_1051290180814195830_oThe Chief Rabbinate under Rabbi David Lau has instructed all the public mikvahs in Israel to not permit any conversions from any movement [link in Hebrew], and in that manner to prevent Reform conversions to Judaism. This in the aftermath of the Israeli Supreme Court decision two weeks ago permitting conversions in public mikvahs by all of the streams equally. The Orthodox would, under Rabbi Lau’s request, continue to have access to private mikvahs, to which Reform Jews have no access.

The attacks on Reform Judaism and Liberal Judaism in general are heating up in the aftermath of the Kotel decision by the Israeli government, the mikvah decision by the Supreme Court, and the CCAR convention just held in Israel, which organized a liberal prayer service at the Southern Wall involving hundreds of participants.

In Dr. Alexander Guttmann’s book The Struggle over Reform in Rabbinic Literature he states that the early debates between the Reformers and the

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The “Disputatious” Kotel

10903999_10153629284553868_1051290180814195830_oThe so-called compromise over prayer access to the Kotel has turned been attacked as giving away too much, as irrelevant to the real religious dispute in Israel, and as exclusionary of Orthodox women who refuse to give up their praying place. It has been lauded as a great advance, as a first in the legal recognition by the State of Israel of Liberal Judaism, as a triumph after 25 years of campaigning and as a breakthrough moment for Diaspora Jewry.

But will it happen? What forces are arrayed against its implementation?

This week’s, we share Israel HaYom’s superb analysis of the forces fighting against implementation. There is a link to the full article in Hebrew, and for those who would like a short-cut, I have summarized each of the opponents position’s in English.

English summary (by paragraph) by Rabbi Mark H. Levin

Click here for original Hebrew article

  1. Many forces are arrayed to oppose the decision.
  2. Although the pluralistic forces achieved official recognition for the Kotel, and attained representation on the Council that will run the Southern Plaza, many impediments have appeared.
  3. Because of a last minute, hidden insertion in the agreement, the Minister of Religious Services will be responsible for developing the regulations. That’s Minister David Azoulay, who last summer denounced Liberal Judaism. Azoulay has indicated he will pass the decision making to the Sages Council of Shas. If it passes there, as Aryeh Deri has great influence with the rabbis, Azoulay is bound by law to consult with the Chief Rabbinate.
  4. The Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi, Rabbi David Lau, has called the decision a mistake because it ignored the Chief Rabbinate. The Chief Rabbinate must express its opinion before Minister Azoulay will sign the regulations.
  5. Should Minister Azoulay delay the decisions, it’s likely that the government will pass the authority to appoint the 6 representatives of the public to the new Western Wall Council, from the Reform and Conservative streams and the Women of the Wall, to Natan Sharansky as head of the Jewish Agency. This will raise the question of whether the Council, with the help of the Jewish Agency, will stick to the current plans if the government avoids recognizing them. Will the matter then go to the Supreme Court, which could decide to implement equality at the current Western Wall Plaza?

Is the Direct Route Preferable?

  1. The second, more difficult obstacle, is that the new law must be implemented according to the zoning laws. Ought Israel move forward at one of the most important and historical archeological sites in the country in a shortened, expedited fashion?
  2. The last time the Government attempted to shorten the path for such decisions, the bridge to the Mughrabi Gate, it ended up prolonging it.
  3. Many who oppose the new plan will voice their opposition. The Hardalim, Religious Zionists in Bayit HaYehudi, with the Har Hamor Yeshiva leaders, will pressure Minister Uri Ariel and the Jewish Home Knesset members to oppose the plan and recognition of the Reform and Conservative Movements at the Kotel.
  4. Jewish Home party members are warning against a slippery slope to further recognition of the liberal streams.
  5. The Hardalim are attempting to enlist the Haredim, who believe this is an acceptable compromise because they do not want the Supreme Court to rule for equal representation of the liberal streams at the current Wall.
  6. Two more powerful opponents: the archeologists and the Muslim Waqf. It’s possible the Antiquities Authority will require salvage excavations before the plans are approved for the prayer area.
  7. Such a dig will take months, and in the event of important findings, even longer.
  8. Important senior archeologists have signed a sharp protest letter to PM Netanyahu opposing the entire program of widening the prayer area.
  9. Dr. Ayelet Mazar states there will be a dramatic destructive alteration to the only visible area at the foot of the Temple Mount where the destruction of the Second Temple is visible.
  10. Dr. Mazar is referring to the fallen stones from the Second Temple. Many years went into revealing those fallen stones, and it’s forbidden to touch or obstruct them. It’s a unique testimony to the Temple and the destruction.

The Waqf Will Not Recognize

  1. The Muslim Waqf has already voiced opposition. Israel fears Jordanian opposition, as occurred with building the Mughrabi Gate walkway. Jordan has not yet officially spoken. Senior Jordanian officials were this week quoted as opposing damage to the ‘Muslim heritage of the region.’
  2. Jordan thwarted Israel’s 2004 plan for the Mughrabi Gate. If Jordan opposes the Southern Wall plaza the conflict returns to the current prayer area. The Waqf and the Mufti have in the past insisted that the area adjacent to the Wall is part of the El Aqsa holy site. The Administrator of the mosque claims that the UN has recognized the area as part of Al Aqsa.
  3. Legally, Israel expropriated the area considered now for the southern prayer plaza after the Six Day War.
  4. The problem, however, is not legal, but political. Jordan does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the area.
  5. The Corporation for the Development of the Jewish Quarter is legally the possessor of the area, and will require agreement.

The Haredim Fear the

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Israel cannot fulfill her role as the truly Jewish State with the Rabbanut in control.

10903999_10153629284553868_1051290180814195830_oA few years ago a friend from the congregation called to say that Israel had become a regular topic in her home since her daughter’s birthright trip, and the experience reenvigorated her intermarried family’s Judaism. I told her how delighted I was, and then asked, “You know I speak about Israel regularly from the pulpit. Why the change now?” She said, “Oh, Mark, as soon as I hear the word Israel I stop listening.”

Personal experience touched their souls and drew them closer to amcha. But what happens when our people discover that they cannot marry in Israel, that funerals may be difficult to arrange depending on personal status, that weddings must be by Orthodox​ rabbis if they are even possible, or that a couple would need to live together outside the law or travel abroad to get married?

The much acclaimed recent success of the efforts of Women of the Wall after 25 years is a symbolic victory demonstrating the opinion of the vast majority of

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