Religious discrimination

Israeli Reform synagogue vandalized, death threats conveyed with a knife

The Reform synagogue in Ra’anana was vandalized last night [LINK] in conjunction with the Western Wall controversy. Death threats were conveyed by placing a knife branded with a reference to Maimonides’ Laws of Killing, Chapter 4:10 – “If there is the possibility, one should kill them with a sword in public view. If that is not possible, one should develop a plan so that one can cause their deaths.” Next to the knife were notes bearing the names of the leaders of Reform Judaism in Israel and the USA. Graffiti was sprayed on the walls, referring to the sanctity of the Kotel, and reference to Obadiah 1:18,1:21, which speaks about burning down the “House of Esau” and re-establishing the Kingdom of God.

After the shock and nausea wear off, one might say that good may yet come from this act of violence: 1. This will strengthen the public’s and the police’s understanding that they must exercise a firm hand against these thugs who act in God’s name. 2. Verses quoted out of context are a danger to our society and country, whether they are used by violent goons or rabbis. 3. This is living proof of the shared fate of Diaspora and Israeli Jewry (Rabbi Rick Jacobs, Anat Hoffman, & Rabbi Gilad Kariv were all singled out in the death threats). Together, we ought to change this reality, and bring Israel to actualize its founding vision, which guarantees freedom of religion and equality for all.

‘Jerusalem’s destruction – past events and current concerns’ by Rabbi Uri Regev, Head of Hiddush

Originally published in the Jerusalem Post
and the Jewish Daily Forward

Rabbi Uri Regev, Hiddush President and CEO; Executive Committee, Rabbis for Religious Freedom and Equality in Israel

Rabbi Uri Regev, Hiddush President and CEO; Executive Committee, Rabbis for Religious Freedom and Equality in Israel

This week we marked Tisha b’Av (the ninth of Av), a date commemorating a series of horrific events throughout Jewish history. According to rabbinic tradition, these spanned from the destruction of the first Temple in Jerusalem in 587 BCE to the 1942 liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto. While one common thread binding these calamities is persecution by gentiles, the rabbis of old also turned inward for explanations.

They were perceptive and bold in attributing responsibility to the Jewish community. Was their soul searching merely an exercise in history, or should we draw contemporary lessons relating to these very days? Rabbinic introspection left us with the following mind-boggling statement in Tractate Bava Metzia 30b: “Jerusalem was destroyed because the rabbinic courts strictly applied din Torah [Jewish legal judgments] rather than allowances of lifnim meshurat hadin [equity].”

The Talmud acknowledged that the Divine Torah law, strictly applied, may cause destruction! The other classic rabbinic explanation for the second Temple’s destruction is sinat hinam (baseless hatred). The famous story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, oft quoted, demonstrates the extent to which intolerance and hatred can deteriorate into destruction.

The rabbis did not spare their predecessors the lion’s share of responsibility, claiming that such instances of abuse and humiliation took place in the presence of the rabbinic leadership, who held their peace rather than counter the hatred and heal the community.

The first example placed the responsibility upon the overzealousness of the adjudicating rabbinate. In the second example, responsibility was attributed to the rabbinic leadership due to its inaction in the face of social strife.

Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin of Volozhin (The Natziv, 1816-1893) critically describes people in second Temple times who deviated from the Divine Will, as they labeled fellow Jews “Sadducees” for pursuing a religious path not identical to their own, and at times did not even refrain from bloodshed “for the sake of Heaven,” bemoaned the Natziv. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Israel faces numerous challenges.

Many come from outside, stemming from anti-Semitism, the refusal of neighboring countries to acknowledge the Jewish people’s right to a national home, the lack of natural resources, security costs, etc. These are well known, and Jews throughout the world support Israel in facing them. However, to do justice to Israel’s existential challenges, especially during these days of Jewish soul searching, we must emulate the rabbis of old, look boldly at our own religious scene, and identify the threat it poses to Israel’s social cohesiveness and Jewish unity.

The hateful rhetoric and theocratic pressures stemming from today’s self-righteous Israeli rabbinic and political leadership, aiming to delegitimize the “other,” is reminiscent of the Talmud’s focus on sinat hinam and the threat of Din Torah as a catalyst in weakening society.

In the past year, deputy minister Meir Porush of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism Party called for the Women of the Wall to be thrown to the dogs, and his colleague MK Moshe Gafni proclaimed Reform Jews (a catchall phrase for all Jews who are non-Orthodox) a bunch of clowns who stab the holy Torah. MK Yisrael Eichler (also of UTJ) labeled Reform – “mentally ill” and secular Jews – “two legged animals.”

Shas Party leader Aryeh Deri announced, “They will not get any recognition. In Judaism there is only one stream”; and his Shas colleague Minister of Religious Services David Azoulay said that he has difficulty considering them Jewish. Not to be outdone, Rabbi David Yosef, son of the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, charged that the Reform movement “is a collaboration with idolatry”; while Rabbi Yig’al Levenstein, cofounder of a renowned, state-funded pre-military academy publicly said that “Reform is a stream of Christianity” and homosexuals are perverts.

These are the modern parallels of the label “Sadducees,” which led to the Netziv’s lament, of sinat hinam.

Today’s “others” include not only the non-Orthodox Jewish streams, but also women, LGBT Jews, modern Orthodox Jews, as well as Orthodox Jews with differing views; shortly after Rabbi Ovadia Yosef approved of conversions done in the IDF, graffiti was seen in Mea She’arim which dropped his rabbinic title and labeled him “Reform!” Hiddush’s polling has shown that 71 percent of Israeli Jews perceive the rabbinical courts’ rigid rulings, as well as the anachronistic Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly over kashrut, burial, marriage, divorce, etc., and their refusal to accept the legitimacy of even modern Orthodox conversions and kashrut supervision, as distancing people from Jewish tradition. Clearly, strict application of Din Torah today results in social alienation and strife.

The Jewish people’s challenges today are profound. The threat posed to Jewish unity by our religious leadership steadily gains momentum, unrestrained by a government reliant upon the ultra-Orthodox parties’ political support. On Tisha Be’av, even as we mourn the many historic calamities that befell us, we must also draw brave lessons from our sages of old and reject theocratic fundamentalist pressures and sinat hinam, especially when it’s spewed “for the sake of Heaven”! We need equity, tolerance and compassion.

Only the deepest soul searching and bold action will stave off today’s threat of growing erosion from within.

‘A worthy tribe’ by Yizhar Hess, Executive Director and CEO of the Conservative Judaism movement in Israel

Originally posted in the Jerusalem Post HERE

Yizhar_hessLeading Israelis, quite properly, have been paying increased attention to recognizing the importance of Mizrahi (Sephardi) music, poetry, culture and overall contributions to Jewish life. Both the Education Ministry and Culture and Sports Ministry have created new committees and prizes to stress the significances of Mizrahi contributions to all aspects of Israeli life, and to Jewish life throughout the world.

All of this is wonderful – and surely deserved. But think for a moment about another community, ironically generally Ashkenazi, that has also for years been subject to neglect and even scorn. I refer to American Jews, half the Jewish population of the world.

American society is pulsating with Jewish life, culture and scholarship.

Yet Israeli government ministers, with impunity, refer to large numbers of American Jews as clowns or dogs. And what happens then (if anything)? Perhaps an exceedingly gentle slap on the wrist. Can you imagine what would happen if the same government officials made the same comments about Mizrahi Jews? Are American Jews, largely Conservative and Reform and historically so supportive of the State of Israel, the only ones upon whom it is permitted for Israeli officials to heap abuse and disdain? What a wonderful Jewish history there is in America. Jews first arrived in America after the expulsion from Spain, but the largest movement occurred between 1880 to 1935. Two million Jews (yes, two million) emigrated from Europe to the US. That is the largest wave of immigration in Jewish history. For the sake of comparison, in exactly the same years, the first to fifth aliyot (waves of immigration based on the Zionist ideal) arrived in Palestine; altogether, they numbered 300,000 (and a considerable number of them went back to their land of origin). Our Israeli education system, quite rightly, taught us about the individual characteristics of each and every one of these five waves of immigration. That is how these mass movements became legendary.

But that same education system patronizingly largely ignored the “mass aliya” and grouped all the Mizrahi Jews together under one wave of immigration. Today, therefore, the promotion of Mizrahi Jewish culture to a distinguished place in the educational syllabus is truly the correction of an historical wrong.

But has the cultural heritage of only one diaspora been ignored? While most American Jews remained in America, Masorti and Reform Jews are no longer an insignificant minority in Israel. More than seven percent of Israeli Jews today describe themselves as Masorti and Reform (about the same number as call themselves Haredi). Polls clearly show that a majority of Israelis want to see government recognition of Masorti and Reform and acceptance of their rabbis, conversions and marriages.

If Israel is, indeed, the national homeland of the Jewish people, can half the Jews in the world be ignored? Why is it more legitimate to be excited about a Tunisian hymn that has been lost, and then found, than to remember fondly the grace after meals from Camp Ramah or the tunes of the wonderful singer Debbie Friedman, a cantor on whose tunes half the Jewish people grew up? Why are the moderate, learned judgements of Mizrahi rabbis worthy of investment, and not the egalitarian religious revolution which enabled women to become rabbis, and has changed the Jewish people for generations? This is no accident. This is an intentional cultural rejection of half of the Jewish people, simply because in North America there grew a form of non-Orthodox Judaism that is both religiously committed and liberal; a form of Judaism that, heaven forbid, has proven that there is more than one way to be a Jew.

And what have we missed? Goodness, so very much. Rich, Jewish culture, with music, instructive literature, amazing rabbinical judgements, revolutionary attitudes toward religion, which have written a significant chapter in the dialogue between man and God (and at the same time saved the Jewish people from assimilation); but, most of all, we have missed the substance of the State of the Jews. The national home of a people is a place that knows, that must know how to respect and to appreciate the culture, the customs and the heritage of all Jews.

Otherwise it is not a national home.

Yes, the “American Jewish Community” is also a worthy ethnic group.

It might sound funny, but it most assuredly is not.

The Prime Minister must respect his agreements – By Rabbi Andrew Sacks, Executive Director, Rabbinical Assembly in Israel

Rabbi Andrew SacksWhen Rav Amar, the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, pushed his way into the egalitarian section by Robinson’s Arch, he also spoke out about Conservative and Reform Jews being ‘Reshai’im’ (evil ones). Yet the Talmud defines a Rasha as one who says ‘what is mine is mine and what is yours is mine.’ Apparently this is the thinking of Rav Amar with regard to the Kotel. On January 31, 2016, the government signed an agreement with us regarding the egalitarian section. The government has failed to implement the agreement. So we are now demanding that if an egalitarian section is not created in keeping with the agreement, then we are entitled to a third prayer area in the main section of the Kotel. What happened on June 16, 2016 in the Kotel Plaza sends a message to the Prime Minister that he must respect his agreements with us, that he cannot continue to deny us and give in to the Zealously Orthodox.

What is Yours is Also Mine by Rabbi Pamela Frydman, RRFEI Chair

Click HERE for the RRFEI bulletin:
'Reform and Conservative Movements write the Police Inspector General'

 



Pam-2015-with-short-hair-1The government spent three years negotiating a Kotel compromise that includes building a dignified worship space at the Kotel (Western Wall) for mixed gender egalitarian prayer. Jerusalem’s Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar appears to view the Kotel compromise as a form of encroachment on Orthodox and Haredi turf and he is fighting against it with all his might. Perhaps he is opposed to the compromise simply because it includes constructing a dignified egalitarian plaza. Perhaps it is because there will be one unified entrance through which tourist and regulars will enter the Kotel area and proceed to either egalitarian or gender divided prayer spaces. Perhaps it is because leaders of the Reform and Conservative Movements and Women of the Wall will have seats on a Kotel governing body. Perhaps it is for a combination of these and other reasons.

In February 2016, a month after the cabinet approved implementation of the Kotel compromise, Rabbi Amar gave an interview on Kol Hai radio during which he criticized aging Haredi leaders for supporting the compromise. Rabbi Amar went so far as to imply that these Haredi leader lack intellectual competence.

In June 2016, Rabbi Amar stooped to a new low, desecrating the present egalitarian platform by using it to incite hatred against non-Orthodox observant Jews. On June 14, 2015, Rabbi Amar went to the platform with a group of supporters, installed a mehitza and davvened shacharit. Then Rabbi Amar gave an emotional talk decrying Reform and Conservative Judaism in general and mixed gender worship and the Kotel compromise in particular. While making his way from the platform to the street, Rabbi Amar muttered a prayer asking God to bring these “evil ones” back to Judaism.

As we know, Mishna Avot (5:10) defines a “rasha” (evil one) as one who says “what is mine is mine and what is yours is mine.” Oddly enough, Rav Amar declared Conservative and Reform Jews to be reshai’im at the very moment that he himself was engaging declaring “what is yours is mine” by taking over and inciting hatred in and from the egalitarian section at the Kotel.

The Reform and Conservative Movements responded by holding an egalitarian mincha in the Main Plaza two days later, on June 16, 2016. The egalitarian service was held in an open area behind the gender separated men’s and women’s prayer areas. Hundreds of Yeshiva students were sent by their rabbis to protest. The students protesters attacked and harassed the four hundred egalitarian worshipers by shouting, blowing shrill whistles continuously, cursing, spitting, and throwing water bottles.

A small number of border guards were stationed between the worshipers and the protesters. The guards became overwhelmed and did not protect the worshipers. To make matters worse, police stationed nearby looked on and did nothing.

For me, the saddest part of this entire affair is that Reform, Conservative and other egalitarian Jews were treated by police as a population unworthy of basic protections and yeshiva students were treated as though they are above the law. As if that were not enough, the government has been silent in the aftermath. As of this writing, there has been no apology and no promise by the Prime Minister, the Chief of Police or anyone else to do better in the future to protect egalitarian worshipers at the Kotel and to inform Haredi protestors that harming worshipers and visitors to the Kotel is against the law. We call upon the Prime Minister and the Chief of Police to rectify this situation going forward.

Letter to Israel Police Inspector General from the Reform and Conservative Movements

Click HERE for the RRFEI bulletin:
'Reform and Conservative Movements write the Police Inspector General'

Click HERE for the original 
Hebrew version of the letter below

 



ref
Reform Movement

cons
Conservative Movement

14 Sivan 5776, 20 June 2016

Chief of Staff Ronnie Alshich
Israel Police Inspector General
National Headquarters
Via Bar Lev 1 Jerusalem
lishkatmafcal@police.gov.il

Honorable One:

Re : Insufficient police preparations for egalitarian mincha prayers at the Western Wall

We are writing to alert the Police regarding serious deficiencies that occurred last Thursday, 10 Sivan 5776, 16 June 2016) at the Western Wall while the Masorti (Conservative) and Reform Movements were holding an egalitarian mincha service in the public plaza.

We did not veil our intention to gather at the Western Wall nor did we veil our intention to exercise our right to pray there. In an attempt to prevent our worship, the Minister of Religious Affairs asked the office of the Legal Advisor to look into whether our worship could be prevented, but, as expected, the Legal Advisor informed him that there were no grounds for preventing the service from taking place in the main plaza. A petition was submitted to the Supreme Court in this matter on behalf of the Association of ‘Justice’ and that petition was also rejected. The police were aware of all of these realities, and to remove any doubt (about whether the police were aware of these realities), Masorti Movement Chair Attorney Yizhar Hess (undersigned) phoned Police David Commander Doron Turgeman to update him regarding the planned worship, and they had a substantive conversation.

Our worship included approximately 400 men and women from all over the country. The protesters included approximately 120 yeshiva students. The students rioted. They shouted, blew whistles, cursed, spat, and threw water bottles. At moments, the riot erupted into serious violence, including punching and throwing stones. There was also an obscene act (in which someone cupped the buttocks of a female worshipper who is part of the military preparatory program). The event videos and media reports in Israel and abroad depict an atmosphere of worsening violence.

It was certainly possible to anticipate that tempers would flare. We were, therefore, shocked at the lack of sufficient police presence and the lack of police capacity. The police forces dispatched a small number of border guards — deaf individuals not in uniform — tasked with separating the factions. They tried, without success, to prevent the Ultra-Orthodox students from harming the worshippers. There were many police officers in the vicinity, but they did not intervene; they did nothing. It was as if there was a message that if worshipers wish to exercise their legal right to pray in egalitarian fashion without a mehitza, they will be punished for doing so. Please note that this was one-sided violence. There could have been, God forbid, serious casualties, although there were, in fact, only light injuries. The Israeli police must prepare accordingly, and not stand idly by when emotions flare.

This constitutes a serious operational failure, and perhaps even a basic flaw in understanding the role of the police. It is the duty of the police to protect the beleaguered and maintain public order. In this instance, the police did neither. This is particularly noteworthy in view of the fact that just two days earlier, the police allowed Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar to engage in a prayer of defiance by placing a mehitza in Ezrat Yisrael (the section designated for egalitarian worship) and conducting morning prayers there.

Honorable Police Commissioner, we ask you to please investigate the incident to ensure that deficits of this kind do not recur. We are law-abiding. In the coming months we plan to hold regular egalitarian worship in the public plaza at the Western Wall. We expect that the Israeli police will stand guard to avoid anything happening to worshipers who wish to enjoy the freedom of worship to which they are entitled to by law, and in accordance with case law and the spirit of the law.

Yizhar Hess, Attorney at Law
Executive Director of the
Masorti (Conservative) Movement
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, Attorney at Law
Executive Director of the
Reform Movement

 

cc: Avichai Mandelblit, Attorney at Law, State Attorney General

Standing Up to Hate by Rabbi Pamela Frydman, RRFEI Chairwoman

Pam-2015-with-short-hair-1Sinat hinam, free flowing hatred between different branches of Judaism is not new, but it is once again virulent. As we watch the cauldron of intra-Jewish hatred boil over in the Israeli government and the Haredi and Orthodox Zionist establishments, many of us are at a loss for how to proceed toward Jewish unity. Perhaps it is time for the leaders of the major non-Orthodox movements to take the helm in Klal Yisrael and call for unity. Perhaps it is time for non-Orthodox leaders to declare that there is more than one valid form of Judaism and that Orthodox and Haredi Judaism are just as valid as non-Orthodox Judaism.

I have no doubt that this will cause our Orthodox and Haredi colleagues to laugh at us and mock us, but they are already mocking us and worse.

So why do this? I recommend doing this because it will address the sinat hinam in our own hearts and among our own non-Orthodox constituents and the unaffiliated. Look at the gender issue for example. Non-Orthodox women participate in “women only” Rosh Hodesh, sisterhood, Hadassah and secular activities. Yet many of them refuse to attend a worship service where women and men sit separately. Similarly, non-Orthodox men participate in “men’s only” activities sponsored by men’s clubs, brotherhoods, and secular organizations, yet they insist on sitting with their wife, mother or daughter during worship. I am not suggesting we give up egalitarian Judaism. Rather, I suggest that we focus on the empowerment of women as an issue that is separate from where we sit during worship and how we view the reasons for where we sit.

Gender based seating is just an example; we could accomplish the same goal by thoughtfully addressing kashrut, Shabbat or other forms of Jewish practice.

I do not suggest that our leaders call for unity while ignoring attacks on themselves and their movements. I do suggest, however, that our leaders take the lead in calling for unity while defending themselves, their colleagues and their movements.

I once asked a Haredi rabbi who works closely with non-Orthodox rabbis, “why do you work with us?” He said, “raising the water level helps to float all boats.” The more Jews affiliate and practice at some level or at any level, the more potential for Yiddishkeit to flourish. I like his answer because it is honest, it is not sugar coated, and the truth is that we need each other, and we should be supporting each other, regardless of whether we like each other or agree with each other.

My interest in Jewish unity increased after I experienced sinat hinam at the Kotel in 2010. I stood outside Kotel security holding Women of the Wall’s Torah scroll, because the security guards would not let us bring in our Torah for fear that we would read from it. So I held the Torah outside security while Women of the Wall and our male supporters prayed on either side of the mehitza. As I clutched the Torah, Orthodox and Haredi men on their way to and from the Kotel regaled me with venomous shouts of “Reform!” “Arab!” and “Whore!” Some even said that people like me caused the Holocaust.

When Women of the Wall and their male supporters finished Hallel, we all walked together to Robinson’s Arch where we read from the Torah and prayed musaf. After the service, a male colleague told me that while the men were praying in the Kotel Plaza, a large group of Orthodox and Haredi men suddenly, and without warning, body-pressed their full weight against our male supporters, crushing them against the mehitza. My heart ached from their abuse and mine, and I felt my heart fill with sinat hinam.

It took a great deal of effort to let go of the hatred that filled my heart that morning at Robinson’s Arch, but I finally did. I think it is important to view this kind of hatred as prejudice and to work to overcome it when it fills us.

Perhaps it is time for Masorti / Conservative and Progressive / Reform Jewish leaders to rise above the stench of hatred that is being lobbed on them and to call for Jewish unity as though they had the power to achieve it. Rather than waiting for Haredi and Orthodox Zionist leaders and Knesset Members in Israel to overcome their religious insanity, perhaps it is time for our leaders in the non-Orthodox movements to take the lead and show the world what Jewish religious sanity actually looks like.

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 fellow man.'”

(Menachem Elon, Jewish Law, vol. 1, p. 185, commenting on Ramban to Lev. 19:2)

The hateful comments expressed in Israel in the last few weeks regarding liberal Jews, and now repudiated by the Prime Minister, risk losing touch with fundamental guiding principles, e.g. — “not to hate your brother in your heart, and v’ahavta l’rey’echa kamocha.” These spokespeople and others look for increasing ways to justify their hatred of outsiders and other Jews, when there are plenty of principles (ahavat Yisrael, tselem elohim, lifnim meshurat hadin) that would reign them back in if they were looking for a peaceful path forward.

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and National Direction of the Anti-Defamation League sounds this alarm:

  • The status quo leads to cynicism about state institutions and the law itself.
  • It raises questions about Israel’s commitment to equality for all its citizens.
  • It undermines respect for religion itself in society.

Current hatred toward liberal Jews goes hand in hand with undermining the democratic underpinnings of the state intended by the Founders and assaulting Israel’s Supreme Court, both essential to North American understanding of the raison d’etre of a Jewish homeland.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts. Please send your comments to: organizers@rrfei.org

You may also find our FB group at: [link].

Rising flames of resistance to the Western Wall agreement

The platform for egalitarian prayer at Robinson's Arch, under fire

The platform for egalitarian prayer at Robinson’s Arch, under fire

Uri-Regev-profile-photo-e1425932791183Since last week’s RRFEI bulletin [link], the flames of religious detraction against the Kotel agreement have been rising. This has been covered widely in the Anglo Jewish and international media; below, RRFEI provides you with the original Hebrew pronouncements of: the Chief Rabbinate, the Ashkenazi Council of [Great] Torah Sages [link], the Sephardic Council of [Wise] Torah Sages [link], Rabbi Shlomo Amar [link] (current Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem), Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach [link] (a leading Ashkenazi Lithuanian posek), and Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron[link] (former Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel).

There is no doubt that both Shas’ and UTJ’s key political leaders were involved in the Kotel agreement process and gave it their (quiet) nods, even as it was stipulated that they would vote against it (knowing that their nays would be in the minority). They did not anticipate the extent to which the ultra-Orthodox media would drum up resistance and anger, nor that some key rabbinic leaders (particularly those with an axe to grind against the ultra-Orthodox political powers that be) would be stoking these flames.

For instance, In the case of the Sephardic ultra-Orthodox, while the Council of [Wise] Torah Sages continues to back Minister Rabbi Aryeh Deri, their anti-Reform rhetoric is quite vitriolic. In the case of the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox, Rabbi Auerbach has been consistently opposed to the leading forces of Ashkenazi Haredi Judaism on IDF draft issues. In both cases, discontented rabbinic elements are riding the issues of the Western Wall and the Supreme Court’s ruling on mikva’ot under the guise of religious purism.

As we read these sources, let’s note the following:

  • The ugliness of the rhetoric;
  • Both the Kotel agreement and the Supreme Court ruling on the mikva’ot have been assailed – so the operative byproduct is both anti-Reform, as well as anti-civil judiciary and the rule of law;
  • The Zionist Orthodox Jewish Home party has once again emerged as a religious smorgasbord, with its party chairperson continuing to back the Kotel agreement, which is essentially an expansion of his own initiative three years ago when he was Minister of Diaspora Affairs. On the other hand, the party’s stauncher religious and political right, represented by Minister Uri Ariel and MK Smotrich [link] are expressing a more aggressive and rigid stance, challenging the agreement and, implicitly, Bennett’s leadership;
  • All in all, one cannot begin to understand this chaos without understanding the subtext, which goes beyond the Kotel, into personal, political and ideological rivalries. The makers of this deal had hoped it would fly under the radar, but these internal interests and the intense media attention caused by the confluence of events, including the CCAR conference in Israel, which presented the Kotel agreement as a major victory, elicited to these responses.
  • While these voices are attacking the “Reform,” they have a very limited idea of what “Reform” is, and use it as a generic label to describe anybody with whom they have religious disagreements.

Before consenting to this agreement, Rabbi Rabinovitch, the Rabbi of the Western Wall, sought guidance from leading Ashkenazi Lithuanian Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky who instructed him to turn to Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzhal. Nebenzhal instructed Rabinovitch to support the agreement so that non-Orthodox and liberal Orthodox prayer practices would have no place at the traditional Kotel plaza. However, Nebenzhal [link] did not expect the extent of the backlash, and is now buckling under the pressure. Short of retracting his opinion, he is saving face and making a half-turn, saying that the agreement should be sabotaged by finding a “better way.”

Following this, a meeting was supposed to take place yesterday, on Sunday, between PM Netanyahu, the Chief Rabbis, Minister Deri, Minister Shaked and some additional Haredi leaders. The meeting was postponed [link] after the harsh pronouncements against the agreement were issued over the last several days, with the understanding that the Chief Rabbis would attempt to propose an alternative approach to the agreement.

Additionally, a number of elements including a rabbinic group associated with the Chief Rabbinate have hired a senior attorney[link] who has presented a legal challenge to the validity of the agreement to the Attorney General. His claim is that the law requires that the Chief Rabbinate be consulted before the Minister of Religious Services institutes such regulations, according to the Law of Preserving the Holy Places of Israel.

Beyond this, in yet another classic clash of religion and state in Israel, Shas’s Minister of Religious Services David Azoulay [link]has declared that he will not sign the regulations, indicating that he’s not answering to the majority Government decision, but rather to the rabbis who control him. Sadly the fragile set-up of Israel’s rule of law breaks when it comes to fundamentalist religious functionaries.

Everyone expected that the Ashkenazi political leadership would voice strong objections to the Kotel agreement, but not that they would seriously consider leaving the coalition over these issues. However, recent statements indicate that the ante has been raised, and they have come under greater pressure from their rabbinic masters. Therefore, they have explicitly threatened to leave the coalition if the Government does not take tangible measures that assert that non-Orthodox Judaism will not gain any traction and recognition in Israel.

All of this leaves Netanyahu between a rock and a hard place. He meant well, but he now realizes that these dynamics may cause a greater challenge to the well-bring of his coalition than he had considered. He is clearly still acting on the logic and strategic direction that led him to accommodate the non-Orthodox American movements in the first place, namely appeasing these key forces in the American Jewish community critical for Israel’s strategic interests, but the political pressure he now faces is only intensifying.

Pashkvil published in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods: “The cry of the great rabbis of our time is that the Western Wall is to be desecrated and trampled upon.”

Credit: Israel Religious Action Center, for photo and translations

Credit: Israel Religious Action Center, for photo and translations (click to enlarge)

Last week, more than 500 posters were put up in Israel in the neighborhood of Meah Shearim and other ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods that include the following quotes:

“We are shamed. Disgrace has covered our faces. Strangers have come into My Temple, Beit Adonai. The cry of the great rabbis of our time is that the Western Wall is to be desecrated and trampled upon.” – header of this pashkvil

“It is inconceivable to allow the etching of Reform synagogue names in iron pen and letters of lead for them to receive Shem Olam that can never be erased. We shall not honor them within the gates of our Temple.” – Yabia Omer, responsa by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (1920-2013)

“We must unite as an un-breachable wall against our arch enemies that want to enter the Reforms into all areas of religion.” – Yabia Omer, responsa by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (1920-2013)

“The holiness of the wall extends its whole length, from its most southern corner to its most northern corner. It is inconceivable to divide the Kotel or the area adjacent to it.” – letter to the Prime Minister, from the Chief Rabbis of Jerusalem

“The Reform shall shatter us to splinters and split us into factions. An abomination, unwanted by all, it shall be burnt in fire and consumed outside our camp and not enter the Holiness.” – Tzitz Eliezer, Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg (1915-2006)

“We need salvation in spirituality, especially now that the supreme court has intervened to allow the Reform into our land, and their essence is to take Jews and make them Goyim.” – Vizhnitzer Rebbe, Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua Hager (1916-2012)

“The Reform movement intends to sink its claws in the Wall of Jerusalem…We must hurry and fight the Lord’s battle against this hemlock and wormwood movement that has brought the fall of many and taken a huge, deathly toll.” – Tzitz Eliezer, Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg (1915-2006) quoting former Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Tzvi Pesach Frank (1873-1961)

“This monster is worse than all the secular people we know. In their actions they bring chaos into the world and increase the power of Satan, God forbid…” – Tzitz Eliezer, Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg (1915-2006) quoting former Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Tzvi Pesach Frank (1873-1961)