Having been brought up Orthodox and having gone to an Orthodox day school,
Yeshiva University and Bar- Ilan University, I can’t help but wonder why I felt
like such a stranger when I attended the emergency meeting of Israeli
“establishment” rabbis who were summoned by the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel
Rabbi Shlomo Amar to a conference this week on the “threat” of recognizing
non-Orthodox rabbis in Israel.
As a practicing rabbi in Jerusalem of the
Conservative/Masorti Movement, I knew that I had to attend the conference in
order for me to hear, first hand; to understand how the Israeli Orthodox
rabbinic establishment really perceived me and my colleagues (Conservative and
Reform.) Enough of reading the newspapers and the quotes, I wanted to hear the
rabbis in real time. So, Rabbi Dubi Hayun, a Conservative-Masorti colleague of
mine from Haifa, and I dressed up in “uniform” for the occasion – “a white shirt
and black pants.”
We entered the chief rabbi’s central office and were
admitted to the conference without a problem. At the security check, an employee
of the Chief Rabbinate even said to the security guard, “You don’t have to check
him; he is one of ours!” Little did he know! As taught by my parents, I came on
time and sat waiting as the modest conference hall filled up with the two chief
rabbis, members of the Chief Rabbinical Council, city rabbis, local and regional
council rabbis, neighborhood rabbis, dayanim (religious court rabbinic judges),
a number of MK and two Shas ministers. These rabbis represented the more ultra-
Orthodox element of the rabbinic establishment.
The absence of
knitted-kippa-wearing rabbis and more modern Orthodox Tzohar rabbis was
Sadly enough, I felt as if I had infiltrated enemy lines. This
feeling was exacerbated throughout the conference.
I sat and listened as
every speaker got up and spoke about the threat the State of Israel is facing
because of the Gezera – the “edict.”
For a second I was thinking about
the awful edicts of Antiochus or Hadrian forbidding Jews from practicing their
religion and studying the Torah.
But this Gezera is nothing more than the
government’s willingness to fund non-Orthodox rabbis in several towns around
The rhetoric was militaristic. Rabbi Amar encouraged the rabbis
to stand in front of the open Ark and to pray for the nullification of the
“edict”; “to wage war” against those whose sole intention is to have the people
drink “polluted waters” and to bring Israelis down to the non-Orthodox “pit of
It was hard for me to hear the accusations that we
Conservative and Reform rabbis are counterfeiting Judaism and that it is
forbidden to talk to us. This is tantamount to excommunication.
said that our head coverings and prayer shawls are nothing more than a
camouflage hiding our real intentions, i.e. to destroy Judaism.
regional rabbi warned against letting non-Orthodox rabbis use empty synagogues
in moshavim or letting them use publicly funded ritual baths.
senior rabbi from Rehovot opened up his speech by saying “we are all brethren
and friends one to the other,” I wondered if he were including me. I don’t think
After delivering tirade after tirade about the dangers of
non-Orthodox Judaism in Israel, the rabbis charged each other with the objective
of “guarding the vineyard of the House of Israel.” But, to guard from whom? From
people like me, the so-called trespassers who aren’t worthy of planting anything
in that metaphoric vineyard of Judaism? These angry, rejecting diatribes
continued for an hour, and were hard to absorb.
The conference concluded
with a prayer for the government’s cancellation of the “edict.” The rabbis left,
many traveling through the forest fires on Route 1.
The police claim that
the forest fires were caused by arson. In tears, I can report that the fires of
enmity were lit in the office of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. Our courageous
firefighters cannot extinguish these fires. It’s our job! The people of Israel –
all of us, together!
The writer is rabbi of Kehilat Moreshet Avraham in East