On Tuesday, the Jewish Agency’s Unity of the Jewish People Committee will
convene for its annual meeting in Jerusalem.
Chaired by Jewish Agency
chairman Natan Sharansky, this committee may be the only space in the Jewish
world which seeks to develop consensus on issues that set the parameters for
Jewish peoplehood in an era when extremism and public posturing are setting the
And because such a space exists, it should be maximized to its
The unity meeting coincides with an attempt of the Chief
Rabbinate to further marginalize the non-Orthodox streams, both in Israel and
around the Jewish world. Rather than acknowledging the role that the non-
Orthodox have played – at least historically in North America – in developing
Jewish identity and attempting to curtail intermarriage and assimilation – the
rabbinate has demonized the Conservative and Reform movements.
weeks ago the government agreed to begin funding a handful of non-Orthodox
rabbis. Now the rabbinate has called for a crusade against them.
Orthodoxy, there seems to be a consensus that Judaism will be undermined if one
refers to a non-Orthodox rabbi as “rabbi.” This is painful for me as it further
alienates the non-Orthodox and adds fuel to the fire of those who argue that
Orthodoxy is irrelevant and that its leadership is unaware of the demographics
of the Jewish people.
Among the non-Orthodox, there is a tendency to gain
political capital from the mistakes of the Orthodox, and rather than attempting
to seek common ground or shared goals, public grandstanding becomes the order of
At this unique time in the history of Israel and the Jewish
people, where we have the opportunity to work together for a better future for
Jews and Judaism, both here and in the Diaspora, I think what is missing in the
grand conversation about Jewish peoplehood is perspective.
Rabbinate Council is operating in a vacuum, unaware of how much it is alienating
world Jewry and distancing Jews from Jewish tradition. And the opportunistic and
populist in the non-Orthodox camp also are living in a vacuum, as they are
unwilling to fully acknowledge the depth and significance of the Orthodox
What we need now is a little humility, a little flexibility, some
courage to begin a dialogue, and a lot of patience. If only we can get Jews to
sit across the table from each other, we might have a chance at some form of
Jewish unity. But if we can’t even acknowledge that we all form the backbone of
the Jewish people together, then we’re doomed to failure.
Can we get the
leaders of the movements to sit down together? Probably not right now. But can
we lobby them to recognize that the other leads part of the Jewish people? I
believe we can.
As discouraged I am about conversion, Bet Shemesh, the
Tal Law and the attitudes among my colleagues toward Conservative and Reform
Jews, I continue to work for Jewish unity.
Honestly, I don’t think there
is an alternative.
The author, a rabbi, is the director of ITIM:
Resources and Advocacy in Jewish life and the rabbi of Kehilat Netivot in