Just Torah: Time to decide

It is time to discard a cornerstone of theocratic oppression before it is not a stone, but the whole Temple.

September 16, 2016 13:42
3 minute read.
Israel theocracy

'Are we a narrowing theocracy on our way to allowing a small – but very fast-growing – sect to define and limit us?’. (photo credit: REUTERS)

‘What if Reform Judaism was made into civil law?” I asked an ultra-Orthodox man at the Kotel one morning. He and the others he stood with in a pack had called me a whore and a Nazi among other things.

“God forbid!” he said vehemently. “God forbid!” “You don’t believe in the Golden Rule?” I asked. "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. In Hillel’s declaration that is the entire Torah, and the rest is just commentary.

“If the imposition of my Jewish practice would be hateful to you, how can you justify imposing yours on me? You know, the reason this is a central orienting value of our tradition, one that we repeat from parent to child, is that it’s hard to do sometimes. We need reminding. Because it means not getting what you want – even things that you really, really, really want and believe and think you know for sure.”

As I write this, Monday morning, September 12, 2016, 9 Elul, 5776, Jewish groups are in the High Court demanding full access to, and shared administration of, the Western Wall. This would mean a new administrative authority for the Western Wall that includes representatives of the Conservative and Reform movements as well as (gasp!) women.

And if not a new administrative authority, at the very least expanding the now Orthodox- run Western Wall Heritage Foundation to include Reform and Conservative representatives, as well as (gasp!) women, to its board.

Anat Hoffman, the executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center and founding member of Women of the Wall, explains the group’s petition: “Women of the Wall will not accept a situation in which the Western Wall becomes the exclusive province of an increasingly extremist minority group. We appeal to the court earnestly and in good faith having fulfilled everything that was demanded of us by all the judicial security and governmental authorities. We have done our part and they have not met their most basic promise, the promise of complete equality regardless of religion, race or sex that is anchored in Israel's Declaration of Independence. Every new month we re-experience blatant discrimination because we are women. Discrimination is maintained and rendered more harshly due to the policies of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation policy and its director. It is time to dismantle the repressive apparatus surreptitiously and incrementally established and return the Wall to the values of gender equality, religious pluralism, justice and tolerance. Women of the Wall contend that the State is disobeying the Basic Laws and the explicit order of the Israeli judiciary by refusing to act regarding discrimination against women of all kinds and progressive Judaism at the Western Wall.”

It is time to discard a cornerstone of theocratic oppression before it is not a stone, but the whole Temple. And to make the discarded Temple stone of this country – democratic values as applied to religion (which would have room for the ultra-Orthodox too) – the cornerstone. Because the narrow-minded, lockstep, oppressive- of-women-and-all-non-Orthodox-Jews “holy” will continue their control of civil laws pertaining to conversion and marriage and divorce and death rituals and kashrut and Shabbat and, if we don’t stop it, expand to what jobs people can hold and what we can wear and how we can gather and what we can and cannot teach our children. And when this turning-point comes, as history has shown us again and again, undoing it will be too late for many and nearly impossible for the rest.

It is up to us now to decide: Are we a narrowing theocracy on our way to allowing a small – but very fast-growing – sect to define and limit us? Or are we a pluralistic, inventive, start-up nation infused with Jewish values and in partnership with the divine (which could manifest in science and medicine as well as acts of loving kindness, justice work as well as prayer, technology as well as Shabbat and holiday observance), with the curiosity, inventiveness and chutzpah to repair the world? We can’t be both.

The writer, a rabbi, is a founding member of Kamocha: A Jewish Response to Refugees and the founding director of Second Nurture: Every Child Deserves a Family – and a Community. Her book, Casting Lots: Creating a Family in a Beautiful, Broken World (Da Capo Press) is now available online and in most US stores.

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