Women of the Wall pray at Robinsons Arch after several clashes at the main Western Wall plaza.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Imagine that a group of Jews decide to hold an outdoor service in a public square in Paris. As they assemble, they are surrounded and attacked. A right-wing group bused in from various locations attempts to stop the service, violently attacking the Jews, ripping their kippot and tallitot (skullcaps and prayer shawls) off, spitting, hitting and cursing them. Police who are present do little or nothing to prevent the attack, and French government officials keep silent, refusing to condemn the attack. The government of Israel protests vehemently to the French – even recalling the Israeli ambassador. Jews throughout the world are enraged.
Of course, this did not really happen. What did occur was that Jews participating in a service sponsored by the Women of the Wall in Jerusalem were attacked violently and cursed verbally by other Jews representing the Israeli rabbinate and religious parties, while the Israel Police stood by and the government officials of Israel kept their silence.
Should we not expect a strong statement from the Israeli prime minister and from all the government ministers? What about a protest from the chief rabbis? Is it any wonder that American Jews are distancing themselves – not from Israel – but from its government and officials? What exactly should they do, stand up and cheer?
None of this is new. It has been going on for decades. Nor would it have happened had Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not reneged on his government’s decision, reached after two years of difficult negotiations, to create an appropriate prayer space for this group near Robinson’s Arch. Israel is one of the few places in the world where Jews are not totally free to worship as Jews in the way that they wish.
Israel was not created in order to provide a monopoly to one specific rabbinate over Judaism, but to enable Jews to freely practice their religion as they desire. If American Jews are turned off by this, they have every reason to feel discriminated against. I hope that when Netanyahu appears before AIPAC, he will be greeted by silence rather than by cheers. He deserves no more than that.
But this is not a problem for American Jews or Diaspora Jews alone. It is a problem for Israelis who have allowed their freedom to be taken from them and their religious rights to be given to one particular group that represents only one narrow version of Judaism. And all of this is political because of their power in forming coalitions.
When will we have the courage to change the situation and to privatize the rabbinate and grant freedom and equality to all versions of Judaism, as there is in the United States and elsewhere? Until that happens, Jews everywhere must make their voices heard in favor of religious freedom for Jews in Israel, and direct their financial support of Israel to those groups that stand for freedom of religion and away from those which do not support it.
Wherever an Israeli government official appears he or she should be greeted by protests against the situation that exists in the Jewish state. Those who keep silent now must accept responsibility for this intolerable situation, which we would never accept in any other country in the world.The writer is a former president of the International Rabbinical Assembly and a regular columnist in The Jerusalem Post and Jerusalem Report. The opinions expressed are his own.
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