No alternative to unity

On Tuesday, the Jewish Agency’s Unity of the Jewish People Committee will convene for its annual meeting in Jerusalem.

June 21, 2012 21:50
2 minute read.
Rabbinate fighting non-orthodox

Rabbinate fighting non-orthodox 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)


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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 tone.

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And because such a space exists, it should be maximized to its fullest.

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.

Only two weeks ago the government agreed to begin funding a handful of non-Orthodox rabbis. Now the rabbinate has called for a crusade against them.

Across 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 the day.

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.

The Chief 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 world.

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 Ra’anana.

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