Boys at Kotel 311.
(photo credit: Michael Freund)
The recent debate about conversion in Israel has brought to the fore an
important question for Israeli society. Let’s leave aside for now whether the
proposed legislation in fact constitutes a change in policy toward Conservative
and Reform conversions in the United States, or whether it will be at all
helpful in facilitating conversion for the roughly 300,000 non-Jewish immigrants
from the former Soviet Union.
I believe that the answer is “No,” in
either case, and the debate is more about politics than substance. The question
remains, however: To what extent must Israel take into account the beliefs,
concerns, and ideologies of those who do not live here? It seems that every
government faces this core dilemma at some point: choosing between the agendas
of its coalition partners for whom liberal Judaism is either irrelevant or a
convenient punching bag around which to rally their supporters, and Israel’s
supporters around the world.
Israel and world Jewry today are at a
crossroads in which each, while often reflecting and representing very
populations, political interests and Jewish beliefs, has to decide
are going to continue to function as a religion with one nation and one
or whether we are going to proceed alone.
For world Jewry, the key
question is not whether they are willing to take a leap of faith and
every policy decision, piece of legislation or action taken by the
government, Knesset or society. The question is whether they are willing
a leap of loyalty in which their commitment to Israel as a critical and
essential part of their modern Jewish lives is strong and secure.
commitment, far from demanding agreement, in fact encourages debate and
criticism. It requires a commitment to Israel not as it is, but as it
be, and a willingness to invest in creating such an Israel. It requires a
caring, whereby, in times of failure and in times of need, they stand by
staunchly and work to build and sustain an Israel that they can respect
We Israelis, despite brash statements to the contrary, yearn for
and need that love. The problem on our part is that we are often not
do what is necessary to sustain and support it. We think all that we
need to do
is to wave the military “crisis du jour” to rally the troops and reap
and political dividends.
ISRAEL, AS the homeland of the Jewish people,
can no longer claim a self-evident, essentialist argument for its
the future of Jewish survival, or for that matter its birthright as the
of world Jewry and world Judaism. The future of the relationship between
and world Jewry is not dependent on claims of necessity but rather of
and importance. Jews in many places around the world, particularly in
America, have created a home and a vibrant and vital Judaism for
Israel is to have a role in their lives, it must earn it.
To earn it,
Israel must be a place where religious pluralism and diversity reign. It
a place where the various Judaisms of the Jews have footholds and a
respect. It must be a place where our foreign and military policies are
and Jewishly defensible. It must be a place where the impact of our
world Jewry is an integral part of our political deliberations. It must
place which strives to represent the best of what the Jewish people
Such a place will emanate an energy and creative light that will
attract loyalty and sustained love in good times and in bad, in times of
agreement and in times of disagreement.
It is time to stop bemoaning the
chasm which is being torn in the foundation of our people and begin the
reestablishing this foundation anew. The first steps in doing so are to
moves which deepen the growing alienation that threatens to spin out of
World Jewry must be very careful and certain about the battles it
fight and the criticism it levels. It must be careful not to allow its
political denominational politics to lead it into confrontations that
about form than substance.
Israel, for its part, has to avoid language
and policies that are both hurtful and harmful to our relationship and
only avoid doing new harm but actually begin to repeal the harms of the
begin instituting policies of healing.
It is time to reclaim our shared
loyalty and commitment and join together in building an Israel which can
as the cornerstone for our love.The writer is president of the Shalom
Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.