President hosts unity Torah session

Orthodox, Conservative, Reform leaders meet in bid to heal rift ahead of Tisha Be’av

President Reuven Rivlin (photo credit: REUTERS)
President Reuven Rivlin
(photo credit: REUTERS)
President Reuven Rivlin hosted a seminar Thursday to explore the concept of Jewish unity following a recent dispute between the president’s office and the Masorti movement in Israel.
The meeting comes ahead of the fast of Tisha Be’av this Sunday, which marks the destruction of the two temples in Jerusalem and is designated as a time of national introspection.
In June, attempts to organize a bar mitzva ceremony at the President’s Residence for special-needs children from a Masorti program broke down when the different sides could not agree as to how the event would be conducted.
The study session was designed to “bring together the communities of the Jewish people in an atmosphere of mutual respect” and smooth over ruffled feathers, according to the president’s office, and as such included a group of rabbis and lecturers from the pluralistic movements and the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox denominations.
The Masorti movement later described the event as “historic” for bringing together non-Orthodox and Orthodox rabbis in an official public event at the President’s Residence.
The speakers included Rabbi Meir Azari of the Daniel Center for Progressive Judaism in Tel Aviv; Dr. Moti Zeira, director Hamidrasha at Oranim College; Rabbi Chaya Rowen-Baker of the Ramot Zion Masorti community in Jerusalem; and Rabbi Benny Lau of Jerusalem’s Ramban Community and head of the 929 Torah study initiative.
As the host and opening speaker, Rivlin delivered a lesson in Talmud at the conclusion of which he said: “The communities represented here are communities brimming with a love for and deep commitment to the future of the Jewish People and the State of Israel.”
While it was permissible to disagree with positions and opinions of members of the Reform and Conservative movements, he continued, no one could deny their dedication to the State of Israel, or of their sacrifice and dedication to their causes for the well being and security of Israel. No one specific movement in Judaism is superior to the other, Rivlin said.
There are disputes in every family, said Rivlin. “We need to learn not how to agree with each other, but how to disagree.”
He emphasized that the president’s office stands as an axis of peace for all Israeli society and is committed to be a home for all, enabling a diversity of opinion in a dialogue conducted with mutual respect.
Rowen-Baker addressed the concept of “baseless hatred,” which the Talmud states brought about the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, but said it was hard to understand such a notion since hatred usually does have a particular, albeit unjust, basis.
“Perhaps what we hate is the presence of grace in those who are different from us, a refusal to see in someone else something good or to justify what he does,” said the rabbi. “I don’t agree with the perspective of both Orthodox or Reform Judaism, but I have to celebrate their existence and the service they try and perform for the Jewish people.”
In reference to the fast of Av, which commemorates other tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people along with the destruction of the temples, Lau said the Jewish people “know how to die together but do we know how to live together?” “We have a great responsibility because our generation has the opportunity to build our home here once again,” said Lau. “But as the prophets tried to tell us, when we dwelt here last we thought we were the owners of the land, but we forgot that we had been strangers in a country not our own, we forgot that we need our strangers, need to be open-hearted and that God is above us.”
Director of the Masorti Movement in Israel Yizhar Hess praised Rivlin for bringing together representatives of the different Jewish denominations, which he described as an effort to bring about peace within the Jewish people.
“There has never been an event in the President’s Residence in which a female Conservative rabbi taught Torah alongside rabbis from different streams,” said Hess. “It was an exciting event because it was entirely about equality in terms of gender, religion and Judaism. President Rivlin succeeds time and again to present a statement of leadership that is fitting to go towards the light.”