Row over Tzohar veto of Masorti rabbi participation in Shavuot event in Tel Aviv

Last year, it was agreed to postpone non-Orthodox participation in event until 2015.

Torah scroll (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Torah scroll
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
A dispute has broken out between the Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel and the Tzohar national-religious rabbinical association over an event scheduled for the night of Shavuot.
For the last four years, Tzohar, along with the Tzavta cultural center in Tel Aviv, have teamed up to stage a night of Jewish studies, lectures and cultural interaction on Shavuot eve between secular and religious Israelis, similar to the traditional all-night study sessions undertaken on the holiday evening.
Last year, the Reform and Conservative movements requested to participate, but Tzohar, an Orthodox organization, was reticent and it was agreed to postpone non-Orthodox participation until 2015.
Yizhar Hess, the director of the Masorti Movement in Israel, told The Jerusalem Post that he had been in negotiations with Tzavta for a Conservative rabbi to speak at the event in recent months but that some 10 days ago Tzavta told him that Tzohar objected to having a non-Orthodox rabbi at the event and suggested that Hess himself participate in one of the panels instead.
Hess, who is not a rabbi, refused the proposal, saying it was Masorti rabbis who were qualified to teach and that it was “unthinkable” for such rabbis to be refused on ideological grounds.
“Tzohar are not the friendly face of Judaism that they present themselves to be. They are a facade for a non-progressive approach to Judaism,” said Hess, although he said the Masorti movement was mostly upset with Tzavta.
“This is an institution that has fought for human rights, for progressive culture and thinking and would never think of partnering in an event discriminating against women, gays, blacks or anyone else, so how do they dare to discriminate against non-Orthodox movements,” he said. This is hypocritical to their entire ethos.”
Gavri Bargil, former chairman of Tzavta and the organizer of the Tikun Leil event, said that while he himself had no opposition to the participation of non-Orthodox rabbis, he had not wanted to approve their participation if Tzohar opposed it since the event was originally conceived and established as a joint initiative with Tzohar.
He also criticized the Reform and Conservative movements for how they handled the situation.
“This is the biggest Tikun Leil event in Tel Aviv. About 1,500 people come every year and we have been very happy with this expression of cooperation and dialogue between the secular and religious community,” said Bargil.
“There was an agreement for Yizhar Hess to participate and we thought this was a good opportunity to increase dialogue and understanding, but we also have an obligation for our relationship with Tzohar.
“I’m saddened that the Reform and Conservative movements have initiated a media campaign against the event, this is not the way to advance cooperation and dialogue, but I hope that next year we can sit at the same event with the participation of rabbis from all the denominations.”
Tzohar said in response that its Shavuot learning programs “have brought together all aspects of Israel’s Jewish society; secular and religious, men and women, all involved in discussing and analyzing topics of relevance to the Jewish people today and throughout history.”
Although the a spokesman for the organization refused to discuss the matter or Tzohar’s veto against the participation of non-Orthodox rabbis, it said in a statement to the press that it was “saddening that there are those who would choose to attack such a positive and productive initiative, despite the fact that they have been invited to participate in and even deliver an address during the program.”