Guest Columnist: There must be a middle ground

Both Orthodoxy and secularism pose great danger to State, Zionist dream.

haredim riot cop argument 248 88 (photo credit: AP)
haredim riot cop argument 248 88
(photo credit: AP)
The current furor caused by the violent haredi demonstrations and the controversial rabbinical court conversion rulings have produced two proposed solutions appearing in The Jerusalem Post: "Modern Orthodox alternatives to reactionary Judaism" by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, and "Encouraging secular cultural Judaism" by Felix Posen. There is no need to choose between these two extremes. There is a middle ground which advocates an enlightened Judaism indigenous to Israel, acceptable to even the secular. It is called Reconstructionism. An egalitarian, democratic community, it has made changes in the siddur to eliminate prayers denigrating other religions, prayers thanking God for not having created the congregant a slave, a gentile or a woman, prayers of vengeance and reprisal, prayers for the coming of a human messiah, prayers in which God allegedly withholds rain from nations not observing His commandments, prayers calling for the restoration of the dead to life, prayers describing God in anthropomorphic terms, prayers calling for the restoration of the Temple and its attendant animal sacrifices, prayers asserting that because of its sins the Jewish people is exiled from its land and cannot reestablish a Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael, etc. It believes that prayer must be relevant and from the heart. A GRAVE danger to the state comes from the Orthodox camp. I deliberately lump all Orthodox factions together: the medieval Orthodox, the territorial Orthodox and the so-called "modern Orthodox," for they are destroying the Zionist dream from within. They all have one common denominator: intolerance. Not one of them, be it the Mea She'arim-Aguda bloc, the NRP-Great Synagogue-Jeshurun bloc, the Gush Emunim bloc or the Meimad-Riskin bloc, will accept me, a Conservative-Reconstructionist Jew as an equal, as an authentic, legitimate Jew. This cuts to the very heart of the matter, for if I am not equal, and they are the sole arbiters of what is Jewish (and worse, empowered by the state to be so), then what am I doing here? I came because I was Jewish. And I shall continue to fight against those who maintain that there is only one authentic version of Judaism. The entire religious establishment, from the chief rabbis down, follows the motto: "You serve God in your way, and we in His." A former Modern Orthodox chief rabbi told me that he would extend accreditation to Conservative and Reform rabbis if they proclaimed themselves to be a separate sect like the Karaites or the Samaritans, which would mean that most Jewish people living abroad would be written out of the fold. All non-Orthodox Jews are beyond the pale. Predictably, American Jewry has remained silent in the face of this religious discrimination, even though it affects them directly. Their rabbis and their conversions, marriages and divorces are regarded as invalid here. Their money is kosher but they are not. Don't rock the boat! A SECOND danger to the state is secularism. This is a distortion of Judaism. One cannot arbitrarily separate the religious and nationalistic components of Judaism. To view Israel through a secular-nationalistic lens is to get a two-dimensional view of the Jewish state. It is a total misreading of Jewish history and the Zionist ideal, and it will lead to our becoming just another piece of territory in the Middle East. To a considerable degree secularism in Israel came about because of a revulsion for the Orthodox interpretation of Judaism, which in the old countries, as in Israel, stressed ritual and not the binding moral code of Judaism. Orthodox leaders here, because of their intolerance and failure to exemplify what Judaism should stand for, have produced generations of newcomers and sabras estranged from religion, who are unaware that there are other versions of it. They threw the baby out with the bathwater. The problem facing the Western oleh is what may be called the either-or syndrome. Everything is either black or white. One is either Orthodox or secular. One is either for peace now or war forever. It makes life simple. This way of looking at things stems in a great measure from the countries of origin of most Israelis: Eastern Europe and the Muslim states - two areas of the world not particularly renowned for democratic proclivities. Unfortunately the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. The sabra has grown up with the either-or syndrome. I AM neither pro-Labor nor pro-Likud. Both of these parties have cynically sold out our Jewish heritage, selling our birthright to the predatory Orthodox parties for political gain. These in turn have raided the national treasury "for the preservation of authentic Judaism," and have committed all kinds of mind-boggling acts for the greater glory of God. After Binyamin Netanyahu made his scurrilous deal with Shas and the other religious parties, freezing the religious status quo, how can he have the chutzpah to turn to American Jewry, made up largely of Conservative and Reform Jews, and ask them to support his government? We Jews have a penchant for suicide. While the Romans were beating at the gates of Jerusalem, the various factions within the city were at each others' throats, a model example of the free-floating hostility that marks our people today. What can be done? * There should be no state support for religious institutions or functionaries. They should be funded privately, as they are in the US. * Religious issues should be brought before an impartial commission made up of rabbis of the three denominations: Orthodox, Conservative and Reform. The Knesset and municipal councils are not proper places for debating religious matters. * There should be no compulsory religious court jurisdictions over family matters. If both sides wish to bring their case before a religious court, that is their right, but they should not be compelled to do so. * No institution should receive public funds if its members do not serve in the IDF and do not pledge allegiance to the flag. * Reform and Conservative rabbis must be given the same rights as Orthodox rabbis. * The offices of the chief rabbis, established under Turkish rule, should be abolished. They are superfluous and often harmful. The same holds true for municipal religious councils. * All men and women of military age should be compelled to serve in the armed forces. Those who cannot serve for "religious reasons" should spend an equivalent amount of time in public service. * The teaching of Jewish consciousness and Zionism should be reinstituted into all school systems. * Schools which do not meet the minimum state curricular requirements should be shut down. * Equal time should be allowed to all denominations of Judaism on publicly-owned media. The need for electoral reform cries out to high heaven. The present system, based on proportional representation, has been a total, unmitigated disaster and must be replaced by a system based on constituency representation. No legislator feels compelled to answer to the citizen, only to the party chiefs who put his name on the ballot. It is written that God allocated 10 portions of beauty to the world, and nine of them went to Jerusalem. We, the first Jews in two millennia to live in the capital of a free sovereign state, have a precious heritage to preserve. May we be equal to the task. The writer is a veteran journalist.