July 3, 2017: Yet more letters on Kotel, conversion conundrums

"With regard to 'Coalition leaders reach deal to temporarily resolve conversion crisis' (July 2), I do not recognize the chief rabbis or any rabbi as my mentor."

Letters (photo credit: REUTERS)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Yet more letters on Kotel, conversion conundrums
With regard to “Coalition leaders reach deal to temporarily resolve conversion crisis” (July 2), I do not recognize the chief rabbis or any rabbi as my mentor. By what right do they decide who is Jewish or where one can pray at the Western Wall? My identity does not depend on their edicts.
The Kotel is the property of the State of Israel and as such should not be managed by rabbis; it should be managed by the state for all its citizens. Unless Israeli politicians understand that certain functions are not to be given to a particular Orthodox sect, Jews who are not members of that sect will justifiably be alienated.
My identity as a Jew is my inalienable right. What did we do before there were Israeli chief rabbis? Somehow, we survived over 2,000 years (maybe because we did not have them).
My understanding is that Israel is a Jewish state. Within Israel live Jews – Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and non-affiliated. They should be treated equally by the state. That is exactly what Jews have strived to realize in much of the world. Having a part of the population treated as special because of its religious affiliation is wrong elsewhere, and here should not be tolerated.
There is no rational reason why a religious group should be given special status. Unfortunately, that is the reality today in Israel. Actions by politicians to enhance that special status is, to me, reason enough to retire those politicians.
Among the dozens of articles and comments on recent government decisions about the Western Wall and conversions, the headline of Herb Keinon’s June 30 front-page report “PM to AIPAC: It was either Kotel or my government” best defines the essence of the issue.
For Netanyahu, his political survival has always been the most important thing. If this means compromising on matters of principle, the latter will have to be sacrificed. But this strategy has plunged him into a downward spiral, with various members of his coalitions being ever-more bold in demanding – and obtaining – concessions simply to enable his survival.
On the other hand, Netanyahu’s failure to seriously address the great crisis of assimilation, disenfranchisement and alienation is revealed in his seeing the other side of the current issue as being merely the Western Wall. He has been unwilling to see it as symptomatic of the coming cataclysmic collapse of inclusive Jewish peoplehood, a refrain he always asserts but never pursues.
The tragedy of Netanyahu is that he might end up being be the longest-serving prime minister, but absent the sort of understanding that drove David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin, he will never rank among our great leaders. A sad legacy indeed.
So Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced a choice. If he was a great leader, he would have put the Jewish people before himself.
A large number of people, while being observant, still feel it’s important to allow people to pray where and when they wish. I am among them. Believing that Jews outside of Israel are less important will lead to a shrinking of our people.
We are one people, no matter how we pray.
Nachman Shai (“Say it in Hebrew, say it in ‘political speak,” Observations, June 30) contends that he has yet to hear of Diaspora Jews being given something in return.
Israel has provided them with a Jewish homeland and people prepared to die for it. Plus, Diaspora Jews are using Israeli advances to live longer, drive more safely and have cleaner water. The list goes on.
Most of all, though, Israel gives them the sole legitimate representative of Jews worldwide and the continuation of Jewish culture and heritage that is a source of pride. It provides the global Jewish culture with impetus and strength. Surely this is worth much more than monetary donations.
Caroline B. Glick’s “Who cares about Jewish unity?” (Column One, June 30) writes that the Neeman Commission decided “with the agreement of the Reform and Conservative movements that people who converted in Reform and Conservative conversions outside of Israel would receive citizenship” but would not be registered as Jews for religious purposes. She also states that the Neeman Commission had reached an accord concerning conversion with Orthodox authorities.
I do not know where Ms. Glick received her information, but as the Conservative representative on the Neeman Commission, I can testify that none of that is correct.
The subject of our conversions outside Israel was never even discussed. The decision to grant recognition to our conversions overseas for civil purposes was the result of a decision by the High Court of Justice. Nor did the commission ever reach any agreement with Orthodox authorities concerning conversion in Israel. The opposite is the case.
A proposal was considered by the commission for a trial period in which the Chief Rabbinate would appoint a more flexible court to approve conversions following preparation by a pluralistic institute. This proposal was rejected by then-chief rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau in a highly charged statement condemning both movements in the strongest terms and rejecting any agreement with them. As a result, the Neeman Commission never came to any agreement and never issued any formal report.
The Conservative/Masorti movement never agreed that its conversions performed in Israel would not be recognized for citizenship or that its overseas conversions would not be recognized for religious purposes. I suggest that Ms. Glick be more careful in checking before printing such incorrect statements.
The writer is a rabbi, a
Jerusalem Post columnist and former president of the Conservative movement’s International Rabbinical Assembly.
Although I believe that the Western Wall compromise should be enforced, I do not accept the validity of the statement that “support for Israel has dropped 27 percentage points among Jewish college students in the US since 2010” (“Will Kotel fiasco mark the breaking point?” June 26).
The Pew report was clear on the fallacy of that assertion. Just to get simplistic, it’s about kids who received no real Jewish education and were taught that it is better to blend in than stand out for what they believe in. On an American campus, only the most connected Jews have the Jewish education and willingness to fight back at the expense of losing friendships and connections.
The willingness to be different has always been the biggest challenge Jews have faced. These “lost” students speak of tolerance, diversity and human rights, yet rally for those who pray for our annihilation. This is just about their overwhelming desire for acceptance in the vacuum of a real Jewish education.
Unchanged for millennia is the Jewish people’s goal of homecoming – now made possible by Israel’s reestablishment. It is strange that your coverage doesn’t call for aliya as the required response.
Current events worldwide are again hazardous. It is past time to wake up, live and get cracking.
• Prof. Mark Chassin, mentioned in “Crisis at Hadassah: Leadership lesson for conflict of values” (Comment & Features, June 27), is an MD and president and CEO of the Joint Commission. He is a former commissioner of the New York State Department of Health and professor of health policy at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, where he was founding chairman of the Department of Health Policy.
• The NIS 0.19 charge for receiving full service at gas stations starting on July 1 is per liter, and not as indicated in “Gasoline prices to drop tomorrow night” (Business & Finance, June 30).