Middle Israel: The Judaic Bibi speaks up

Ultra-Orthodoxy and Reform started at the same place, damning Theodor Herzl as an apostate and his gospel as heresy.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pauses as he delivers a speech at the Jewish Federations of North America 2015 General Assembly in Washington November 10, 2015. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pauses as he delivers a speech at the Jewish Federations of North America 2015 General Assembly in Washington November 10, 2015.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Having heard Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announce this week in Washington that his government will “invest in strengthening Reform and Conservative communities within Israel,” United Torah Judaism’s politicians demanded “clarifications.”
It’s been more than 24 hours but the clarifications have yet to emerge, apparently because Bibi finds marginal issues like air force sorties in Syria, anti-Israel motions in Europe, or multiple stabbings in Jerusalem more urgent than the rabbis’ fears for their monopoly’s fate.
Middle Israel therefore volunteered to write and also deliver the prime minister’s enclosed clarifications instead of him.
Dear Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman, Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush, Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni, Science and Technology Committee chairman Uri Maklev, Public Petitions Committee chairman Yisrael Eichler and Lone lawmaker-with-no-special- appointment Menahem Eliezer Moses, First of all I must thank you for having made me write these clarifications, an endeavor without which I would not have realized your six-man faction’s capture of five political jobs, a ratio that I can only dream of delivering to my colleagues in the ruling party.
But this is of course immaterial, as we are here to discuss not booty, honor, or, God forbid, power, but ideas, convictions and faith.
I understand my statement Tuesday to American Jewry’s most important forum has left you upset. How, you ask, dare I treat non-Orthodox Jews as equals, and how does it cross my mind to give their Israeli following money, as if a Reform synagogue in Tel Aviv were like a yeshiva in Bnei Brak, and a Conservative kindergarten in Ashkelon were comparable to a soup kitchen in Mea She’arim.
Well never mind right now that I have yet to do anything; I just uttered a few words to a distant and impressionable audience that does not fully know the dynamics of my public statements, some of which – let’s face it – are made as readily as they are violated, and others of which are as close to reality as my claim, in the same forum, that more Arabs voted for me than for the Zionist Union.
I say this concerning Rabbi Litzman’s protest that what I said violates our parties’ coalition agreements. So to set this part of the record straight, let me say that our agreement is about what I do, but not about what I say, even if I say that I will do what we said I will not do.
But I now say never mind this aspect of what I said, because what really matters here is not what I promised and will doubtfully deliver, but the principles behind what I said – principles of quantity, quality and location.
And the first of these is majority rule.
Here, in our land, with all due respect to your impressive collection of titles, you are hardly 5 percent of the population, and about a 10th if we add Shas, which I guess we should, despite its failing to join your demand for clarifications, as one of its leaders recently said that the Reform are not Jews, a statement I rejected publicly as you surely recall.
You are a minority in this country, since by any measure, even if we count out our non-Jewish citizens, you still don’t even add up to 15 percent.
And the majority here, when meeting any of the Jews you so enthusiastically ax from our lineage tree, says what our ancestors shouted at King Agrippa from the Temple’s plaza when they thought he questioned his own Jewishness: “You’re our brother!” That is here. Abroad your situation is even worse. Not only is ultra-Orthodoxy a minority there, the non-Orthodox are the Diaspora’s absolute majority.
Still, you want me to count them out, and to accept your self-congratulating belief that your small-quantity’s specific gravity is larger than Reform and Conservative Judaism’s combined. It isn’t, and you must learn to live with that.
Then there is the quality.
Responding to my speech, Rabbi Litzman said: “Along the generations we have known that the Reform and Conservative tear up the Jewish nation, and they should not be allowed to harm the Torah of Israel.”
Well I think the ones tearing up the Jewish nation are not them, but you, because you, not they, are telling other Jews they are not Jews, and you, not they, are trying to actively obstruct other Jews’ practice of our faith.
Then Litzman’s “harming the Torah” charge is joined by Rabbi Gafni’s “The Reform stab the Torah.”
First of all, your imagery is problematic, since the Torah is not an organism, and portraying it as vulnerable to a stabbing reminds me of medieval Christians’ accusations that Jews stabbed and bled the local church’s holy bread.
Now you will say Gafni wasn’t speaking literally, only figuratively, but that is exactly where you don’t want to take your case.
For the ones treating the Torah as an organism, one that continuously evolves while adapting to changing times, are the non-Orthodox. You, at the same time, treat the Torah as an organism’s perfect opposite, a fossil that must not return to live by, say, emancipating women, accepting gays, rewriting prayer, simplifying conversion, or celebrating the rise of the Jewish state; a fossil that, had the Sages thought like you, would make us stone adulterers and amputate thieves.
Finally, there is our location.
I hate to remind you of this, but on this front ultra-Orthodoxy and Reform started at the same place, damning Theodor Herzl as an apostate and his gospel as heresy.
You have all come a long way since then. The Reform embraced Zionism, humbly, nobly and officially, after Hitler’s rise to power, and you are now gradually accepting Zionism, albeit less humbly, for instance by trying to shape its Jewish face.
Moreover, your rabbis banned emigration to America, unwittingly condemning European Jewry to stay put where it was murdered.
Ultra-Orthodoxy, then, was wrong about Zionism, it was wrong about America, and it is wrong about Reform Judaism and the Conservatives, too. I hope this clarifies my position.
Bibi Netanyahu.