Not by force

If only that were the message being given by all the rabbis in all the synagogues.

goofy haredi arrested 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
goofy haredi arrested 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
In 1955 I attended a small Jerusalem synagogue of Persian Jews called Anshei Shushan and heard a sermon by its rabbi, Prof. E.Z. Melamed, of blessed memory, commenting on a rock-throwing demonstration that had taken place the previous Shabbat. Things have not changed much since then. It was a sermon that I have never forgotten. Prof. Melamed, in strong and spirited words, denounced what had happened, spoke of the sanctity of the Sabbath but proclaimed that it could not be attained by rock-throwing. "Lo b'koah!!" (Not by force!), he exclaimed over and over. I remember thinking then: If only that were the message being given by all the rabbis in all the synagogues, maybe then there would be a chance for a real flowing of creative, energizing, authentic Judaism in Israel. I assume that if Melamed were alive today and had witnessed the recent riots over the idea of opening a free municipal parking lot on Shabbat, he would give the same sermon. Lo b'koah!! I ALSO wonder what he would have to say about the gathering of haredi rabbis from all over the world at the Eternal Jewish Family International conference in Jerusalem last week. The participants - including official Israeli religious court judges and municipal rabbis - enthusiastically endorsed the statements of Rabbi Avraham Sherman denouncing Russian olim in such phrases as "they are all assumed to be cheaters." This man, who nullified thousands of Rabbi Haim Druckman's conversions in an action totally unjustified by Jewish law, was lauded by Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, who endorsed his views. The conference was nothing but an excuse to denounce all attempts to convert non-Jews who have come from the former Soviet Union, most of them either with Jewish ancestry or married to Jews. Rather than embracing these people and welcoming them into our midst, demonstrating the beauties of Judaism and thus showing them the way to become Jews, the participants made wildly unsubstantiated claims about the nature of these "goyim," their sincerity and trustworthiness, and attempted to undermine all the measures that have been taken to make conversion possible under Jewish law. If ever there was a case of hillul Hashem - the desecration of God's name and of Judaism - it was this conference. That it was attended by rabbis subsidized by the government and by the chief rabbi is absolutely scandalous, and puts Judaism back into the Dark Ages. IT IS GOOD to know that some MKs and some moderate religious-Zionist rabbis have denounced these outrageous slanders. Some have even demanded Metzger's resignation. That would undoubtedly be welcome, but is not nearly enough. By now it should be obvious to all, including Orthodox rabbis, that what is called for is not a change in personnel but a change in the entire rabbinical establishment that holds dominion over Jewish life here. Its actions concerning conversion, marriage and divorce are enough to demonstrate that there is no justification - other than politics - for its existence in its present form. If Israel is to ever be a modern state, it cannot be the only democratic state in the world in which a religious establishment that is not responsible to the will of the people has official, governmentally sanctioned, control over so many parts of our lives. Not by force should Judaism be conducted in the Jewish state. At it recent convention here (as a matter of fact in the same place where the Jewish Family Conference took place) the international Rabbinical Assembly (Conservative/Masorti) called for the dissolution and privatization of the Chief Rabbinate. Citizens of Israel should not have to support with their tax moneys an institution that is forced upon them. Rather let this rabbinate compete for allegiance with whatever other religious organizations may be formed, and let tax moneys be distributed equitably, based upon the number of members in each such NGO. Yes to Judaism, yes to Jewish tradition, yes to Jewish law, but lo b'koah. A free people in its own land has the right to choose its own religious affiliation. By doing so it will join all other Jews in lands of freedom who affiliate by choice with Judaism. In that way we may see a true flourishing of Judaism here once again, and realize the true promise of a Jewish state. As an early Zionist leader, Israel Friedlander, once wrote: "Upon the gates of the Third Jewish Commonwealth will be inscribed the same prophetic words which greeted the establishment of the Second Jewish Commonwealth: 'Not by might, nor by force, but by My spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts!'" (Zechariah 4:6). The writer is the head of the Rabbinical Court of the Masorti Movement and the author of several books, the most recent being Entering Torah.