Rabbis make welcome call for Jewish unity

The Jewish people cannot afford to be divided at a time when there is growing global antisemitism and attacks on Israel.

Some 15,000 people take in Acheinu's Day of Jewish Unity at the Western Wall in 2017. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Some 15,000 people take in Acheinu's Day of Jewish Unity at the Western Wall in 2017.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
An impressive list of leading North American and Israeli Orthodox rabbis last week published in this paper an open “Call for conciliation.” The text of their letter to the general public noted that these are times of “unprecedented social divisions within the Jewish community” and they made a plea for “a new direction in dialogue and understanding among the different groups in our greater Jewish world.”
The signatories included Israeli Rabbis David Stav, Yuval Cherlow and Rafi Feurerstein of the Tzohar movement and Rabbis Hershel Billet, Kenneth Hain, Elazar Muskin and Leonard Matansky, all former presidents of the Rabbinical Council of America.
“Ignoring the dangers of escalating divisions within Jewish society is short sighted and makes us complicit in furthering the internal strife which afflicts our people,” they wrote. “Such conflict has traumatized our people over the centuries.”
The respected Orthodox rabbis acknowledged: “We are aware that approaches to issues of halacha and theology often differ within the Jewish community. Nevertheless, we strongly believe that there is a great deal that unites us. Our nationhood, our faith and our common history transcends our differences and must always bring us together with appreciation and respect.
“We are deeply pained by the growing tone of negativity and even incitement against leading Torah figures who are working to build bridges between the diverse groups within the Jewish people,” they wrote, and applauded the efforts of those “engaged in creating a more cohesive and unified Jewish people in Israel and throughout the Diaspora.”
Although the rabbis did not mention him by name, the conciliation call seems to have been sparked by the case of Rabbi Eliezer Melamed from Har Bracha. In June, Rabbi Melamed, a senior religious-Zionist rabbi, participated in a panel discussion with French Reform Rabbi Delphine Horvilleur in an online conference held by the Makor Rishon newspaper. As a result, 22 Israeli hard-line rabbis from the national-religious community publicly condemned him, describing any such relations as “a terrible desecration of God’s name.”
“Loving every single Jew, including those who have become distanced from observance of the Torah and commandments, is applicable at all times,” wrote the religious-Zionist rabbis in an open letter published on November 17. “But this does not mean there is any permission, God forbid, for cooperation with official representatives of the Reform movement, which has uprooted the Torah and fights today to uproot everything of holiness in our country, including on conversion, at the Western Wall, marriage, the sanctity of marriage, and other issues.”
That letter was signed by, among others, Rabbi Dov Lior, the former chief rabbi of Kiryat Arba and one of the most senior religious-Zionist arbiters of Jewish law, Rabbi Zvi Thau, the president of the Har Hamor yeshiva, and Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu. Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef also reportedly wrote to Melamed and condemned him for meeting with a member of the Reform movement.
Rabbi Melamed explained that he purposely attended the meeting to show that he does not believe that the Reform and Conservative movements should be boycotted. He said that as an Orthodox rabbi, he opposes the changes they have made to Jewish Law but that he respects them “as Jewish movements for whom a Jewish way of life is important.”
We welcome the call for unity among all streams of Judaism. In the United States in particular, the largest Jewish community outside of Israel, there is already too much polarization and discord. Jews from across the religious spectrum must make an effort to find common ground, shared history and moral values.
This should include not only Orthodox leaders reaching out. The monopoly the Chief Rabbinate has over religious matters in Israel must end. 
The Jewish people, who number only about 15 million worldwide, cannot afford to be divided at a time when there is growing global antisemitism and attacks on Israel have become another expression of ancient hatred of Jews.
It is time to reach out beyond religious divides to find and celebrate what we have in common and stand united.