Recently, a Rabbinic colleague and I debated about whether it is okay for US Rabbis to criticize Israel from the bimah. We agreed we have the right to do that but it must be factual and respectful. I remember times having similar debates with members of this congregation. I love Israel and it could be said that within a loving relationship, we are obligated to point out the mistakes of our loved ones, to try to help them improve. If that is true about the people I love, I could argue how much more true it is for my feelings about the State of Israel.
As I've said before, I do not want to publically criticize Israel on existential issues - on issues of national security and peace negotiations. We all have our views on what we believe Israel is doing right and wrong. I share my views only in private settings and never from the bimah. Many people in our congregation have very strong feelings on this and I want us all to move forward on these issues and not back to the where we have been.
The issue in Israel today that upsets me the most is religious pluralism - who holds the religious authority in Israel and how critical religious decisions made in Israel affect world Jewry. The role of religion in Israel is very different than here in the United States, and there are certain religious authorities and rulings in Israel that are difficult for many American Jews to understand. For example, the role of the Chief Rabbi is constantly debated in Israel. It is not always clear who gives the Chief Rabbi the authority to make decisions and what effect these decisions should have on Israelis and on North American Jews.
Two key aspects of the religious pluralism debate in Israel today are the role of religion at the Kotel and the acceptance of non-Orthodox Rabbis who oversee the conversion process. For centuries, the Chief Rabbi has made decisions on these issues, decisions not accepted by all Israelis and many non-Israeli Jews. What happens when a non-Orthodox Rabbi oversees a conversion in the United States? Will that Jew-by-Choice be accepted in Israel? Will an Orthodox Rabbi officiate at their wedding in Israel or allow them to be buried in a Jewish cemetery? The Chief Rabbi of the Western Wall controls the worship space at the Kotel, and thus men and women are only allowed to worship in separate sections. Most Jews in the world do not accept this as normal practice and may not be comfortable with this mandate at the holiest place in the world for the Jewish People.
In recent years, these debates have gained attention as leaders of the Conservative and Reform Movements and others sat together with religious and political leaders in Israel to seek a compromise. You may recall this past summer when an agreement was reached and then the Prime Minister decided to not honor it because of pressure he received from the Ultra-Orthodox parties in his government. The debate continues today on both the issues at the Kotel and the issues of accepting the conversions from non-Orthodox Rabbis.
To help us understand these issues better, the Israel Panel Project of TJC will present a special program this coming Sunday afternoon at 1 PM. We will hear from three key people who can provide background on these issues to help us be more informed. We are the only congregation to bring these three people together to share their insights and background and we are proud that we are opening this program to anyone in our community.
Rabbi Steve Wernick, the CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, has been at the table with the Prime Minister and has been a part of the negotiations. Rabbi Wernick will educate us on the specifics of the negotiations and other details related to the Kotel and the Conversion debate. Osnat Fox, a Shlicha here in the US, will be speaking on the impact of these debates on Israelis and how Israelis today struggle to live authentic Jewish lives while fighting for religious freedom in Israel. Yizhar Hess, the CEO of the Masorti Movement in Israel, will share with us religious programs and religious options in Israel for non-Orthodox Jews. Yizhar lives in Jerusalem and will join us by videoconference.
The educational program will help us as American Jews understand the facts around these complicated issues in Israel so we can feel more of a connection to the Jewish State and to help Jewish communities in Israel and in North America feel more united and less divided. I consider myself to be an Ohev Yisrael, someone who loves Israel. I love the people, the culture, the history and the debate. This program is an opportunity for us to strengthen our connection to Israel. We have a lot to learn and I am proud that TJC is providing a platform for us to gain the knowledge we need.
I hope you will be able to join us this Sunday at 1 PM for this important program.
Shabbat Shalom -
Rabbi Adam Feldman