By Rabbi Josh Weinberg March 5th 2021 כ”א אדר תשפ”א
The excitement generated by the Supreme Court ruling this week should carry us into Shabbat and the feeling of being recognized as Reform and Conservative Jews is nothing short of inspiring. The feeling of victory, however, brings with it the sobering reality of this battle being won, but the greater war is still ahead of us.
As a result of this Supreme Court ruling and our growing strength, reach, and impact on Israeli society, we are being an increasing threat to the Haredi political parties who have maintained a stronghold on Jewish religious life in the State of Israel. Our messages of pluralism, tolerance, equality, and that the State of Israel is a State for all Jews are threatening. These values imperil their monopoly on Jewish life and their grip on power. More and more Israelis are waking up to the reality that the polarizing dichotomy between Orthodox and Secular no longer provides answers for the mainstream, and Israelis are looking for meaning, belonging, and community.
We’re threatening because we provide meaningful and authentic Jewish expression in creating a new kind of Israeli Judaism, one that values tradition, gives new meaning to ancient rituals, and incorporates the rich Hebrew culture of the past century.
We’re threatening because we uphold Torah values that teach us how to treat one another and how to build a just society, in addition to ritual laws of Shabbat and kashrut, and interpret those laws to apply to our contemporary challenges and situation.
We are threatening because we internalize the biblical image of the leader Nehemiah who came to Jerusalem in the 4th century BCE after the Babylonian exile:
הַבּוֹנִ֧ים בַּחוֹמָ֛ה וְהַנֹּשְׂאִ֥ים בַּסֶּ֖בֶל עֹמְשִׂ֑ים בְּאַחַ֤ת יָדוֹ֙ עֹשֶׂ֣ה בַמְּלָאכָ֔ה וְאַחַ֖ת מַחֲזֶ֥קֶת הַשָּֽׁלַח׃
“Those who were rebuilding the wall, the basket-carriers were burdened, doing work with one hand while the other held a weapon.”
With one hand we continue our struggles and battles in the Courts and in the Knesset, but with the other we are building.
The targeted and intentional crusade against the Reform Movement and Reform Judaism is fueling the political campaigns of the ultra-Orthodox and extreme right-wing parties. The vitriol that is being spewed by some extremist groups has gone beyond the realm of a disagreement and beyond the fray of basic decency. Of late we have been accused of holding Jewish life-cycle ceremonies for dogs, of being “goyim,” and even of causing a “Silent Holocaust.”
We know that ultra-Orthodox leaders will use every opportunity they have to delegitimize us spread lies about us, and foment hatred of us. They will try to misleadthe Israeli public. But we will rise above the hate speech and the defamations. We will continue to build, to bring hope, and to teach our Torah.
This is a moment to be proud. To proud to be Jewish. Proud to be a Reform Jew. Proud of our Israeli Reform Movement, and proud of the Israeli Supreme Court, whose president reminded us this week that:
“The purpose of the Law of Return is to encourage any Jew – whether they were born as Jews or chose to become part of the Jewish people through conversion – to make Aliyah (immigrate) to Israel.”
This moment is a crucial step in our story. It is a chance to empower, to build, and to ensure that in the next battle – which will doubtless come soon – our values and our message will carry on. This is a moment to celebrate good news coming out of Israel and find more ways to connect to Reform Jewry in the State. Zionism today is about what Israel will look like in the future. It is about the values the State upholds and a test of its character. And it is incumbent on all of us to go beyond the four walls of our individual communities to join in and be part of the story.
Todah rabah and Shabbat shalom,