Few North American Jews have faced up to the utter contempt their form of Judaism faces from the Israeli religious establishment. The Ultra-Orthodox in the US make no such pronouncements, when they, for instance, seek donations for Haredi Yeshivot or other causes. But their Israeli brethren have no such scruples. In Israel, the Chief Rabbis and their allies in the Rabbanut do not conceal their hatred for other forms of Judaism–Reform, Conservative and even Modern Orthodox.
Typical is Aryeh Deri, co-leader of the United Torah Sages party, also known as Shas. Shas has seven Knesset seats which makes it a powerful force in Israeli parliamentary politics. Deri, a convicted felon who served jail time for corruption in the 1990s and who is currently under investigation for further corruption, nonetheless serves as a member of the cabinet, the interior minister, as well as being a party leader. He hardly exudes moral rectitude given his checkered career.
In Israel, the Chief Rabbis and their allies in the Rabbanut do not conceal their hatred for other forms of Judaism–Reform, Conservative and even Modern Orthodox.
Nonetheless he has criticized the Reform and Conservative movements in terms that from anyone else would be regarded as Henry Ford type anti-semitism. For instance, when President Trump was elected, he lauded Trump’s unexpected victory as demonstrating that the power of Reform and Conservative Jews in the media would be diminished. He has found, like many anti-semites, a Jewish media conspiracy, albeit one involving only Reform and Conservative Jews. Had his comments been made by anyone else, they would have been denounced across the board. Yet they received scant notice here in America.
Another Shas leader, former Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar, has equated Reform Jews with Holocaust deniers.
Another Shas leader, former Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar, has equated Reform Jews with Holocaust deniers. He has also called us cursed, evil people. Again these truly horrible denunciations have received little notice among the rank-and-file of American Jewry. Yes there have been bitter and appropriate criticisms from Rabbi Rick Jacobs of the Union for Reform Judaism on behalf of the North American Reform movement and Rabbi Gilad Kariv of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, among others. But these criticisms have not really penetrated the consciousness of liberal and non-Haredi Orthodox Jews in this country. We continue to act in general as if they do not count.
They not only undermine Judaism in North America and elsewhere, but they also destabilize the democratic and open nature of the Jewish state.
We need to take these comments seriously. They not only undermine Judaism in North America and elsewhere, but they also destabilize the democratic and open nature of the Jewish state. The same rabbis who press the Netanyahu government for absolute control over conversions and the banning of mixed-gender prayer anywhere along the Western Wall also undercut efforts finally to have all Israelis participate in the armed forces and to ensure that Israeli buses are not segregated by gender. They are the same religious monopolists who insist on tight control over Israeli marriage and divorce and who refuse to permit equality even in the conduct of funerals in the armed forces. Their supporters throw stones at Israeli army officers who commit the offense of simply walking around Haredi neighborhoods in Jerusalem. This conduct is especially ironic since their coalition partners in the present government include parties from the national religious movement who support expansion of settlements that will require more soldiers to protect.
The Second Temple was destroyed it is said by baseless hatred. That lesson has not been internalized by these religious extremists, these narrow sages who disregard the ideal that Torah must include darkei noam, ways of pleasantness and paths of peace. As we also assert in our liturgy, the Jewish people is a mere remnant of what it could be. Showing such hatred for the more than two million non-Orthodox Jews in America ensures that the remnant will be even smaller than it is now.
Showing such hatred for the more than two million non-Orthodox Jews in America ensures that the remnant will be even smaller than it is now.
The same people also demonstrate appalling ignorance of what Reform, Conservative and Modern Orthodox Judaism are about. These streams of Judaism attempt to reconcile what science teaches us with the truth contained in the Bible. For most of us, Reform, for instance, is not simply a result of laziness but of a serious attempt to wrestle with–Isra-El–our faith in the context of the modern world. Yet these Orthodox extremists seem fascinated by random stories such as those regarding bark mitzvahs, that is Bar Mitzvahs for dogs, which have very little bearing on Reform Judaism as a whole. They cannot be bothered to read our words over 150 years from Hermann Cohen to Leo Baeck, to Abraham Joshua Heschel onward, or to think of anything other than themselves.
We, the bearers of a proud century and a half old tradition of open inquiry, have a responsibility to confront the extremists and fight for our rightful place in Israel and throughout the world. As Hillel said, if not now, when?
So what can we do? We can make sure that every broadside from the Deris of the world gets strong and immediate push back from all North American Jewish groups, not just the Union for Reform Judaism. Locally, we can advocate for our integrity through our synagogues and through the Jewish Federations with which we are affiliated. We can seek expressions of support from Jewish political leaders for the integrity of non-Haredi Judaism. We can form special coalitions, of, for instances, lawyers or religious school teachers, to protest these assaults on religious tolerance.
In so doing we can express our love for Israeli democracy while challenging those who denigrate both our faith and the faith of the great majority of North American Jews. Above all, we can through these efforts make it clear to the present government that the nonsensical rhetoric of its religious right coalition partners in Israel constitutes a personal affront that it must confront, that we will no longer serve as punching bags for those who would divide Israel against itself through groundless hatred.
Honorable Peter A. Buchsbaum, J.S.C., Ret., is counsel to the Flemington, NJ firm of Lanza and Lanza, L.L.P., doing affordable housing court master work. He has spent his career becoming a well known expert in the laws of zoning and land use, and has written extensively on the topic for many legal institutions, including the American Bar Association. He has been named to the North American Advisory Board of the World Union for Progressive Judaism. This article was prepared while he was working as a volunteer for Hiddush, a civil rights advocacy non-profit based in Jerusalem.
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