Ani Maamin – I believe with perfect faith in the coming of a messianic era. In Reform ideology, we don’t necessarily wait for an individual Messiah, but we do encourage people to do all they can to create a better world, and to work towards a time when all will be peaceful, loving, and safe. Among Jews of various denominations, we have differing opinions about what will bring the Messiah. Some believe that, once every eligible Jew has observed certain mitzvot (like laying tefillin or lighting Shabbat candles), the Messiah will finally arrive. Others believe that, once things get particularly bad, the Messiah will surely come. I have a bit of a different idea.
I think God is waiting for one very important thing: for all people to truly be equal.
I’ve been developing this theory for a number of years, but I was reminded of it this past Tuesday, as I joined with Jews from all five movements (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, and Renewal) as we davened Shacharit at Town and Villlage Synagogue in solidarity with the Women of the Wall in Jerusalem. The feeling in the sanctuary was joyous, affirming, and loving – men and women, young and old, observant and secular: all were equal. All were welcome, and all ways of praying and expressing Judaism were valid.
Something about it felt, well, utopian. Perfect. Messianic. As if this could possibly be what God has been waiting for all these years. And there is evidence in the tradition that supports this way of thinking. According to the Talmud, “sinat chinam” (baseless hatred between Jews) led to the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE. There was infighting without merit or cause, where Jew hated Jew for no reason.
This concept has always reminded me of the ways in which one group of Jews hates another just for choosing to express their Judaism in a different way. The way one group of Jews throws stones at or shouts curses at another group of Jews for behaving in a different manner. It is a shanda, a true shame, when we Jews are cruel to one another. I refuse to accept that God wants me to be called a “whore” or spat at when walking through a particularly charedi neighborhood in Jerusalem just because I look more modern.
I feel in my bones, and in my core, that God waits patiently for us to learn how to respect one another. God just wants us to care for and about each other, and to take care of each other. Though some Jews may scoff, or worse, at the idea that I am both a woman and a rabbi, I truly feel a sense of calling. I know that God put me here to be a rabbi, and to serve the Jewish people. I know that God rejoices when my fellow progressive colleagues and I are able to bring our congregations closer to faith and tradition, and we show people that Judaism can be moving, fun, meaningful, and enjoyable.
Men and women joined together in prayer – it should not be such a scary prospect. Women singing the shema out loud, or wearing a tallit because it is a meaningful expression of Jewish belief – these are blessings to God. “V’ahavta l’re’echa kamocha” – love your neighbor as yourself. Though I may not ultimately agree with how the most orthodox Jews choose to live their lives, I respect their choice to do so. And all I ask, in return, is reciprocal respect to pray to the same God, to celebrate the same holidays, to sing the same blessings. We are all Jews, for God’s sake. And we are all responsible for one another.
The Messiah may tarry. The messianic era may move farther away from us. But I believe with complete faith that one day, we will all learn enough to truly love one another. I believe that, one day, men and women will be totally equal. I believe that God will celebrate with us when women are allowed to be full, equal partners in the Jewish community. I believe that all types of Jews will be loved, no matter their history, their documentation, their denomination, their origin, nor their sexual orientation. Perhaps we can even start today.