Back in the day, when I was a student at Hebrew University, I had the privilege of studying and working with a greatly beloved professor by the name of Yaacov Bar-Siman-Tov. Tragically, he recently (and quite suddenly) passed away, but one of the legacies that he left me was a fundamental understanding of the cost-benefit analysis that must accompany any rational decision-making process. That was a first-year course, which Israeli officials (some of whom were in class with me) must have slept through.
I can’t help but wonder whether there has been any rational decision-making process – any cost-benefit analysis at all – on the part of the Israeli government with respect to Women of the Wall. Or has the government simply climbed up a tree that it doesn’t know how to get down from?
Apart from being morally repugnant, Israel’s obstinate failure to embrace Jewish religious pluralism must be seen as foolhardy and a strategic liability. Who exactly is the government placating by forcing a situation in which committed Jews who deeply love and support Israel feel compelled to demonstrate en masse outside of the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C., as they did yesterday?
What benefit can Israel possibly envisage from taking ongoing action that alienates and disenfranchises the lion’s share of world Jewry? And what is the potential and actual cost to us?
The argument that Women of the Wall are nothing more than a bunch of theatrical American provocateurs who already have a solution in the form of Robinson’s Arch is a disingenuous one.
For the Western Wall is just a symbol – albeit an extremely important one. The real issue is the extent to which Israel constantly and systematically delegitimizes non-Orthodox Jewry.
In a world in which Israel surely has no surfeit of sympathy, what kind of rational decision-making process – what sort of cost-benefit analysis – is behind the ongoing policy whereby the government continues to delegitimize millions of Diaspora Jews – Israel’s most devoted backers and those who have a true love for and unabiding commitment to the Jewish State?
What benefit is Israel accruing by insisting to 85% of world Jewry that its rabbis aren’t good enough to perform marriages that are legally recognized by the Jewish State; that its conversions aren’t worth the paper that they are written upon; and that the very same religious rituals that are practiced day in and day out at the overwhelming majority of American synagogues are, for all intents and purposes, a felony when embraced at the Western Wall?
Why are we so insistent upon delegitimizing the millions of Jews who are committed to us and fight against our own delegitimization? In our tiny and beleaguered country, isn’t there room here for all of us?
By its conduct, Israel resembles nothing so much as a beautiful and exciting young girl who allows her many admirers to adore her from afar. To extol her beauty and virtues, to serenade her and to shower her with gifts and riches, but to be kept at arm’s distance, never to be allowed to get up-close-and-personal.
It is time for Israel to recognize that Reform and Conservative Jews are not a watered-down form of the real thing. We are not “lesser than.” We are as passionate about and committed to our practices as the Orthodox are to theirs.
The relationship between Israel and the overwhelming majority of world Jewry that does not identify as Orthodox cannot continue to be one of unrequited love. It is time to fully recognize us and to accept us as a real, vibrant and equally genuine part of the Jewish State.
To be blunt, being a tease is not pretty. At some point, even the most love-sick and besotted admirers will get the message that they are not good enough and not really wanted.
There is no point at all to all of the Birthright trips, all of the UJA missions and all of the aliyah emissaries in the world, if with one hand we are beckoning Diaspora Jews – our staunchest supporters – to come closer, and with the other, we slap them away.
Israel needs to decide whether it is in fact the Jewish nation-state, or the state of only some of the Jewish people – the Orthodox. We cannot have it both ways.
There is no benefit to Israel by our continued course of action. And the cost of obdurately continuing down this path is way too high.
For when we delegitimize world Jewry, we delegitimize ourselves. Don’t merely accept us – embrace us. Israel can only be strengthened and benefit.