Jews, Israel Face Widening Rift

Conservative and Reform Jews have far more freedom to practices their religion in the United States than in the Jewish state.  Especially if they're women.

Let a woman try to wear a tallit or tfillin and pray from a Torah at the Wall in Jerusalem and she could wind up in jail. To Azoulay that's not prayer but "provocation," and he has vowed to roll back whatever meager progress has been made in recent years.

Michael Oren, who has just published a hyper partisan memoir about his years as ambassador to the United States, said one of the reasons the relationship is unraveling is that American Jews don't understand Israelis.  As for the clashes with Women of the Wall, he said, what Israeli officials see as a matter of law and order and status quo agreements, Americans see as issues of freedom of religion, women's rights and free speech.

For a guy who grew up as a conservative Jew in New Jersey, Oren seems to have lost his understanding of the pluralistic approach to religion. What he appears to be saying is successive Israeli governments have made a Faustian bargain, trading away those principles for the votes of the ultra-religious.  Israeli law may guarantee freedom of religion for all, but it doesn't work that way in practice because an extremist minority is able to impose its rule on the rest of the population and no prime minister is about to challenge that.

It may sound like heresy, but if you're not an Orthodox Jew and you want to practice your Judaism as you see fit and follow the Reform or Conservative stream, America may be your Golden Medina. The separation of church and state as enshrined in the Bill of Rights is unknown in Israel, where the religious establishment is a branch of the government with considerable and often intrusive power. Moreover, the religious establishment has become increasingly right wing in both religious and political influence.

A Rabbinate hostile to the non-Orthodox branches of Judaism and backed by a political leadership indifferent, at best, to Diaspora concerns is a major factor in the growing rift.

As long as pubic officials like Religious Services Minister David Azoulay say the branches of Judaism followed by the majority of American Jews are a "disaster" for Israel the rift will continue to grow.

Click here to read more about the rift in my Washington Watch column.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.