Israel’s growing and vital Masorti voice

Israelis are joining the movement, not in protest, but because they want Judaism to play a role in their lives

Following the inexcusable words of the Religious Services Minister, Mr. David Azoulay, the Knesset Channel took a survey in which they asked: “Do you feel you belong to any of the streams in Judaism? Forty-five percent said “I don’t belong to any stream,” 35% responded Orthodox, 6% Reform and 6% Conservative.

The 2011 Guttmann Report showed that only 3.8% of those surveyed affiliated themselves with the Reform and the Conservative movements; thus this new survey shows growth for these movements.

Why is this so? Rabbi Chaim Navon of Tzohar organization would suggest this trend is a result of hatred of the Orthodoxy, and opposition to any form of religious coercion. I agree that such hatred exists, and that this could be an explanation as to why some people don’t feel any connection to Orthodox Judaism, but this does not explain the increase in numbers of those who feel they belong to the other movements, nor the decline in numbers of those who do not feel they belong to any one of the movements, which was 49.6% in 2011.

I think there is another explanation. The number of Israelis who are looking for Judaism to have some part in their lives is increasing. They are willing to explore and think about other options. Some of the reason is a direct result of the hard work of the various movements and entities that see themselves as part of the “Judaism Revival”.

A good example is the work of the Masorti Movement, as Conservative Judaism is known in Israel. The Masorti leadership has concentrated its efforts on issues of enlarging their presence in the public sphere as well as branding the movement as a meaningful contributor in the conversations about the Jewish identity of the State of Israel. At the same time there are the activities of the different communities, the rabbis, NOAM youth movement, the highly valued Bar/Bat Mitzvah project for kids with special needs, etc.

The Masorti Movement offers a Judaism that is not anti-Orthodox. It was created in order to maintain a Judaism that is consistent with the norms, values and morality that most of us are committed to at the beginning of the 21st century. Conservative Judaism respects any human being and sees in him/her an image of God. As such it needs to do everything possible to make everyone feel comfortable in synagogue and be responsible for all that is entailed in this commitment.

It is committed to leading people towards a spiritual way of life, in which a person does not let routine take over, but takes time off to observe his activities, to live in awareness, and put question marks on the way he lives, and the society within which he lives and acts.

The Conservative Jewish worldview needs to be based on equality and include everyone in Hashem’s work, in accordance with Halacha, but also understanding the meaning of discrimination and branding of different social classes for different people.

A relevant traditional Judaism will be based on an eternal search for the truth, listening to it and as such, not blocking any systems of reading and learning, and not judging without first researching in our search for the truth.

An Israeli Judaism occurs in the community with an activism and a sharing of mutual responsibility; trying to find response to the very important values of self-fostering and the freedom of choice. At the same time, this Judaism must listen to the needs of everyone, being open to the cry of the poor, respect of the old, being disturbed by the status of foreigners among your people and slavery around the entire world.

This is the kind of Judaism that is in the process of development in Israeli society. This is the Judaism of many, the Masorti Movement, which certainly voices another opinion in the face of the dominant political public conversation.

In kfar Vradim we see that when such Judaism is given an equal place it turns into an important and meaningful factor.  Our community is leading half of the Bar Mitzvah ceremonies in the village, certainly all Bat Mitzvah ceremonies, and about 40% of the funerals.

To the best of my knowledge, people don’t come to us because of “anti” feelings, but rather, because of their need for a Judaism that is closer to their values, commitment to democracy, equality for all, and between genders.  The participants prefer Torah teaching that is not afraid of questions, and is glad to take place in prayer that is more accessible.

For me, these are the reasons for strengthening the traditional (Masorti) Movement, and why I chose to take up the reins of my next task in life, to become the Dean of the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary which is designed to build a Masorti/Conservative leadership that will open and give voice to the Judaism which is appropriate and suitable for Israel. A Judaism that can and should be a major element in building the language of values that will lead our country forward.

About the Author
Rabbi Avi-Novis Deutsch is Dean of the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary in Jerusalem, which trains Masorti/Conservative spiritual leadership for Israel and the world.
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