Michael Boyden

Reform Judaism could save Israel

There will be some readers who will be incensed by the title of this blog, but just take a look at what is happening.

The Saturday evening protests against the judicial reforms proposed by Bibi’s coalition government morphed this week, at least in Hod Hasharon, into something else.

It turns out that this is not only a struggle to preserve Israel’s democracy, but also a fight against those who want to turn our country into a Jewish Iran.

Speakers spoke against attempts to infiltrate Israel’s schools with Orthodox Jewish propaganda. They protested at the fact that some 11,000 charedi yeshivah students each year were exempted from military service, and that many of their families were dependent upon government handouts to keep them above the poverty line. They are not numbered among the mishpachat ha-sh’chol, the families who have lost loved one in the defence of our country.

As I write these words, some 1,000 women are protesting outside Machaney 80, a basic training camp, after female soldiers had been forbidden to sing as they waited to carry out their kitchen assignments. They were joined by Miri Aloni, who it will be recalled sang the “Song of Peace” on the evening that Yitzhak Rabin z”l was assassinated.

Israel’s Orthodox religious establishment has alienated many of our fellow Jews from their religious heritage. Their leaders failed in the challenge to absorb some 300,000 immigrants from the FSU, who were not halachically Jewish. Their fascist extremists such as Ben-Gvir and Smotrich do not recognize that the Arabs against whom they discriminate were also created in God’s image.

After Smotrich’s wife gave birth, why didn’t he want her to share a room with an Arab woman? Shame on him!

The Mishna teaches us that, when the world was created, a single person was created “for the sake of peace among humankind, that no one should say to another: “My father was greater than your father” (Sanhedrin 4:5). Not only do they discriminate against Arabs and women, but they have also failed to accept and respect sexual minorities as equals.

I know many Orthodox and charedi Jews, who do not support such views and number some of them among the members of my family, but they are not the ones who are calling the tune or dictating the agenda., and it is only Israel’s much maligned Supreme Court that is protecting the rights of the abused.

And this is where Reform Judaism comes in. We are the only Israelis who believe that the halacha, traditional Jewish law, should have a vote but not a veto. We number ourselves among those Israelis, who still believe that Israel must come to a territorial accommodation with the Palestinians. As a product of the Emancipation, we believe in equal rights for all and stand against discrimination. Torah Judaism cannot be allowed to take precedence over democratic values unless we want Israel to turn into a Jewish equivalent of Iran.

Repeated polls have shown that most Israelis feel that way. They may not consider themselves Reform Jews, but it is the synthesis of Jewish and liberal values that we espouse, and in which they also believe, that are a sine qua non for Israel’s future.

About the Author
Made aliyah from the UK in 1985, am a former president of the Israel Council of Reform Rabbis and am currently rabbi of Kehilat Yonatan in Hod Hasharon, Israel.