Response to Elianna Yolkut’s Open Letter

It’s not every morning that one finds her name in a Haaretz headline. For me that happened courtesy of Elianna Yolkut’s open letter following my humble post here on the Times of Israel.

Since I was denied a chance to respond by Haaretz, I am doubly grateful to ToI for its evenhanded policy of enabling all sides of the narrative be heard. And so:

Dear Elianna,

Thank you so much for your honesty and for finally bringing clarity to the issue. With Women of the Wall throwing every single argument but the kitchen sink into the discussion, from sincere prayer to misogyny, I am sure you can forgive me for getting a tad confused.

But now that you have clarified the Women of the Wall’s agenda – creating a foothold for liberal Jewish movements in Israel – we can dispense with the theatrics and get down to the crux of the issue.

After living in Israel for 20 years, I am sure you can also forgive me for developing a typical Israeli aversion to being perceived as a fryer (sucker). You see, despite the Reform and Conservative movements’ seven-decade effort to make inroads into the Israeli society, they just can’t get traction.

You decry lack of religious freedom for liberal clergy. Here’s the problem: There are hardly 100 Women of the Wall. There are just a handful of non-Orthodox rabbis in Israel. In contrast, the Kotel gets 10 million visitors a year. 4 million religiously observant and traditional Israelis staunchly oppose introducing any changes at the site. The rights of average Israelis to preserve the nature of religious practice in this country are no less sacred than the rights of your rabbinical colleagues.

As Reform Rabbi Mark Miller has put it, liberal Judaism has chosen “to exalt[ing] the individual at the expense of the community… The adoration of autonomy led first to compromise, then to appeasement, and now to anarchy.”

Your favoring of individual rights at the expense of the vast majority has not done well for American liberal movements. Why should the Israelis buy into a bankrupt ideology?

In your letter you shared a story. Permit me to share one of my own. As a teen, my search of the Jewish roots started at the local Reform temple. Since I chose not to go to my public school on Shavuot,  I approached the rabbi after the holiday services and asked for his advice in solving the dilemma. He didn’t think twice, walked into his office, turned on the computer and typed up a letter, explaining that I could not attend school on Shavuot. I don’t know if he noticed the irony, but I certainly did.

Having to choose between vibrant, authentic, multi-dimensional Judaism and what your rabbinical colleague  Dana Evan Kaplan has described as a movement that has “no central theological positions that are advocated by our leaders and/or believed in by its followers,” employing strategies that “undermine[s] any claims Reform Judaism might have to represent a true and compelling ethical monotheistic faith” Israelis, even those not personally observant, have made their choice crystal clear.

In recent years, Rabbi Stav of the secular city of Shoham offered public funding for any 40 families interested in setting up a liberal congregation. No one took him up on the offer. Even in Israel’s most cosmopolitan city, Tel Aviv, there are over 500 Orthodox synagogues open for prayer every day of the week, morning, noon, and night and only one Reform temple, open only on Shabbat.

So let’s set the record straight. With no clear theological base, skyrocketing intermarriage rates (even among the clergy), and collapsing membership, what better way to rally the troops and fill US temples than to stage The “Anat Hoffman starring as Rosa Parks” PR Circus at the Kotel?  What, with BBC on hand, may be the Women of the Wall can create a big enough public victory to convince the Israelis of the liberal movements’ relevance.

If you want to obtain recognition for your rabbinical colleagues in Israel, by all means, go for it. But the place for this effort is at the Knesset, not the Kotel. Oh, and using talitot and tefillin as theater props, the way Anat Hoffman had done at the Knesset this week really undermines the authenticity.

About the Author
Leah Aharoni is the Founder/CEO of SHEvuk, a business consulting firm, which helps companies grow by effectively marketing and selling great services to women. Drawing on her training in Organizational Psychology and extensive background in entrepreneurship, education, and international communications, she also channels her passion for women's empowerment into coaching women to succeed in business and personal goals. When not working or spending time with her feisty sabra kids, Leah enjoys learning and teaching self-development Torah, as brought down in chassidic sources. Find out more at