The Damage Done, and the Task Ahead

The crisis in Israel over the so-called Rotem Bill regarding conversion practices and who should control them has been averted, at least for now. The bill was not brought to the floor for a vote because its sponsor realized he was short of the votes needed for passage.

Only the truly naïve about how these things work believe that this is the end of the story. Like a retrovirus, this issue of “who is a Jew” will surely rear its ugly head again in the not too distant future.

It is true that the potential damage to Israel-diaspora relations has been mitigated by the failure of the bill to reach the floor of the Knesset. Things could have been a lot worse than they are. But again- only the truly naïve can fail to appreciate the fact that this controversy has exposed the real fault lines in American Jewry’s relationship with Israel.

Diaspora Jewry — at least the non-Orthodox portion of it — has shown conclusively that it does have a line in the sand, and is not endlessly forbearing. Truth to tell, large sections of the Orthodox community drew its line in the sand some time ago, when Yitzchak Rabin and later Ehud Barak were negotiating peace with the Palestinians. They made their displeasure known, loud and clear. Even deep and true love can have limits, it would appear.
Now that the crisis is over for the moment, the calendar mandates that we turn our focus towards the year to come. With Tisha b’Av behind us and Shabbat Nahamu upon us, there is no avoiding the realization that Rosh HaShanah is but seven weeks away. We are just about halfway through the month of Av, and a little more than two weeks from Elul, the month that heralds the imminent approach of the High Holidays.

I think that this is a good year to start our process of communal heshbon hanefesh a little early. As the dust settles and American and Israeli Jewish leadership go back to their regularly scheduled programming, if you will, it behooves us all — in the spirit of the historical tragedy that we just commemorated and the incipient new year — to reflect on who we are, and how our Judaism and Jewish values impact the way we live our lives.
There is little doubt that we Jews are a passionate bunch, regardless of the ideological label we wear. We don’t look for fights, but we certainly don’t back away from them. In and of itself, that kind of passion, born of intensity of belief, is not a bad thing. We should be proud of who and what we are. But the crisis we just experienced was not a good thing, at least to me. I, like many others, noted with interest the degree to which so much of the American Jewish community managed to work together for a cause in which it believed. But the sheer spectacle of American Jews and Israeli lawmakers and ministers at such a crisis level of tension can be satisfying to no one.

The Book of Lamentations suggested the path back from the brink… Nahp’sa d’rakheinu v’nahkora, v’nashuva ad Hashem. We would do well to look inward, to deeply examine our actions and attitudes, and find our way back to the Godly path.

About the Author
Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is the spiritual leader of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens.