Francine M. Gordon
Francine M. Gordon

The golden calf of the status quo

I first used the phrase “sacred synchronicity” exactly 15 years ago, the weekend before Dad died in Sarasota. In the midst of the most profound spiritual crisis of my life, as I was actively escorting my father from this world to the next, Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson just happened to be the scholar-in-residence at the Conservative synagogue in Sarasota.

Just when I needed my Judaism to be the lifeboat that would carry me from one stage of life to another, Brad was there to help me build the vessel to hold me. While I always knew that my Jewish vocabulary was based in the middle movement, having the exact right words and the exact right beliefs at the exact right time cemented my identity as a proud Conservative Jew. 

I always appreciate being asked to read Torah, especially when the text is loaded with meaning for the moment. And so it is another sacred synchronicity that just at this time when I am searching for the right words to express my deep concern for the future of the State of Israel, I find them in the text I will be chanting tomorrow morning in Zoom Shul. 

Having given Moshe the two tablets of the Pact, God retreats from the narrative at the end of Exodus, Chapter 31. Chapter 32 begins with the People’s lack of faith in Moshe, resulting in their lobbying of Aaron to make a god and Aaron’s directions to the People to collect all the gold earrings. Verse 4 describes the creation of the molten calf.

When I prep a Torah reading, I refer to several different editions of the Tanach, mostly for bigger type size and trope, but also for a clearer understanding of the text. In the JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh, 32:4 is translated as follows: “This he (Aaron) took from them and cast in a mold, and made it into a molten calf.” The chabad.org translation also clearly names Aaron as the responsible party for creating the molten calf. However, The Living Torah by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan reads, “He took (the rings) from the people, and had someone form (the gold) in a mold, casting it into a calf.” Unlike the other two readings, this version inserts “had someone”, shielding Aaron from direct responsibility for creating the calf. A different interpretation of one of the foundational stories of our shared Jewish narrative. 

Whether Aaron created the golden calf by himself or whether he enlisted an assistant, what we all believe is that the newly liberated Jewish people sinned before God. Rather than have faith that their leader Moshe would return to guide them on their journey, they exerted pressure on Aaron to revert back to the old ways that seemed to work back in Egypt. Unfortunately for the People, their impatience and lack of faith in the Divine Plan as brought down by Moshe, denied them the blessing of reaching the Promised Land. It would be the descendants of the slave generation that would settle the Land.

In 1948, the Founders of the modern Jewish democratic State of Israel agreed that the Orthodox political establishment would have the final word on what version of a Jewish narrative, tradition or law would apply in the Public Sphere. This Status Quo arrangement is well known as is the resulting imbalance of power it produces in every corner of Israeli society and politics. Yet, until very recently, no mainstream politician in Israel would dare suggest that the Status Quo has melted into a monster that threatens the soul of the modern Jewish State. However, with the well-timed Israeli Supreme Court ruling on Reform and Conservative conversions being valid for citizenship, this very issue is placed before the Israeli voter. Is it time for the Status Quo ultra-Orthodox monopoly to be replaced by Jewish religious leadership that embraces the dynamic notion of a Judaism that reflects the breadth and diversity of Jewish belief and practice in the 21st century?

I suggest that in the spring of 5781, in light of almost 73 years of modern Jewish history, it is time for the Jewish People to see that Status Quo deal as a form of a modern-day molten calf. Just as the calf was something known from the past, the Status Quo is a relic from 73 years ago and reflects a different time in Israeli society. Our sacred narrative tells us it is difficult to have faith and trust in something new and unknown, especially when it seems to take so long to appear. Yet, for those who are paying attention, vibrant Jewish expression is happening all around Israel in forms that are other than Orthodox. It is time for the political system to reflect the spiritual facts on the ground. It is time for the Israeli voter to move away from parties that will make coalitions with politicians that compare Reform Jews to dogs. Such a comparison is sinful. Perpetuating a situation that distorts what public Judaism can be in the 21st-century borders on sinful. May the Israeli voter find the strength, courage and hope to leave the past behind and forge a new way. Freeing the modern State of Israel from the tyranny of the ultra-Orthodox on March 23, on the eve of our Festival of Freedom, would be the greatest sacred synchronicity of all!

About the Author
Francine M. Gordon is an artist/activist who maintains homes in New York and Cleveland. From November 2010 through November 2016, through The Sacred Rights, Sacred Song Project, she produced over 10 Concerts of Concern in the US and Israel. Since establishing her New York residence, Ms. Gordon has become a member of the New York Federation’s Israeli Judaism committee which focuses on exactly the same issues as SRSS. In addition, she has become a proud member of the Zamir Chorale which allows her to express her Zionism through song.
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