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We Are Not One People

'Jewish Unity' is a farce when a chief rabbi of Israel can't bring himself to call a non-orthodox place of worship a synagogue

The Jewish Agency for Israel states on its website that its mission is “to do all we can to ensure that every Jewish person feels an unbreakable bond to one another and to Israel no matter where they are in the world”.

This is an admirable objective, but one that is frustrated by people like Israel’s Ashkenazi chief rabbi David Lau, who just couldn’t get himself to refer to the “Tree of Life” community in Pittsburgh as a synagogue, because it describes itself as “a traditional, progressive and egalitarian congregation”.

Rabbi Lau, whose undistinguished career has included working to sabotage the agreement to provide an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall, was only prepared to refer to the Pittsburgh synagogue in which eleven Jews were murdered and six wounded during worship services last Shabbat as “a place of clear Jewish character”.

Lau’s description of the “Tree of Life” synagogue in such terms reminded me of how Arabs used to refer to Israel as “the Zionist entity”. It didn’t help them. Israel, thank God, thrives while Reform and Conservative communities continue to flourish.

The willingness of Israel’s governments of all political shades to support the orthodox religious establishment has not only damaged Israel’s image as a liberal, pluralistic democracy but has also contributed to the alienation of many Diaspora Jews from any sense of connection with the Jewish State.

Furthermore, the unhealthy mix of religion and politics in our country has caused considerable harm to Israel’s political structure and has also distanced many Israelis from their Jewish heritage.

Whereas our religious identity served to enhance our sense of being one people throughout the ages irrespective of where we lived, Judaism has now become a source of contention that serves to divide us.

It is not enough for Israel’s president and prime minister to offer their respective condolences to the families of those brutally murdered in Pittsburgh. It is not enough for Naftali Bennett to travel to Pittsburgh to attend the funerals of those who were savagely slaughtered while at prayer. Each of them needs to condemn Israel’s chief rabbi, who is a state employee, for his intolerance. In response they should grant all streams of Judaism equal status in our country. That would not only be good for Israel-Diaspora relations but would also be good for Israel.

About the Author
Rabbi Boyden was educated and received his rabbinical ordination in London, England. Having served as the rabbi of Cheshire Reform Congregation for thirteen years, he made aliyah with his family in 1985. He has established Reform congregations in Ra'anana and Hod Hasharon and previously served as director of the Israel Reform Movement's Beit Din.
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