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We have a great opportunity here

We have a historic chance to reverse abuse and alienation and neutralize the ticking conversion timebomb

This morning, the fabled ‘morning after,’ the media is awash in speculation as to the implications of yesterday’s elections. Most observers are focusing on the meteoric rise of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party, the less than impressive showing of Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party, possible coalitions that PM Netanyahu can cobble together, or the return of the traditional Right-Left divide that characterized Israeli politics. It’s going to be an interesting next few weeks (at least more interesting than the campaign itself).

I think that most observers are missing a crucial point. In the absence of any immediate change in our conflict with the Muslim World, the country has apparently decided to look inward and address the issues that impact directly upon its national and religious identity, its economic viability and its social cohesion. At the top of that list is Israel’s Jewish identity, which was a serious sub-text of the campaign and found expression in the make-up of the various lists of candidates. Aside from Jewish Home (which significantly includes a non-Orthodox candidate, Ayelet Shaked), the major lists highlighted moderate, Religious Zionist candidates who are devoted to deepening Israel’s Jewish identity. Three of these, all of whom I know personally and two well, were elected on Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid list: Rabbi Shai Piron, Dr. Aliza Lavie and Rabbi Dov Lipman. These, together with like-minded religious and non-religious MK’s have an opportunity to make a long-lasting contribution to the stabilization of Israeli society, and toward resolving some chronic problems.

I’ll just mention a few:

The Chief Rabbinate: As a few on-line publications (such as Tablet Magazine) have noted, yesterday’s elections will directly impact upon the upcoming elections for the chief rabbinate. The new Knesset constellation has the ability to ensure the election of a Religious Zionist Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi (preferably, R. David Stav), who can start undoing two decades of abuse and alienation from Judaism while the rabbinate was a political football, used, abused and despised by those who control it.

Conversion: As I have argued before, the resolution of the conversion question is not only desirable, it is critical for Israel’s survival. I deeply believe that we have an opportunity to set down the halakhic parameters for credibly and normatively resolving the Jewish status of thousands or Israeli citizens. This will not be easy, as it will cause tensions both with the Haredi World and the non-Orthodox community in the Diaspora. It can, however, be done and it should be done.

Deepening Jewish Education and Awareness: As I’ve said on numerous occasions: Israeli Jewry is undergoing a far-reaching and deeply felt Jewish Renaissance. Israeli Jews thirst for Jewish knowledge and self-expression. The new Knesset will include some stellar individuals whose lives have been devoted precisely to that end. In particular, one should note the election of two women, in particular, Dr. Ruth Calderon (founder of Elul and Alma College) and Dr. Aliza Lavie (author of the best sellers, Minhag Nashim – Women’s Customs – and T’filat Nashim – Women’s Prayer).

There will be more to say on all of these issues as time goes on. On this morning after, though, I see a lot of reason for hope. I pray to God that our newly elected representatives will have the foresight, courage and selflessness to seize the opportunity and make it a reality.

About the Author
Jeffrey Woolf is an Associate Professor in the Talmud Department at Bar Ilan University. He is both a Medieval and Renaissance Jewish Historian, and an Orthodox Rabbi who is a long time advocate of the creation of a uniquely Israeli form of Modern Orthodoxy.