The unfortunate gap between Israeli theocracy and western democracy is growing wider day by day. The Orthodox rabbinate in Israel, which regulates every religious activity for Israeli Jews, is now attempting to throw its mantle of suppression on liberal Jews both in Israel and in the diaspora.
The recent tragic battle at the Wall, Orthodox against liberals, is their declaration of war against us. Make no mistake. Yes….it is our war.
Ben-Gurion, in 1948, stated in the written declaration of independence that the State of Israel would guarantee the religious freedom of every citizen of Israel. By that he meant only Orthodox Jewish citizens. Like the Ottoman Turks, he refused to separate religion from the State and gave total powers to the Orthodox rabbinate.
We are now at war with the extremists among them. We have no problems with Orthodox rabbis in the Diaspora communities. They are educated in the ways of secular culture, they understand and accept Jews who follow other branches of the Jewish tree, and they are friendly and welcoming. Completely different from their harsh colleagues who believe that only their Torah and their religious customs are divinely revealed.
Judaism has two sets of rules: d’oraita (those laws which are written in the Torah of Moses) and d’rabbanan (laws interpreted and defined by rabbis and sages). We had the school of Hillel and the school of Shammai. We had the followers of the Pharisees and the followers of the Sadducees. And often, the twain did not meet.
When I was younger, my rabbi used to say to us “Torah ainena overet b’yerusha; kol dor va-dor tzarich l’chadesh ota”…. The Torah is not passed down as an inheritance to us; each and every generation must renew (re-interpret) it. Wiser words were never spoken.
Until the 19th century, Orthodox Judaism was the only form of Jewish worship. Following the German revolution of 1848, the ghetto walls in western Europe began to crumble and eventually to fall down forever.
Like the Berlin Wall of modern times which separated west from east, the German revolution opened the eyes of the newly-freed and assimilated Jews to a new and more liberal understanding of Torah.
And once freedom from restraints are tasted, there is no return to the life in the ghettos. Israeli Orthodoxy is ghetto life without exposure to the modern world.
Liberal Jews are blaming Prime Minister Netanyahu for breaking his promise to them… a promise which guaranteed them freedom of worship at a special section at the main Wall. They are rebelling against Bibi who desperately needs the Orthodox parties for the security of his coalition government. And liberal Jews are now declaring their war against Israel.
I recently read a copy of a sermon preached in a large Reform temple comprised of 1,200 member families. It stated “Israel can plant its own trees. We do not have to support the JNF by planting trees in Israel. American Jews are free to vacation and travel in most countries of the world…Israel is not the only place to go. It is better to contribute money to schools, hospitals, community centers, museums and religious and cultural institutions where we live, rather than donating to other countries.”
If this expression of feeling is felt and shared by many other liberal rabbis in diaspora countries, it bodes badly for Israel. Tourism will decline. Hotels will be empty. Charities will suffer from lack of donations.
This is not only Bibi’s war against us and in support of the Orthodox rabbinate. It is our war against the Orthodox theocracy. The world is our battleground.
And the enemy is known to us.