Enough is Enough: How to Demand Equality from Israel's Leaders

Inside Leadership

Enough is Enough: How to Demand Equality from Israel's Leaders

Thanks to some unexpected action in the ongoing struggle for pluralistic Jewish worship at the Kotel (Western Wall), the future of this holy endeavor now depends on each of us.

Last week, Israel’s Supreme Court judges unexpectedly rebuked the Israeli government for its failure to implement its own ruling to equalize prayer status at the Kotel, creating a place for all Jews. Demonstrating her exasperation, Supreme Court President Miriam Naor declared, “Enough is enough,” and together with fellow Justice Elyakim Rubenstein, a former attorney general, demanded to know why, after three long years of meetings, no progress has been made to implement a compromise. Under such an agreement, Reform and Conservative Jews would be allowed to worship at the Kotel free from restrictions imposed by Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community. 

The Supreme Court gave the government three weeks to move forward in this matter, and also requested a petition from progressive Jews to the Court if the government doesn’t comply within the allotted timeframe. Lawyers with the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism (IMPJ) already are working on a petition to present to the Court, in alliance with other organizations with whom we share this struggle: the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), the Conservative Movement, and Women of the Wall.

This is where you come in.

As we begin the High Holiday season, the Reform Movement will join a broad-based  grass-roots email campaign directed at Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Rivlin, Speaker of the Knesset Edelstein, and Diaspora Affairs Minister Bennett to let them know that because Israel matters so deeply to us, we demand an end to the ultra-Orthodox monopoly that not only dictates under what conditions progressive Jews may pray at the Kotel, but also how Israel rejects the diversity of our people by representing only one living Judaism through its courts, its governmental policies, and its public spaces. This webinar on Wednesday, September 21, will provide all the details.

Even if the Supreme Court continues to rule in our favor, we don’t expect the ultra-Orthodox to forego their opposition, precisely because the two issues upon which we refuse to compromise are the same two to which their leaders are opposed:

  • Because we don’t believe in separate but equal, in order for there to be an egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel, there must be one entrance for all that clearly directs people to specific prayer sites: men only, women only, and the egalitarian space we desire.
  • We demand, too, that the government grant Reform and Conservative rabbis equal status to that of ultra-Orthodox rabbis who currently are the rabbinic authority at the Kotel.

Unfortunately, this stranglehold extends well beyond the Kotel, affecting marriages, school curricula, conversions, public mikvaot (ritual baths) and, overall what it means to be Jewish in the Jewish state. Although the majority of Israel’s Jews favor a pluralistic approach to Judaism, it isn’t available to them, stifling their creative engagement with Judaism and making their practice more of a chore than a joy. This grip also distances world Jewry from Israel where our own customs, rituals, and clergy are seen as inauthentic and illegitimate compared to those supported by the state’s entrenched rabbinical authorities. Although Israeli leaders continually and consistently question whether such issues matter to the majority of diaspora Jews, a series of new polls indicates that 74% of American Jews (and 62% of Israeli Jews) believe that Israel should allow and recognize marriages and conversions within non-Orthodox, pluralistic denominations.

Indeed, it is time to move on from the status quo that stifles a vibrant, living Judaism and ostracizes significant numbers of Jews inside and beyond Israel. Won’t you join us in our campaign to echo Supreme Court President Miriam Naor’s cry that enough is enough?!

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Rabbi Rick Jacobs is the president of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), the largest Jewish movement in North America, with almost 850 congregations and nearly 1.5 million members. An innovative thought leader, dynamic visionary, and representative of progressive Judaism, he spent 20 years as the spiritual leader of Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, NY. Deeply dedicated to global social justice issues, he has led disaster response efforts in Haiti and Darfur. Learn more about Rabbi Rick Jacobs.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs

Published: 9/19/2016

Categories: Israel Engagement

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