Religious Wars are Blowing Inside Israel

[Editor's note: In the update below about the way sections of the Orthodox world in Israel continues to fight against the rights of non-Orthodox was sent to us from Rabbi Uri Regev, a tireless fighter against this discrimination. He has developed Hiddush as an organization in Israel seeking religious freedom and equality for all.
--Rabbi Michael Lerner]

Dear Friends,

HiddushThe winds of religious wars are blowing.

The world's attention these days is mostly focused on the U.S. Presidential elections and on dealing with their consequences. This, of course, is on top of dealing with COVID-19, and the optimism growing from news reports of the successful development of a new vaccine for the disease. The same is true in Israel, in which the media, the political arena, and the public discourse are focused both on the challenging political landscape in the United States and on Israel's unstable political ground... and all of this, given the reality that COVID-19 is refusing to simply up and disappear.

Still, the struggles of religion and state do not disappear even for a moment; and this week illustrates again how diverse and busy the public and policymakers are. The Supreme Court held a multi-party hearing, including Hiddush, on the matter of egalitarian prayers and Women of the Wall services at the Kotel plaza... the ultra-Orthodox political parties make it clear that passing a new conscription law, ensuring that yeshiva students are not recruited into the IDF is their most important goal, and they continued to express repeated protest that Blue & White, which controls the Ministries of Defense and Justice has not "delivered the goods."

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Tensions are also rising in the "Who is a Jew?" arena, in the face of the approaching date of the Supreme Court ruling on the pending cases regarding the standing of Reform and Conservative converts; and with it a demand from the MKs of the religious parties to pass legislation that would preempt Court's ruling... The Chief Rabbinical Council convened and supported Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef in refusing to abide by the Supreme Court ruling ordering the Chief Rabbinate to allow women to take Halacha exams; and it even decided to send a representative to meet with Supreme Court Justices to "to clarify that the Courts must not interfere in matters of halakhic law, which are under the purview of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Chief Rabbinate Council."

Beyond this, prominent Zionist Orthodox rabbinic figures attacked Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, who dared to participate in a discussion during an online conference with a Reform rabbi from France. Rabbi Melamed made it very clear that the benign dialogue did not indicate his recognition of Reform Judaism, as he clarified in writing: "Reform Judaism seems like a religious-Jewish movement, but is a distortion and deception of the Holy Torah of Israel. We should fight against any granting any religious authority to their representatives, just as the Chief Rabbinate of Israel has done since its establishment until today." Still, Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef, the Chief Rabbi, called for a boycott of Rabbi Melamed.

Also, prominent rabbinical figures attacked the IDF Rabbinate that agreed to bury non-Jewish soldiers alongside Jewish soldiers witht he halakhic caveat that the two would be separated by burying the non-Jewish soldiers at a greater depth than the Jewish soldiers next to them, and that their coffins in with be encircled with blocks. It is not known whether the IDF Rabbinate and the IDF will withstand the pressure now being exerted... Meanwhile, another group of rabbis sharply attacked Rabbi Benny Lau, one of the leading Modern Orthodox rabbis in Israel, for things he wrote in support of establishing LGBTQ families. They wrote that he should be "erased" and described his words as blasphemy; the examples are endless.

What can we learn from all this? 1. The centrality of the struggle over religion and the state cannot be overstated, even in times of political and health crises. 2. Judaism is pluralistic, and no one [not even the Chief Rabbinate] can claim that there is only one Judaism. The Chief Rabbinate is a product of cynical politics, not of Jewish tradition, and the time has come to abolish its rule and understand that in Judaism "these and these are the words of the living God"

Fond regards,

Uri Regev & Stanley P. Gold,
Hiddush – Freedom of Religion for Israel

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