By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
The de-facto minister of religions in Israel has delivered himself of yet another canard against Reform Judaism. Nothing better is to be expected of him and the Shas party he represents. But we’ve every reason to expect more of the prime minister than the standard announcement that the minister’s views don’t represent those of the government. If Mr. Netanyahu really wanted us to know that he cared, he’d dismiss the culprit or at least compel him to make the usual politician’s statement that he was “quoted out of context.” The only less than startling conclusion we can draw from the prime minister’s lame response is that he cares more about his government coalition than about the unity and integrity of the Jewish people.
The Jewish people, not just the Jewish citizens of the State of Israel! For despite the relative growth of the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel, the impact of these movements on Israeli life is very modest.
Yes, in any poll a sizeable number of Israelis will say that they’ve Reform or Conservative sympathies, but that may only mean that they’ll use (“use” is the operative word) a non-Orthodox rabbi for their son’s Barmitsvah and even more so for their daughter’s Batmitsvah, and/or send their children to kindergartens on Conservative or Reform premises. It doesn’t mean affiliation in any meaningful sense of the word.
Neither of the two Reform congregations to which we belong in Jerusalem is overwhelmed by members attending services. In one of them most worshippers on a Friday night are visitors, usually from abroad. The other, also sparsely attended, tells us of the Bar/Batmisvah ceremonies at which the rabbi and cantor officiated during the week at the simcha-plaza near the Western Wall designated for the use of non-Orthodox Jews. (Another form of segregation that some non-Orthodox Jews claim as a victory).
The Reform leadership in Israel may have preferred me not having written the above, not because it’s untrue but because it conflicts with the image it wants to convey to the sister movements abroad in its legitimate effort to elicit support.
Caveat One: That support is indeed vital and our movement should be doing much more, because the very presence of Reform and Conservative Judaism in Israel constitutes a challenge to claims of Orthodox hegemony. However, the relative indifference of the prime minister to what we stand for is because he knows that we don’t have many divisions whereas the Orthodox do have them. The feeble statements he makes are intended for export, particularly to the Reform movement in the United States, more than for home consumption. The indifferent secular population of Israel won’t go to the barricades for non-Orthodox Judaism. The ostensibly moderate Orthodox religious Zionists won’t either because Reform Jews tend not to share their right-wing politics.
Caveat Two: The fact that an Israeli politician says bad and untrue things about Reform of Judaism should be no reason for us to keep away from visiting Israel or refrain from supporting Israeli causes in addition to our own movement. On the contrary!
For example, contributing to the New Israel Fund is particularly important because it funds many progressive causes in Israel, including our own. We must show each other as well as our detractors that no amount of hostility toward Reform and Conservative Judaism will diminish our love of Israel. It’s as much ours as it’s theirs.
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By Rabbi Dow Marmur.