Sunday, 18 May 2014

Jewish in the Diaspora, But Not in the State of Israel. It's Time for Religious Equality

Last week, I read an article about swastikas scrawled on a Conservative synagogue in Israel (see:,7340,L-4519275,00.html).  Many people's first instinct would be to blame this heinous act of vandalism on Israel-haters and antisemites.  But they would be wrong.  As the article implies, the culprits were likely fellow Jews who don't approve of the way the folks who attend this particular synagogue practice Judaism.  It wouldn't be the first time that something like this has happened in Israel, for inasmuch as Israel depends on the moral, financial and political support of fellow Jews in the Diaspora for its existence, many Israelis refuse to tolerate the way most Diaspora Jews practice the Jewish religion.

Israel has never made a legal distinction between different streams of Judaism and for most of the country's history, Israeli Jews have all been considered Orthodox by default.  But in the latter part of the state's 66 years of existence, alternative forms of Judaism, such as the Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist movements have made inroads into the country and there has been a growing demand, both by adherents of non-Orthodox congregations in the Diaspora, as well as the growing number of Israelis associating with non-Orthodox movements, for an end to the Orthodox monopoly on religious affairs in Israel.  The fact that Israel neither respects nor recognizes the way most Jews in the Diaspora practice their religion hits a raw nerve with some.  I can remember how upset my grandmother used to get when she talked about how the Reform Judaism practiced in the synagogue to which she belonged was not considered to be Judaism in Israel.  I myself am not a member of a synagogue, but I still resent the fact that while Israeli leaders always travel around the world telling Jews in Diaspora communities how grateful Israel is for their support, they are still unwilling to recognize the way most of these Jews practice Judaism.  And although non-Orthodox Jews who immigrate to Israel are generally recognized as Jews, heaven forbid if they try to get married by a non-Orthodox rabbi, because their marriage will not be recognized by the state.  Oh, and for those of you who converted to Judaism under the auspices of a non-orthodox rabbi; sorry, but the State of Israel says you're still not Jewish, so you'll have to go through the entire conversion process all over again under the supervision of the country's Orthodox monopoly.  Pathetic, isn't it?  It's also just plain unfair.

So how should Diaspora Jews respond to the fact that the nation-state of the Jewish people refuses to recognize their ways of practicing Judaism?  Should they withhold support for Israel until the country agrees to treat their alternative forms of Judaism equally and fairly?  If we were any other people, my answer would be yes.  But we're not any other people.  We're the Jewish people and Israel is our best and only chance of preventing another Holocaust, so abandoning our support for it is not an option. Okay then, what other options are there?  At this point not many, I'm afraid.  The only piece of advice that I can give is to keep reminding Israel's leaders that since Diaspora Jews give them so much, the least they could do is give the millions of non-Orthodox Jews around the world religious equality in the Jewish homeland.      


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