Tag Archives: klal yisrael

The Kotel Compromise- A win or pyrrhic victory?

kotel-black-and-white-0The Kotel is a special place. As a remnant of the Temple, we have gravitated to it to feel a special closeness to our history, to a Divine place, the home for the Almighty that we built. We feel a deep emotional and often mystical connection that draws us into the space. Otherwise it is nothing more than a large brick wall.

 I recall arriving in Jerusalem for my first year of rabbinical school in Israel. I got off the plane, hopped into the sherut to Jerusalem dropped off the bags and then headed to the Wall. It was late. I had traveled for what seemed like days and although exhausted, I was compelled to go to the Wall. The emotions welled up from deep inside. I stood in the plaza gazing upon this place. With the kind of intense reverence and awe that happens rarely, I slowly approached the Wall. It was powerful. The thing that happened to me was an extraordinary moment, an encounter between my history, my people, my God and me. But the Kotel is not the sole place of my Judaism. The Makom or place of my Judaism extends beyond time and space and includes the idea of a Jewish people. This vision of Judaism however is compromised by the very compromise announced to create separate spaces for different kinds of Jews to pray.solitary wall prayer

 The arrangement for the space at the Wall has in many ways undermined what the space itself means for Judaism. Each denomination of Judaism now has a place it can call its own. The Wall of the Temple has been segregated, sliced and diced so each sect has an area where it can feel comfortable. The gain of a place for egalitarian Jews at the wall however is also the loss of the symbol of the Wall for us all as a place of unity; for these partitions are along the fault lines of Ashkenazic observances segregating us from each other instead creating a place accessible to everyone. The remnant of where God dwelled amidst the Jewish people has become a place of division and discord within God’s people.

 We have all seen the photographs of the wall at the turn of the century. Men and women were 1891amonthinpalestineandsyriathere together. The Wall was a private space to connect individually in a public place. How you practiced or the community with which you identified did not matter. In the early post-1967 days that sense of Klal Yisrael permitted a similar experience. It was fleeting, and sadly, it has devolved into staking territory in a turf war. Although liberal Judaism may have won something important in getting a place at the wall to pray, we must regretfully acknowledge that in this agreement something else important continues to elude us, namely the unity of the Jewish people.

 Perhaps we should re-focus the issue as one regarding the kind of ceremony and ritual that are generally permitted in this public private space. The kinds of rituals that permit us to be together could be more important in the grand scheme of things than the particular observances that create schisms among us. In my experience I was solitary but in communion with Am Yisrael. Under our current circumstances an experience at the Wall might require we visit both areas, one to be among those who share our beliefs and practice and the other to be with another part of our people, to taste their experience and ponder the ideas of the Judaism values that guides us all and strive to create a Judaism that connects us all.

Am I my Brother’s Keeper?- Israel and Me

The haunting question from Cain’s lips in response to God was the rhetorical non-answer when asked of Abel’s whereabouts. Cain and God both knew what had become of Abel and Cain’s response has been read as a guilt-ridden deflection from the true answer: Yes.connection

 As a Diaspora Jew, so too, I am responsible to my Israeli brothers and sisters. The understanding of our relationship as family contextualizes the obligation. I cannot force my sibling to act, but I am certainly invested in her welfare. I do not walk in my sibling’s shoes, but if I see him appear to go astray I am duty-bound to voice my concern. Whether my perspective is accepted or rejected, I am compelled to share my thoughts because I care. This is harder to do however when I feel my voice is rebuffed or my views disrespected, when it feels as though my sibling acts with the arrogance of the prodigal son.   But my love for my brothers and sisters obliges me to speak nonetheless.

PeoplewithJoinedRaisedJoinedHands It is in that tension that we find ourselves now. Chemi Shalev, the eminent Israeli journalist, is right to express his concern that we in the United States are not speaking up forcefully enough. But an Israel Prime Minister that foments the political divide among American Jews and a Chief Rabbinate that expressly refuses to acknowledge my practice of Judaism are but two ways my voice is repressed.   And yet I must speak.

 I care deeply about Israel, both the state and the aspirations it represents. Israel is a homeland to my people. It is deeply rooted in my narrative creating profound meaning. Israel is also a refuge for my people from a hostile world. Equally important, Israel is also a place where Jewish values might live and thrive. These values include belief in the sanctity of human life and a system of laws that guide just behavior. These principles guide a place where they can be lived and realized, no longer the province of a powerless people. Rather than a nation like all other nations, Israel is a light unto the Nations.Screen Shot 2016-01-07 at 1.04.44 PM

 Israel can be a beacon of hope, striving to better herself through the proper treatment of her citizens and the protection of the weak. She is to be a nation of laws equally applied, a country striving towards the highest moral standards internally and externally in her treatment of friend and foe alike. Sometimes Israel falls short. It is our responsibility to lovingly speak out when she does, based on our deep caring for Israel and what Israel means to us and to the world. And we must continue to speak up undeterred by those who might find us an annoyance or at odds with their particular worldview.

 I am my brother’s keeper.

Klal Yisrael- Unity against hatred and bigotry

BOR letterFortunately there is pushback

 The rise of Islamophobia in our country is deeply troubling. All people who embrace American Ideals should be troubled, speaking out and pushing back against this racism. Only those overwhelmed by fear or hatred can find the anti-Islamic message comforting. We Jews find this particularly problematic because our history is rife with persecution of the most horrific kinds.

 Klal Yisrael is speaking out. All our denominations, all of our respected institutions are renouncing acts of hatred and the perpetrators. Whether it is the desecration of a mosque in Philadelphia or the vitriol of hate mongers, Jewish values do not abide the despicable acts that are eerily similar to those historically experienced by our people.

 Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, The Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbinical Reconstructionist College, Jewish Theological Seminary, Rabbinical Assembly, Rabbinical Council of America and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, Aleph, just to name a few, have spoken against xenophobia and hatred.   Our own Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia and our Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s JCRC under the leadership of Adam Kessler have also expressed support of the Moslem community in response to the Mosque desecration.

 I am heartened as an American, as a Jew and as a Rabbi that we reaffirm our Jewish values at this time. Regardless of how we practice, our Judaism commands us to take this principled stand. Although Chanukah has passed, the miracle of light continues to shine for all of us.

More than the Iran Agreement

We continue to debate the pros and cons of the Iran deal during the 60-day review period preceding the vote in Congress. I read the article about the rabbis signing a letter opposing the Nuclear Agreement and the interesting points made by my colleagues. I am among those rabbis who signed the other public letter in support of the Nuclear Agreement, based on what I believe was a thoughtful deliberative process. But beyond pro and cons, there are three very important Jewish issues that spring from this situation and they not include who has more signers and join my voice to the growing number who share these concerns.

 First, we have close to two thousand rabbis now, who care deeply enough about the issue to place their names publicly identifying how they feel.   Secondly we have the opportunity to raise the quality of the debate. Third, we need to discuss how we constructively move forward in the aftermath of this process.

 I am pleased that we live in a place where we feel comfortable enough with our station to engage in a political conversation that affects us as Americans and Jews and supporters of Israel. This ability to actively and vocally participate in the public square is one of the great blessings of living in the United States.

 Second, I have been deeply concerned that the discussions about the deal have devolved into a nasty shouting match filled with vitriol. Therefore the shouting detracts from us as Klal Yisrael. As President Lincoln declared, “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” and so too it is with us. As a people we have always wrestled with issues. Our holiest texts engage us in these contests with other people and often with the Divine. It is a proud tradition that compels us to grow because we are required to listen to the counter argument or alternative interpretation. Our Talmud preserves the minority view for a distinct purpose, namely for us to learn from the disputation process, that even the ultimately rejected view carries weight and is deserving of respect. We are elevated when our conversations are “for the sake of heaven, Makhloket l’Shem Shamyim,” and we are debased when they are not.

 Third and finally, regardless of our individual positions, the United States will move forward in one way or the other. We need to start reaching out to each other now to rebuild the bonds of fellowship that have been deeply shaken. We also must be practical and pragmatic working on behalf of the things we care about, namely the United States and Israel, ensuring this alliance remains unshakable and both are fully capable of defending itself from all threats, including from Iran.

 Despite the passion that so many have on this issue, at the end of the day, we are one people. Now is a very good time for us to remind ourselves of this. We must not let the differences of opinions detract from our responsibility to respect each other. This is a pledge we all can sign.

Shalom

Shalom-

 This Shabbat I urge us to commit ourselves to civility and decorum. The debate on Iran is extremely important to us, as Americans and as Jews, and discussion should be be robust. But we are standing at a crossroads. This conversation can quickly deteriorate. We cannot allow ourselves to be ripped apart by internecine hatreds. We remain Klal Yisrael only when we choose to be so. Let us argue ideas passionately, but let us not argue against each other. Even when we come from a place of strong conviction about the Iran deal, there remains room for multiple ideas without the need to vilify those who hold other views.

 There is too much at stake here, Shalom for the world and Shalom Bayit, peace within the House of Israel.

Shabbat Shalom

Responding to the Rejection of JStreet

Like so many others I am deeply troubled and saddened that the Council of Presidents rejected the application for membership by JStreet.  Let me reiterate the premise for inclusion:  the voices of all legitimate groups deserve a seat at the table so they may be heard in the collective that is supposed to be this council.  This is not an endorsement of any particular view but rather a respect for the right to express ideas and hopefully add to meaningful discussion within Klal Yisrael. The Council’s rejection of JStreet runs contrary to this foundational principle and I support the URJ’s position that the Council’s vote reflects that the Council “no longer serves its vital purpose of providing a collective voice for the entire American Pro-Jewish community.”

 At this juncture, we can either walk away or fight to amend the corrupt system now in place.  As tempting as the former may be, we should seriously try to change the system before throwing in the proverbial towel.  Because we believe in the need for a collective voice, we are obligated to do our best to maintain it.  So it would seem that the first course of action would be to change the already existing community to return it to the basic premise that drove creation of the Council.

 I urge all those who are disappointed by this sad turn of events to join together in an attempt to salvage the Council.  To walk away without first doing this is an admission that there is no chance for everyone to sit at the table together.  I would rather we tried and have those who won’t abide such an enlightened viewpoint opt to leave instead.  First we fight for that in which we believe.  Only if we find the fight is futile can we in good conscience walk away from the table.