The Diaspora's Frustration With Israel: A Good Thing
01/14/2013 - 13:55
Michael Snow
Women of the Wall, which agitates for prayer rights at the Kotel, has much American support. Photo courtesy Women of the Wall
Women of the Wall, which agitates for prayer rights at the Kotel, has much American support. Photo courtesy Women of the Wall

American Jews absolutely love to speak and behave as though what we think should have immediate practical and political bearing in Israel.

But the current Women of the Wall crisis in Israel represents a debacle of internal Israeli affairs and civil liberties. The Israeli government has enacted policies which favor a certain power structure over another, raising clear issues of separation of church and state: May a democracy empower solely one interpretation of Jewish law, halacha? Deciding this is the legislature’s responsibility. And we see Prime Minster Netanyahu’s office taking steps in that direction.

Yet the American Jewish community has a great deal to say about this, and a host of other Israeli matters.

And, the more I think about it, that’s a good thing.

Diaspora Jewry’s frustration with the Israeli government’s handling of issues of gender and freedom to worship shows that Jews still feel like we have a stake in Israel,that our beliefs and futures are bound up with those of the Jewish state. In that regard, the argument that American Jews have no place criticizing Israeli civil affairs fails to grasp several key things about the nature of the Kotel and the Diaspora-Israel relationship.

The Kotel reflects the highest religious aspirations of Jews worldwide, not just Israelis. It’s arguably the holiest place on this earth. Further, the policies which marginalize women and empower a rigid theocracy are enacted in the name of Jews worldwide. For these reasons, the Kotel policies aren’t just another set of domestic civil affairs, and we should not look at the Kotel’s restrictions on women’s prayer as another, far away, example of religious oppression.

Freedom to worship the Jewish God is a far more imminent matter. And if Jerusalem is the heart of the people of Israel, the Western Wall is the vena cava, the main vein, for transfusing Israel’s prayers, blessings, and cries to the Almighty. That’s why the Kotel policies aren’t just a domestic affairs issue, but are germane to all Jews. Solutions proposed thus far, such as a three part Mechitza, or different prayer time slots, make me hopeful but not optimistic.

Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state is also bound up with its ability to address the views of Jews worldwide. When many Jews look at the Kotel policies, they see a refutation of our most basic principles, such as gender equality and religious pluralism. Entrenching the current Israeli rabbinate’s power structure will only serve to further isolate Israel in the global Jewish community.

Israel will achieve its mission when Jews across the globe can say: This is a place which represents my values. This is my home. Let’s make it our home.

Comments

Thank you for your insightful post.

re: "But the current Women of the Wall crisis in Israel represents a debacle of internal Israeli affairs and civil liberties.The Israeli government has enacted policies which favor a certain power structure over another, raising clear issues of separation of church and state: May a democracy empower solely one interpretation of Jewish law, halacha? Deciding this is the legislature’s responsibility. And we see Prime Minster Netanyahu’s office taking steps in that direction."

1. "The Israeli government has enacted policies which favor a certain power structure over another, raising clear issues of separation of church and state"
Yes, in matters of personal status, Israel does NOT have a separation of 'synagogue and state'.
Yes, the gov't has delegated authority over the Kotel to the Western Wall Heritage Foundation (WWHF).

2. May a democracy empower solely one interpretation of Jewish law, halacha?
Yes, the Rabbinate follows an Orthodox interpretation of Jewish Law.
Yes, the WWHF Board is composed of 15 ultra-Orthodox men.

3. "Deciding this is the legislature’s responsibility."
Yes, it was the Knesset that granted the Rabbinate jurisdiction according to law.
Are you asking whether it should be the Knesset that determines who runs the Kotel?
At present, it is the Prime Minister's Office -- the Executive branch -- that determines the makeup of the WWHF.

4. "And we see Prime Minster Netanyahu’s office taking steps in that direction."
Not sure what is meant by this.
Do you mean the PM turning to Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky (not to the Knesset) to 'look into' the arrangements at the Kotel?

Joel Katz
http://religionandstateinisrael.blogspot.com/
http://twitter.com/religion_state

The Diaspora's so-called Frustration with Israel - No need...

If any Jew living in the Diaspora is unhappy with the decisions made by the democratically elected Israeli government they need not get frustrated. All they have to do is to make aliyah, pay Israeli taxes, serve in the IDF - then they will have the moral right to try to make changes. Until then they have no moral right to criticize Israeli government decisions or actions from their comfortable and secure rocking chair in the Diaspora.

Those of us who are reform or conservative Jews cannot make aliyah or pay Israeli taxes because we have been disenfranchised by the "democratically elected" government. Accept us as equals and many of us would like to make aliyah without compromising our form of Judaism.

I was born in the US & have been living in Jerusalem for years. I attended the last 2 Women of the Wall Rosh Hodesh prayers at the Kotel, & identify with them. But here in Israel, to be blunt - what counts is how many votes a political party got. Here in Israel, Conservative & Reform Judaism are regarded as "not the real thing". As a non-Orthodox, I'm deeply frustrated. Please, come to Israel to live. We Israelis need you, desperately. You're not so meshuggeh like too many Jews here are. I'm serious.

I AM AN ORTHODOX JEW LIVING IN ISRAEL AND I ENDORSE YOUR VIEW

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