As I write this article, furious negotiations are underway in Jerusalem regarding the so-called “Rotem Bill,” which might possibly be introduced to the plenum of the Knesset as early as next week. In a Jewish world that often hyperbolizes potential disasters, this bill, if passed, has the capacity to drive a major wedge between the State of Israel and the non-Orthodox Jewish community here in North America. I suspect that certain sectors of the Orthodox community are not anxious to see it passed, either.
It was only a month or so ago that Israel’s relationship with the United States government was in serious trouble. First it was the visit of Vice-President Biden to Israel that was marred by Israel’s ill-timed announcement of new housing starts in East Jerusalem. President Obama was said to be furious. Then it was Israel’s handling of the Gaza flotilla that seemed to anger everyone in the world who was awake and breathing at the time.
In the Babylonian Talmud, the ancient rabbis taught that silence, while a sign of humility and often wisdom, can also have a darker side. Sh’tika k’hoda’ah damei, they said. Remaining silent can, in the wrong circumstance, indicate your agreement with or surrender to what has been said. Silence can be a two-faced sword.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that ancient teaching lately.
It is most unusual for me to be away from my synagogue for two consecutive weekends, but this is one of those times. Last week I was in Jerusalem, attending the Zionist Congress. This week, far away from Jerusalem, I am writing from Newport, Rhode Island, where my son-in-law Yoni, entering his final year in the Rabbinical School at the Jewish Theological Seminary, is receiving his commission from the United States Navy as a Navy Chaplain.
I probably should wait a few days before writing this article. It would, undoubtedly, come out much less hot and bothered if I did. But deadlines being what they are, I am obliged to write it now. I apologize in advance- I think- if it offends certain sensibilities...
What follows is the sermon I delivered in my synagogue in Forest Hills last week. I wanted to share it with you because it is a more thorough treatment of the subject than I could do in a briefer piece, and I think it important. I hope you will as well.
In what is probably an epic understatement of major proportions, there is much to say about the events of the past week in Israel. In fairness to my congregants, many of whom read this column but also are waiting to hear what I might have to say on the subject tomorrow morning during Shabbat services, I shall wait until next week to put into written, published words my own take on the flotilla incident.
I spent the past week at the annual convention of the Rabbinical Assembly, the international organization of Conservative rabbis. This year, it was held at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, the academy from which the overwhelming percentage of RA members were graduated and ordained.
In the religious world, there has been much discussion over the past few years, and rightly so, of the struggle between what sociologists like to call the “commanding presence” and the “sovereign self.” The “commanding presence” is an outside source of authority- in the larger religious sense, God, or in a lesser religious sense, rabbis. The “sovereign self” is the autonomous individual, who chafes at being told what to do.
Israel is perilously close to lawlessness, at least in regard to Haredi Jews feeling that violence against Jews who are different from them is not only understandable, but also warranted.
Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik
Special to the Jewish Week
Just a day or two ago, a young Israeli woman named Noa Raz, a product of the Masorti movement and its NOAM youth program, was physically assaulted by a Haredi Jew in the Central Bus Station in Beer Sheva.
Were the story to stop there it would be bad enough, but it gets worse.
Why was Noa assaulted? Because the Haredi Jew, a man, saw the marks left by her tefillin straps that morning. Noa prays with tefillin in the morning, as do many women in the Conservative and Masorti movements. That was her “provocation.”