Shabbat Evening Service
From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
In the news this week, the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, reneged on two major commitments to progressive Jewish leaders in the Reform and Conservative movements. According to official reports “the Israeli cabinet bowed to extremist pressure and froze its agreed-upon plan to develop an egalitarian worship space at the Western Wall. The Israeli cabinet also advanced a bill that would grant the ultra-Orthodox Chief Rabbinate exclusive control over conversions in Israel.”
ARZA (Association of Reform Zionists of America) “condemns both of these outrageous actions which, if allowed to stand, will cement the power of the ultra-Orthodox minority in Israel at the expense of Jewish unity and pluralism, undermine religious freedom in the State of Israel, and open a schism between Israel and world Jewry.”
ARZA and the Reform Jewish movement, represented by the URJ (Union for Reform Judaism) and CCAR (Central Conference of American Rabbis) celebrated the January 2016 agreement that promised investing in and constructing an egalitarian prayer space at Robinson’s Arch, just south of the existing Western Wall plaza. This was a milestone for compromise and unity. In Prime Minister Netanyahu’s words, it endorsed “One Wall for One People.”
In March 2016, I joined my colleagues in Jerusalem to stand at the site where such an egalitarian prayer space would be constructed. We knew that the way would be long, but Netanyahu’s decision to preserve his power rather than his promises to us and the hope of world Jewry not to be held to Haredi Jewish extremism has led to a crisis between us.
Below are links to statements by Reform Jewish leaders that will inform and apprise you of the situation. The news will change quickly as efforts are made to reclaim our positions and restore relationships. Our Houston Jewish community rabbis and leaders are coming together to prepare a joint statement and to address our shared angst over these matters.
“Today’s decision calls into question whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a man of his word. The Prime Minister, whose name is on the January, 2016 agreement on behalf of his government, has apparently caved in to the extremist views of his ultra-Orthodox (Hareidi) coalition partners. Moreover, this decision further strains the relationship between Diaspora Jews and Israel, and makes it increasingly difficult for our rabbis to make the case of support for Israel.
The prophet Isaiah, preaching of a messianic future about the Temple itself, prophesied, “Let my House be a House of prayer for all people.” Our pre-messianic goal is more modest, that the Kotel could be a place of prayer for all Jews. The Kotel is a powerful symbol but unfortunately one that exemplifies the inequalities and indignities to which Reform, Conservative and other non-Orthodox Jews are subjected in the Jewish State every day.”
“Yesterday the Prime Minister and his government walked away from a compromise agreement regarding the Kotel brokered by JAFI Chairman, Natan Sharansky, turning a cold shoulder to the majority of world Jewry, as well as the Reform Movement within Israel. The Prime Minister made this decision without even a discussion with key leaders of the North American Jewish communities. The decision cannot be seen as anything other than a betrayal, and I see no point to a meeting at this time. We will make our arguments in the Supreme Court.”
“ARZA condemns both of these outrageous actions which, if allowed to stand, will cement the power of the ultra-Orthodox minority in Israel at the expense of Jewish unity and pluralism, undermine religious freedom in the State of Israel, and open a schism between Israel and world Jewry.
We call upon the Israeli government and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resume their commitment to establishing a Kotel for all, and to reject the conversion bill that would hand more unfettered powered to the ultra-Orthodox political parties and Chief Rabbinate. We call upon synagogues in every religious stream, Federations, and all Jews to demand that Israel enact measures to be open and inclusive to all forms of Jewish expression in the face of antidemocratic forces from within the government and society at large.”