Sunday, July 5, 2015

Our liberation is bound up in theirs

The Times of Israel ran an article today that included the following (h/t Joel Alan Katz):

The cabinet repealed Sunday an initiative that would recognize conversions to Judaism conducted by a wider circle of rabbis, and separately approved the transfer of authority over the country’s rabbinical courts from the Justice Ministry to the Ministry of Religious Services.

The modest progress that had been made on the issue of (Jewish) religious pluralism in the previous government (which included the secularist Yesh Atid party) has been rolled back by the current government, which includes the ultra-Orthodox parties. 

This issue is of great and understandable concern to a lot of people, and not just non-Orthodox American Jews. Up to one-sixth of weddings that include Israelis take place out of the country because of the restrictions placed on Jewish ritual activities by the (ultra-Orthodox) Chief Rabbinate. 20% of the Jewish population are immigrants from the former Soviet Union or their children, and many of those are not considered Jewish by halakhah (Jewish ritual law). Efforts to repair this issue by standardizing conversions have been blocked by the Chief Rabbinate, which expects a level of Jewish ritual observance from converts that few are willing to meet. 

Many of my friends and colleagues are concerned about this issue. Rabbi Uri Regev, whom I know from my time in Israel and whom I admire from his previous work with the Israel Religious Action Center, has founded a (Jewish) religious pluralism in Israel advocacy group, Hiddush. Rabbi Mark Levin, my friend and colleague from Kansas City, is on the board of this organization. 

Hiddush and other groups of this kind try to stay away from "security" issues - they want their struggle for (Jewish) civil rights in Israel to be dealt with on their own merits and not to get bogged down in the intractable issues of "defense," settlements, borders and refugees. The 2011 Israel social justice protests were the same in this regard. They were protesting the cost of housing (for Jewish Israelis), and painstakingly kept the Occupation and all its elements out of their discussions. 

In fact, those who are liberal on (Jewish) social justice issues in Israel might very well be conservative on security issues. And they are quite likely to be among the 94% of the (Jewish) Israeli population who supported the 2014 Gaza military campaign. 

But today's news shows the fallacy of this approach. As long as governments are elected and formed based on continuing the Occupation, the government will rely on the participation of the ultra-religious parties, & the cost of that protection is continuation of their monopoly.on religious issues in Israel. 

Thus, even on this most practical level, religious freedom for Jews in Israel is inseparable from political freedom for the Palestinians. The sooner social justice advocates in Israel recognize this, and act on it, the better it will be for everyone.