The central Jewish prayer, the Shema, extols the oneness of God. We wish we could similarly extol the oneness of the Jewish people, but lately we see deep fractures —fractures that could lead to an erosion of diaspora Jewry’s support for Israel.
Some signs suggest that erosion is well underway.
In the wake of recent decisions by the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, most notably freezing plans for an egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel, and a potential law recognizing only ultra-Orthodox authority over conversions, much of the liberal Jewish world is fighting mad.
And this week we learned that the Chief Rabbinate has a list of certain North American rabbis — including Orthodox rabbis — whose conversions will not be accepted in Israel.
The reaction from America was swift. Reform leaders say they’ll target their Israel giving to match their values. The head of the Conservative movement warned a Knesset committee of “very real, very serious and very dangerous distancing” of diaspora Jews from Israel.
Some prominent Jewish voices, among them Rabbi Daniel Gordis, went so far as to encourage boycotts of Israeli products and services to apply economic pressure on the government to change course. Other U.S. rabbis have defiantly claimed a measure of pride for having been included on the “blacklist.”
What we are seeing is a heartrending rift at the heart of diaspora Jewish identity, and the gradual normalization of positions that would have been unthinkable not that long ago.
To prevent calamity, the Netanyahu government, along with the ultra-Orthodox minority that wags the dog in Israel, must acknowledge the hurt and anger they are causing, and then take a long look in the mirror. Do they really want to be remembered as the ones who dissolved the bonds between Israel and the diaspora?
Some say this is an internal Israeli matter, and that Jews who live elsewhere have no right to weigh in. That is absurd. The whole point of Zionism was to establish a homeland for all Jews. The Kotel belongs to all Jews, Israeli and non-Israeli, and the same goes for Judaism itself, in all of its colors and flavors.
It is gut-wrenching to witness this dispute, which may yet grow worse. But the vast majority of world Jewry does not accept that the Chief Rabbinate and its enablers in the Knesset have the last word on Judaism.
That’s for the Jews of the world to decide.