Is the Kotel argument reflective of how Progressive Judaism is viewed in Israel?

Rabbi Danny Rich
14 July 2017

The current situation in Israel certainly reflects a dangerous view – the view that some Jews are not Jewish enough, or not even Jews at all.

It was just over 50 years ago when the Israeli Army captured the Old City of Jerusalem and its most famous landmark, the Kotel – better known to many as the Wailing or Western Wall.

Although it is merely the curtain wall by which Herod created a mound or mount upon which to rebuild the Temple, the Kotel has become a potent political and religious issue.

Orthodox Jews seek to maintain it as a traditional prayer place with a separation between men and women, whereas Liberal and Progressive Jews desire a space where all genders pray together and both men and women can read from the Torah.

Sadly following efforts, a negotiated compromise and a promised egalitarian prayer space, headed by Natan Sharansky on behalf of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister ‘froze’ the matter amid much anger and recrimination.

While this is the most newsworthy aspect of the official state discrimination against Progressive Judaism and Jews in Israel, it is certainly not the only one.

Israel remains the only democracy in the world where my Progressive rabbinic colleagues and I may not freely marry and bury our congregants. That means a very large number of Israelis – including many who had fought wars on the country’s behalf – are unable to access, in a manner acceptable to them, the right to marry, divorce and be buried.

Just as seriously, through the proposed Conversion Bill, is the threat to remove from individuals in Israel the right to convert to Judaism in a modern manner which is in accord with their thoughts and ways of life.

While the Kotel itself is merely an antiquarian relic, what happens there is, however, deeply symbolic of how Progressive Judaism is viewed in Israel.

There is a real danger that what might have been a single national Jewish identity will become two Jewish peoples. For me that would mean the whole raison d’etre of Zionism will have disappeared.

Israel stands at a crossroad and now has a choice to make – to become another fundamentalist theocratic backwater in the Middle East like Iran or Saudi Arabia, or remain a modern democracy like the United Kingdom.
An edited version of this article appeared in this week’s Jewish News

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