Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Talk Me Out of This, Please

Can someone help me understand why I should care about Israel? Can someone help me understand why I should still be a Jew?

I’m reading Haaretz.com, the Israeli newspaper’s website, about the recommendation of the Jerusalem police to press charges against Anat Hoffman, leader of Women at the Wall, for refusing to relinquish the Torah she was carrying at the Western Wall, the holiest wall in the Jewish world.

In 2002 the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that women are forbidden to read aloud from the Torah at the Wall. Ms. Hoffman was not reading the Scroll only carrying it, but that, according to Shmuel Rabinovitch, the rabbi in charge of the Wall, was a provocation.

“I am not interested in having a halakhic or an ideological discussion, but the Western Wall belongs to the entire Jewish people. We have to make every effort to make every Jew feel at home here,” the rabbi said. I assume by “every Jew” he meant every Orthodox Jew, and by “the entire Jewish people” he meant the entirety of those Jewish people with penises given by God and clipped by man. And yet I have one of those penises, and I was accosted at the Wall as well. Years ago I led a prayer service of women and men (no Torah) in the plaza far from but in full view of the Western Wall and we were accosted by Orthodox men. We huddled more tightly together and continued our service as they pushed and shouted. And we were outside the office prayer space of the Wall!

When this kind of thing happens in Iran I am happy I am not Iranian. When it happens in Saudi Arabia I am happy I am not a Saudi. When Islam falls deeper and deeper into the mores of the 7th century even as it seeks the weaponry of the 21st century, I am glad I am not a Muslim. And yet Israel and Judaism seem to be doing the same thing. No wonder I am having more and more trouble being a Jew!

Sure we have liberal denominations, but they have no power. What does it mean when a liberal rabbi who would not even be recognized as a rabbi in Israel (and if he or she is a convert to Judaism perhaps not even as a Jew) stands up during the High Holy Days to defend Israel? To me this sounds more and more like Stockholm Syndrome.

Enough! If Israel wants to oppress its women by silencing them at the Wall and forcing them to sit in the back of “Orthodox” buses, and Israeli women want to go along with that, fine, but leave me out of it. If Israelis want to be held hostage to Orthodoxy and medieval mores, that is their business, but don’t ask me to care, and don’t ask me to donate money to support it.

I am opposed to dragging any country into the 21st Century against its will whether it be Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel or even (as I fear the November elections will show) the United States.

I hate feeling this way. Please, someone, talk me out of it!

18 comments:

rbarenblat said...

I have complicated feelings about Israel too. I would love to have a conversation with you about that in person someday (any chance you might be at the ALEPH Kallah next summer in Redlands, CA?) but I have a spiritual direction client coming in an hour and I'm afraid that if I start writing to you now about Israel I will still be at my computer when my client arrives!

But the question of why be a Jew is easier for me to speak to. I celebrate Judaism because it offers me a sweet and meaningful path toward God and a way to strive for righteousness and mindfulness in my daily life. Is it the only such path? Of course not -- and my version of Judaism not only acknowledges that but celebrates it. But it's my path, and it offers me a framework for thinking about the things that matter and a language for expressing those things in community with other seekers.

Don't let the Orthodox establishment in Israel define what Jewishness is or should be. You have as much right to shape and define Judaism as do they.

Which brings me to another reason, perhaps more self-serving, why I would be saddened to see you depart from Judaism: we need rabbis like you! For me, the tapestry of Judaism can only be complete if it includes Jews with nondual theologies alongside, yes, even the denizens of Mea Shearim. I'm becoming a rabbi in January and I want to be able to delight in being your new colleague. :-)

Old Lady said...

Ah, so many reasons to talk you out of this. You have the cojones to speak your mind and seek fairness. You understand universal love and that God is an enigma. Jesus was a rabbi was dared to think differently from the norm. His inclusion of women and the common man made him a pariah to the establishment.

Break it down Rabbi, to the absolutes, and continue your quest for understanding, peace and love. Somewhere somehow you will touch someone and open a door. Yes, there are days I wish God would come down and straightend everyone out, but where's the fun in that???

Barry said...

Joe (my husband, the Reform rabbi) suggests giving the Old City back to the Arabs. There-problem solved.

I feel your pain, Rabbi. I'm on the Democratic Central Committee in our Republican county in "real" Northern California. The Republicans are horrible, and the Democrats... are trying to show they aren't that different. It's depressing.

I tried not being Jewish for a time, unfortunately the world perceives us as Jews no matter what, so we might as well embrace it and try to make Israel a better place. I came back to Judaism with the help of the rabbi at Beth Or in Miami in 1983.
I'm not blaming you.

andrea perez said...

Don't go to Israel. that simple. I won't until they start walking the walk and start to treat everyone with some loving kindness.
I really believe that one can be Jewish and not identify themselves with the State of Israel.
Isn't this blog called Beyond Religion?
Didn't you change careers and stopped being a congregational Rabbi?
Didn't you write a book, that I think could be an amendment to the Torah, called the Art of Loving Kindness?
I won't talk you out of being really angry or upset with those who are turning an ideal, (a safe haven for the Jewish People, which includes Jewish mothers mind you) into an extension of the Taliban.
Shame on them!
Shame on us, for backing them up just because they are wear yamekas!
Makes me sick to go to my Reconstructionist syn.
Just because it is "Israel" doesn't mean that it is acceptable to be a bigot or a murderer.
Isn't that what the books of Prophets are all about? Not agreeing with really bad behavior just because there is a Star of David on the brand.
We will loose our Soul if we keep this up.
So no, be embarrassed for us. It's disgusting...and around the High Holiday season....shame on us.

Raksha said...

Re "Just because it is "Israel" doesn't mean that it is acceptable to be a bigot or a murderer.
Isn't that what the books of Prophets are all about? Not agreeing with really bad behavior just because there is a Star of David on the brand.
We will loose our Soul if we keep this up."


Andrea: I agree with you 100%, and also with the feelings expressed in Rabbi Rami's post--it would have been even MORE vehement and angry if I had written it! The truest, most damning words ever written: "Judaism is a man's religion." That was more true decades ago than it is now, and it's more true in Israel than in the Diaspora--and apparently getting worse by the day.

More and more I'm starting to believe that it's in the Diaspora and especially in America that you find the growing edge of Judaism--NOT in Israel. It is true that the pressures of assimilation are much greater, but the new creative spirit and the old sense of justice are also greater here. This is where the Judaism of the future will be born, and is being born.

--Linda

Karen said...

I feel the same way about a country that is being hijacked by the extremist Christians, in a way that is completely at odds with even their own teachings...and I live here.

AaronHerschel said...

Here's a poen from my Jewish American Lit class that might speak to this issue. It's a selection of longer work by Muriel Rukeyser called "Let er to the Front." This section is subtitled "To Be a Jew in the Twentieth Century,"but it may as well be the 21st.

To be a Jew in the twentieth century
Is to be offered a gift. If you refuse,
Wishing to be invisible, you choose
Death of the spirit, the stone insanity.
Accepting, take full life. Full agonies:
Your evening deep in lbyrinthine blood
Of those who resist, fail, and resist; and God
Reduced to a hostage among hostages.

The gift is torment. Not alone the still
Torture, isolation; or torture of the flesh.
That may come also. But the accepting wish,
The whole and fertile spirit as guarantee
For every human freedom, suffering to be free
Daring to live for the impossible.

AaronHerschel said...

Here's a poen from my Jewish American Lit class that might speak to this issue. It's a selection of longer work by Muriel Rukeyser called "Let er to the Front." This section is subtitled "To Be a Jew in the Twentieth Century,"but it may as well be the 21st.

To be a Jew in the twentieth century
Is to be offered a gift. If you refuse,
Wishing to be invisible, you choose
Death of the spirit, the stone insanity.
Accepting, take full life. Full agonies:
Your evening deep in lbyrinthine blood
Of those who resist, fail, and resist; and God
Reduced to a hostage among hostages.

The gift is torment. Not alone the still
Torture, isolation; or torture of the flesh.
That may come also. But the accepting wish,
The whole and fertile spirit as guarantee
For every human freedom, suffering to be free
Daring to live for the impossible.

. said...

Andrea your generalisations about Israelis are absurd. Israel only exists in the abstract but Israelis are real, and many Israelis struggle with religious coercion on a daily basis. Why would you call to boycott all those Israelis? You are an American, and you live far from the stresses that envelop many Israelis - go and live in Sderot for a year, and then see if you still write the way you do.

Perhaps you have internalised that voice that demands that Jews be better than ayone lese, more moral, more tolerant, more enlightened. But why should they be. Israel as a societyu in astat of seige, and still puzzling out its on internal contradictions, is doing magnificently. As Rav Kook said, better the undiscerning love than the hatred that is blind. Critics there are enough of, and in the face of criticism people harden and become less fluid. It is the sunshine of love and uncritical acceptance that allows dramas to soften and new modes of being to emerge....

. said...

PS I go to Israel. I buy Israeli products. And to brand six million people as murderers and bigots is bigoted and frankly - murderous. It is the same kind of rigid and divisive thinking which characterises fundamentalists of all persuasions. Forget the slogans. Forget the generalisations. Forget the newsheadlines. Deal with that which contacts you directly, in your life, under your nose

andrea perez said...

I didn't brand ALL Israelis as bigots and murderers.
It's just that we give more allowance to Israel because we are Jewish.
I don't think we should be better than anyone else over there. I think that many of the things we charge the "enemy" with doing: we do to our own people.
So yes, I don't have a vote over there. If you are an Israeli citizen, then vote out that theocracy that is trying to institute many of the same "reforms" that the "neighbors" are doing. Such as women in the back of buses, not being allowed to carry the Torah at the Kotel.What's next? Such as building settlements regardless of the peace process...
I live here, in the US and when I find a religious group trying to impose their ideals on others, such as not allowing homosexuals to marry or have partner health insurance: Yes I boycott them! And that is how many more millions living here?
Sometimes, wrong is wrong, even if it is coming from one of your own. Even if it is hard dealing with those around you.
So no, I haven't bought into the idea that Jews should have a higher ethic than everyone else: Just that there is a Higher Ethic for everyone and one doesn't get a free pass.

. said...

HaravRam HaYakar

here are three good reasons to remain identified (not that identity ha anything to do with reason)

a) the kind of visionary thinking that underlies blogs like www.greenprophet.com

b) the renaissance of Israeli cinema

c) the ongoing fertility of Hebrew letters

just of the top of my kipa-less head. yes the fundamentalists exert disproportionate influence (disproportiionate, that is, in my world, from thei POV they don't have enough) but that's in larg part because we have vacated the arena. What will help is MORE engagement, not less.

Rabbi Rami said...

Great comments. I love and appreciate the passion. Just a thought on higher ethical standards. I think I do hold Jews to higher ethical standards. I think that is the entire message of the Torah. Judaism was countercultural and revolutionary in its day. It gave us Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Micah, Jesus, Marx, Kafka, Freud, Einstein, Alan Ginzberg, Leonard Cohen, Bob Zimmerman, and Betty Friedan. What's the point of Jewish survival if it is just for Jewish survival? Read "Nothing Sacred" by Rushkoff. Rebel or be irrelevant.

Raksha said...

No-name: Sorry if that sounds disrespectful, but I don't know how else to address someone whose screen name is a . But my reply is going to be plenty disrespectful anyway, so maybe it doesn't matter too much.

Re "Perhaps you have internalised that voice that demands that Jews be better than ayone lese, more moral, more tolerant, more enlightened."

That depends on whether it's a gentile or a Jew making that demand, because I have two different yardsticks. I absolutely reject that notion coming from Christians, particularly when they demand that we "turn the other cheek" in the face of Christian anti-Semitism-- or any other kind of anti-Semitism.

But when the issue involves other Jews--YES, I absolutely do hold them to a higher standard. At the very least, I don't allow them a lower standard. Israel doesn't get a free pass from me for things like piracy and murder on the high seas, atrocities I'd condemn if ANY other nation including the U.S. engaged in them. Nor do they get a free pass from me for allowing the Jewish Taliban to dominate religious life in Israel, including at the Western Wall.

That especially outrages me because I'm--well, you know, a Jewish woman! When I was 18 years old I made a vow that I would never set foot in a synagogue with a mechitza, and I am proud to say I have kept it to this day.

Re "But why should they be. Israel as a societyu in astat of seige, and still puzzling out its on internal contradictions, is doing magnificently."

I don't know where you get the idea they are "doing magnificently." According to people who have been there recently, Israel is being torn apart by those internal contradictions you mentioned. Everywhere they talk about "the Situation" in Gaza, which is where the real siege is--NOT in Israel itself, in case you haven't noticed. The IDF still claims to be "the most moral army in the Middle East" while it protects settlers who uproot olive trees and burn fields in the West Bank.

Re "As Rav Kook said, better the undiscerning love than the hatred that is blind."

Really? Then Rav Kook forgot his Kabbalah 101, which I would never have expected from a rabbi of his quality. Unbalanced chesed or lovingkindness is just as wrong as unbalanced gevurah or severity (which some call evil), because it allows injustice to continue unchecked. Israel is a prime example of that imbalance on many fronts, and so is your post advocating the suppression of criticism.

--Linda

andrea perez said...

Rabbi Rami,
I made the mistake one Sunday of saying ,at the UU congregation that I was attending, that gee, you're all trying to become Jewish...everyone has the capability of "being saved" or all are One ( that was said like they just tried a brand new potato chip)
I've gotten past the Jewish ethics is just for Jews stuff...It's interesting, how there are so many Jewish teachers, who have given this message to the world.
Isn't it about time, we all started living the message?
(and we don't get a free pass because everyone else acts in appropriate ways)

andrea perez said...

that was inappropriate ways

boothnadav said...

Rami, I deeply share your frustration. The cause of religious pluralism is essential to my Zionism. One thought.... perhaps it is important to not see the actions of one man, or even the rabbanut, as reflecting the sentiments of the State of Israel and it's people. And, if we choose to continue to care about Israel, it is essential that we speak out when such things happen..... and not just go away quietly in disgust.

I feel similarly about the disgusting news today about the burning of a mosque in Hebron. My first response is disgust/anger, then silence. But maybe it is also important, especially as a rabbi, that I speak out publicly and make it clear that these perpetrators do not speak in the name of Judaism as I know it, nor for the State of Israel (as Barak made clear in his statements).

Love ya man!
SBN

Claire said...

I needed to come back to these words of Rabbi Rami today. I've just come back from the Kotel, and am sitting here in my hotel room in Jerusalem.

Forget even reading the Torah at the wall. How about the simple act of praying at the wall?

The women in their much smaller section were three deep. You waited and waited and waited for your turn. And then when you actually got there, you have the pressure of knowing that there are women, three deep, waiting to get to a spot there.

Meanwhile, the men, with all their spaciousness...anyone can walk up at their leisure, spend as long as they would like. The men in my group were high on the experience of being at the Kotel, wrapping tefillin, praying. I did not hear any of them feel any unhappiness at the injustice. I did not hear my rabbi speak out.

The only thing that saved the experience for me was that a member of our group, the last time she was here, she was on the men's side of the fence. Now, in a long modest skirt and scarf, she was with us. Clearly, she was so moved to be able to experience the wall as a woman was so deeply powerful for her, she was beyond words, during and after.

While we waited for the tour bus to pick us up, we both hugged each other and cried. I cried for her - that she can now be who she truly is; and she cried for me, knowing how keenly I felt the injustice for all women.