by Rabbi Barry Schlesinger, rabbi of Kehilat Moreshet Avraham in East Talpiot, Jerusalem.
Having been brought up Orthodox and having gone to an Orthodox day school, Yeshiva University and Bar- Ilan University, I can't help but wonder why I felt like such a stranger when I attended the emergency meeting of Israeli "establishment" rabbis who were summoned by the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel Rabbi Shlomo Amar to a conference this week on the "threat" of recognizing non-Orthodox rabbis in Israel.
As a practicing rabbi in Jerusalem of the Conservative/Masorti Movement, I knew that I had to attend the conference in order for me to hear, first hand; to understand how the Israeli Orthodox rabbinic establishment really perceived me and my colleagues (Conservative and Reform.) Enough of reading the newspapers and the quotes, I wanted to hear the rabbis in real time. So, Rabbi Dubi Hayun, a Conservative-Masorti colleague of mine from Haifa, and I dressed up in "uniform" for the occasion – "a white shirt and black pants."
We entered the chief rabbi's central office and were admitted to the conference without a problem. At the security check, an employee of the Chief Rabbinate even said to the security guard, "You don't have to check him; he is one of ours!" Little did he know! As taught by my parents, I came on time and sat waiting as the modest conference hall filled up with the two chief rabbis, members of the Chief Rabbinical Council, city rabbis, local and regional council rabbis, neighborhood rabbis, dayanim (religious court rabbinic judges), a number of MK and two Shas ministers. These rabbis represented the more ultra- Orthodox element of the rabbinic establishment.
The absence of knitted-kippa-wearing rabbis and more modern Orthodox Tzohar rabbis was glaring.
Sadly enough, I felt as if I had infiltrated enemy lines. This feeling was exacerbated throughout the conference.
I sat and listened as every speaker got up and spoke about the threat the State of Israel is facing because of the Gezera – the "edict."
For a second I was thinking about the awful edicts of Antiochus or Hadrian forbidding Jews from practicing their religion and studying the Torah.
But this Gezera is nothing more than the government's willingness to fund non-Orthodox rabbis in several towns around Israel.
The rhetoric was militaristic. Rabbi Amar encouraged the rabbis to stand in front of the open Ark and to pray for the nullification of the "edict"; "to wage war" against those whosesole intention is to have the people drink "polluted waters" and to bring Israelis down to the non-Orthodox "pit of spiritual descent."
It was hard for me to hear the accusations that we Conservative and Reform rabbis are counterfeiting Judaism and that it is forbidden to talk to us. This is tantamount to excommunication.
One rabbi said that our head coverings and prayer shawls are nothing more than a camouflage hiding our real intentions, i.e. to destroy Judaism.
A regional rabbi warned against letting non-Orthodox rabbis use empty synagogues in moshavim or letting them use publicly funded ritual baths.
When a senior rabbi from Rehovot opened up his speech by saying "we are all brethren and friends one to the other," I wondered if he were including me. I don't think so.
After delivering tirade after tirade about the dangers of non-Orthodox Judaism in Israel, the rabbis charged each other with the objective of "guarding the vineyard of the House of Israel." But, to guard from whom? From people like me, the so-called trespassers who aren't worthy of planting anything in that metaphoric vineyard of Judaism? These angry, rejecting diatribes continued for an hour, and were hard to absorb.
The conference concluded with a prayer for the government's cancellation of the "edict." The rabbis left, many traveling through the forest fires on Route 1.
The police claim that the forest fires were caused by arson. In tears, I can report that the fires of enmity were lit in the office of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. Our courageous firefighters cannot extinguish these fires. It's our job! The people of Israel – all of us, together!
Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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