Feb 11, 2010

Rabbi Alan Silverstein: "Parshat Mishpatim - Masorti Mission"

Go to the Kotel this monday (Feb 15) at 7am and join Women of the Wall!   -- Facebook http://bit.ly/kotelfeb    -- Twitter www.twitter.com/womenofthewall
Parshat Mishpatim – Masorti Foundation Leadership Mission
                        By Rabbi Alan Silverstein
Last week in Parshat Yitro, we read about the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mt Sinai
This week, Parshat Mishpatim continues the sacred narrative by elaborating many of the additional mitzvot of our tradition
The listing of dozens of commandments commences with the conditions for releasing a Hebrew bondsman in the 7th year after 6 years of servitude
Indentured servitude when it applies to a man who has become impoverished [bankrupt] is described later in Leviticus 25:39
This specific case involves a thief who is "sold" into becoming a "bondman" in order to repay for his theft.
What is startling about this aspect of the Israelite civic law code is that acknowledgement that even after 210 days of slavery in Egypt, after 6 additional years in "bondage," some Israelites did not seek to go free.
Exodus 21:5-6 – "If the bondsman shall plainly say: `I love my master… I will not go out free; then his master shall bring him unto God [e.g. in front of judges] and bring him to the door [of the master's home]… and his master shall bore his ear with an awl; and he shall remain his bondsman for ever [e.g. until the next Jubilee/50th Year]."
This shocking desire to refuse to be restored to freedom clearly is at odds with God's value system, as indicated by boring the ear.
In the words of Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai: "the ear that heard the divine utterance, `for unto Me [God alone] the children of Israel are servants [Leviticus 25:55], and yet this bondsman preferred a human master. Let that ear be bored!"
In other words, during the full year of 10 Plagues and during the miraculous Parting of the Sea, and the awesome collective witnessing at Mt Sinai, all Israelites learned that freedom is a Divine imperative
Nonetheless, some despaired of this God-given human right, and said in essence: "I know this is not what is moral, what is right – but this is my sad reality. There is nothing I can do to change it."
This type of defeatism in the face of obvious injustice, imperfection, and basic societal flaws is what our Masorti Israel Leadership Mission encountered when we met with Israeli leadership.
The following are excerpts from an article in The Jerusalem Post, documenting our Mission's meeting with Israel's Deputy Prime Minister, Dan Meridor

Western Wall shouldn't be a synagogue'

04/02/2010 02:04

Deputy PM upset woman praying with tallit at Wall arrested.
The Western Wall should be a national site and not a synagogue, Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor said on Tuesday, in a revealing conversation in Tel Aviv about matters of religion and state with rabbis and leaders of the American and Israeli Conservative Movement.

Meridor, who is secular but attends an Orthodox synagogue in Jerusalem's Rehavia neighborhood [His wife attends a Masorti synagogue on Yom Kippur each year. His children are graduates of TALI schools. His nephew was Bar Mitzvah at a Masorti congregation] , told the Conservative rabbis that he "identifies with them" and is unsatisfied with the status quo.

He said he was upset by a recent incident at the Western Wall in which a woman was arrested for praying with a tallit and Torah scroll. He spoke about the incident with Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich but failed to change his mind.

"The truth is that there is no equality between religious streams in Israel," Meridor said. "There is no free market.

"What happened at the Western Wall bothers me. It doesn't have to be a synagogue. It is a national site. I would change the status quo if I could, but it cannot be done with the current coalition."  

Regarding civil marriage, Meridor said it was "unacceptable" that Israeli couples who are unable or unwilling to marry in Israel via the rabbinate are forced to wed abroad.

"Who knows what would have happened had Ruth the Moabite tried to join the Jewish people now, with the way the rabbinate handles conversions?" he said.

What was striking to our Mission delegates, was that Meridor – at the highest echelons of power – followed up his awareness of these injustices and societal flaws – by saying: "Regrettably there is nothing that can be done about the status quo"
In this regard, he was akin to the bondsman in the parshah – recognizing that true freedom is necessary and moral and God-given – but surrendering to continued bondage to an unjust current situation!!!
And in actuality, Mr Meridor's recognition of the merits of Masorti Judaism's contributions to Israeli society, only scratched the surface
Halvai, if only, he had spent the four intensive days with us on our amazing itinerary.
Here are but a few of the transformative realities we encountered
  1. Masorti institutions and personnel are thriving all over the State of Israel.
Each year, the Movement grows by 5% -- and now numbers 55 Kehillot and/or Havurot. Among that group, new buildings, or new tracts of land, or expansions of the existing building are/or recently did take place in Omer, Kfar Saba, Karmiel, Kfar Vradim, French Hill, Modiin, Zichron Yaacov, Herzliya, Raanana, Tel Aviv and numerous other locations.
The NOAM youth movement has increased to two dozen chapters with thousands of participants.
The MAROM student movement for 20-somethings has blossomed from 1500 to 2500 during the past 18 months and continues to grow.
A new generation of young rabbis [Sabras, Latin Americans, and Anglos] are bringing amazing energy and creativity to the Tnua --- Chaya Baker [French Hill], Elisha Wolfin [Zichron], Yoav Ende [Hanaton], Hagit Sabag [Beer Sheva], Dubi Haiun [Haifa], Reuven Resnick [Carmiel], Ary Glikin [Herzliya], Tel Aviv [[Jeff Cymet], Gustavo Szurazki [Ashkelon] and others.
  1. We also witnessed the remarkable passion for outreach by the affiliated members of Masorti kehillot. They truly are not simply "members," they are activists committed to positively transform Israeli society.
Their Ganim [pre-schools] serve the entire neighborhood by the hundreds.
Their rabbis often serve as the TALI rabbis for hundreds of families in local schools.
Their NOAM chapters engage youth from all over the neighbors, not just children of "members."
Similarly, MAROM is for all Israeli 20-somethings, not merely affiliated young adults.
Even the 500+ Bar and Bat Mitzvah workshops and ceremonies and the 100+ Special Needs Bar and Bat Mitzvah training and ceremonies are for Israeli teens irrespective of affiliation.
This is true as well for the many weddings, funerals and brit milah milestones over which Masorti rabbis preside. It is also the case in the Batei Midrash for local adults of all backgrounds that take place within Masorti kehillot.
In sum, Masorti communities impact upon tens of thousands of Israelis. Rabbi Mauricio Balter in Kiryat Bialik, for example, estimates that his efforts directly impact upon more than 8000 people of all ages each month.
  1. Finally, the very nature of being a Masorti "kehillah" rather than an Orthodox "bet tefillah" is of major consequence.
Many Israeli Orthodox synagogues provide only prayer, primarily for men, and then the building is empty.
Our kehillot are pulsating with a wide range of activity for prayer, for study, for socialization, for social activism and for cultural programs.
In the process, secular and self-styled "Masorti" Israelis feel comfortable for the very time in entering into a congregational setting, They do not feel "judged." They do not feel "alienated." They do not feel "coerced."
Our Movement has changed from its origins as an "Anglo" Movement into being a truly indigenous Israeli enterprise!
And Deputy Prime Minister Meridor knows that these remarkable signs of vitality occur despite blatant discrimination in government allocations:
Orthodox institutions receive hundreds of millions of dollars each year, while Masorti institutions are virtually excluded from any funding whatsoever
3000 Orthodox rabbis are employed by the government, while Masorti rabbis are ineligible
Aspiring Orthodox synagogue easily receive both land and a building at government expense. For Masorti keihllot, it is rare that either land or especially a building are provided. Even then, once approved, often it is caught in a bureaucratic morass that delays anything from happening (as has been the case in Kfar Vradim)
 In Parshat Mishpatim, the very first mitzvah offered to Bnai Yisrael is a reminder that God frowns upon Israelites who are defeatists. God disapproves of Israelites who surrender their ideals of freedom and justice simply because they surrender to the negative momentum of their past and present dire reality.
Sadly, Israeli leaders like Dan Meridor embody modern-day enactments of this acceptance of contemporary "bondage" to an unacceptable status quo.
They know better. They know that the cause espoused by Masorit Judaism is just, and is necessary to forge the type of Jewish State needed by Israeli and Diaspora Jews alike.
We must redouble our efforts to advocate on behalf of, to raise funds for, and to give encouragement to the full agenda of Masorti Israel's exciting institutional life
Our commitment offers a path to fulfill many of Mitzvot bequeathed to Am Yisrael at Har Sinai and throughout the entire Jewish historical experience
Shabbat Shalom
PS – additional quotes from The Jerusalem Post story

The Masorti mission delegates expressed their deep frustration and their feeling that the leaders of Israel do not understand their view that such high-profile incidents like the one at the Western Wall endanger the relationship between American Jews and Israel.

"Israel is dear to us," said Bill Lipsey, a leader of the Agudath Israel Congregation in New Jersey, one of the largest congregations in North America and an active figure in the New Jersey Jewish Federation.

"We are Zionists, and longtime supporters of the governments of Israel and of Israel's policies. But things have gone too far. It cannot be that our rabbis are not recognized here, that our conversions are not respected here, that the non-Orthodox streams in Israel and especially the Masorti movement, receives degrading and discriminatory treatment.

"If in any country in the world, a Jewish woman was arrested because she tried to carry out the commandments, we would all – all over the United States – protest outside of the embassy. We would not give them a moment's rest.

"And now here, in the State of Israel, at one of the holiest sites in Israel, at the Western Wall, which is such an important symbol for us all, a Jewish woman was arrested by a Jewish police officer in the Jewish state, just because she tried to carry out the commandment of wrapping herself in a tallit."  

Yizhar Hess, the director of the Conservative Movement's Israeli branch, the Masorti Movement of Israel, warned that "the Israeli political leadership is ignoring an earthquake that is shaking US-Israel relations. The continued, degrading, infuriating and sometimes even evil discrimination against non-Orthodox streams of Judaism in Israel have brought us to a breaking point. Israel cannot continue to be the only Western state in which Jews do not have freedom of worship."

PPS – Pluralism "Talking points"
1.     Reflecting the clear wishes of the Israeli public as reported by independent polling data, the non-Orthodox streams should be accorded recognition and equitable treatment. That means
a.     A meaningful portion of the more than $450 million a year the government now spends for Jewish religious institutions and programs should be allocated to Masorti and Reform programs
b.    A meaningful number of non-Orthodox rabbis in government funded positions. Currently, more than 3,000 rabbis have salaries paid by the government; not one is Masorti or Reform
c.     Allocation of land and funds for kehillot on a par with what is made available to Orthodox groups and, once approved, not then caught in a bureaucratic morass that prevents anything ever happening (as has been the case in Kfar Vradim)
d.    At Robinson's Arch, significantly more time made available for entrance without paying a fee and funding (as is the case for the main Kotel plaza area) for the expense of maintaining the Sifrei Torah and siddurim and having a person on site during all hours for t'filla
e.     Weddings performed by Masorti rabbis should be legally registered and couples should not be forced to exit the country for a civil ceremony elsewhere
f.      Funding for NOAM should be equivalent to that for other youth programs in the country
g.     WOW or other women who wish to daven in the Women's section wearing tallitot and reading Torah at the main Kotel plaza should be afforded full police and legal protection
h.       Publicly funded mikvaot should be open and available to all, and persons wishing to use them should not be required to obtain a note from an Orthodox rabbi
Go to the Kotel this monday (Feb 15) at 7am and join Women of the Wall!
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Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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