Why Can’t Israel Embrace Reform Judaism?




I was very disappointed to read in this morning’s edition of Haaretz that the President of Israel, Moshe Katsav, refuses to address Rabbi Eric Yoffie as "Rabbi".  Rabbi Yoffie only represents 1.5 million American Reform Jews as the leader of the Reform movement of the United States.

This is ridiculous and really makes me scratch my head about what is going on here in Israel.  There are about 13 million Jews in the entire world, only 6 million of them in Israel, and we have to fight about who is a Jew and who is a Rabbi?  I’m sure the anti-Semites are having a laugh over this latest waste of Jewish energy–  and it makes me very sad. 

Shmuel Rosner, who is Haaretz’s Chief U.S. correspondent, posted an excellent analysis on his blog (click here) in response to the news article and the equally strong Op Ed piece in today’s print edition of Haaretz by Shahar Ilan. Rosner discusses the issues raised by this slap in the face of Reform Jews by the government of Israel.

Rosner acknowledges that we Reform Jews are very strong supporters of Israel– and he even consulted with an Orthodox Israeli Rabbi who agrees that Rabbi Yoffie should, indeed, be addressed as "Rabbi".

When I consider many of the unresolved social and political problems that Israel faces– and there are many of them–  I trace their lack of resolution to the kind of dogmatic intransigence that burdens public officials such as Moshe Katsav.  Too few American Jews are aware of this type of mindset — we should wake up and speak out. 

Fortunately, I will have the opportunity to do so later this evening, when I meet with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at a dinner for the speakers at the Israel Venture Association conference. 

If Israel’s elected government officials refuse to recognize that there is more than one way to be a Jew, the future of our faith will, indeed, be threatened.  In my view, Zionism is not incompatible with inclusion. Consider all of the "secular" Jews in Israel– they are the majority of Jews in the country and are unaffiliated because they don’t abide by orthodoxy, not because they don’t believe in Judaism.

We have shown that we can come together as a people to protect ourselves from outside enemies– can we rid ourselves of the narrow mindedness that threatens our vitality from within?

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