Orthodoxy’s Negative Impact on Israeli Society

Moni Mordechai, who served as public relations advisor for the Tzohar forum of rabbis and for Rabbi Michael Melchior when he served in ministerial posts, has written an important opinion piece in YNet News.com titled "Unworthy Rabbis"

This article is a concise critique of the negative social and political impact which the ultra-orthodox haredim are having on Israeli society.  In my view, it exposes a root cause of much of the internal conflict and contradiction which plagues Israel’s policymakers and ripples through the country’s socio-political infrastructure.

I quote a section of the article below:

"As a Jew who belongs to the broad branch of Judaism and refuses to view religious practice as the only important thing, and as someone who views Judaism as an important cultural source, and who defines himself as a secular traditionalist, the word "rabbi" is a romantic one, possessing charm and power.

However, to my regret, today it is empty of meaning. I met very few truly relevant rabbis, who were leaders. In my mind rabbis are more closely associated with shady deals, religious enforcement, efforts to convince Jews to become religious, and racism.

An example of this can be found in news reports from recent weeks: Rabbis in Bnei Brak ruled that apartments must not be rented out to Arabs and foreign workers. At this time, ultra-Orthodox rabbis are trying to overpower El Al because it was forced to fly on the Shabbat and were able to defeat bus companies Dad and Egged, who ran an advertising campaign that included a bare male chest.

Leading religious-Zionist rabbis decided that in order to address the rift between religious Zionism and the rest of the people, all of us should be made to become religious.

Those are not my rabbis. In fact, no kippah-wearing rabbi can be referred to as my rabbi, not because the term is simply irrelevant for modern life, but rather, because most of those people hold on to a conservative, anti-democratic worldview that is sometimes racist and anti-humanitarian, all under the guide of kindness."

Forced ritual in religious practice, racism, discrimination… and these are rabbis? 

When we consider the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian question, when we consider the foreign policy challenges that Israel faces at multiple levels, let’s not forget that a minority of politically empowered fundamentalists in Israel effectively deny the right to worship to the vast majority of Jews in Israel, that they do not recognize the legitimacy of Reform or Conservative Judaism in Israel or in America, and that they do not tolerate diversity.

It is hard for me to see how Israel can resolve conflicts with others when it cannot resolve fundamental conflicts of Jewish identity in the State of Israel in order to embrace the 13.3 million Jews that are all that remain of global Jewry.  I hope that will see more progress in the direction of religious pluralism in Israel in 2007.

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