Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Monday, 7 September 2009

The Israel Diaspora Divide

Once upon a time there were close ties between world Jewry, especially in America, and the community in Israel. Back in those days there was still a strong feeling of brotherhood between the two poles of our people. You watched on the television news and saw fellow Jews.

It's no secret that those days are long gone. As Rav Yonasan Rosenblum has noted on various occasions, for the non-religious American Jew Israel is not the main priority in their life when it comes to voting or giving tzedakah. However, not everyone understands the underlying reason for this divide.

Some, like Yizhar Hess, would like to blame it on religious discrimination. Yes, as usual it's all the fault of those nasssssty Orthodox types and their famed intolerance. As he claims in this editorial:

Minister Yakov Margi (Shas) recently made the following declaration: “If the Reform and Conservative Jews in Israel want synagogues or mikvehs, they should build them with their own money. They won’t get a penny from the State.”
Let’s not get into ideology and talk numbers instead. Most Jews in the world are Reform and Conservative. The Orthodox are a minority, even in Israel (Only 20% of the Israeli public defines itself as Orthodox.) North American Jewry, whose relationship with us is a strategic asset, comprises these denominations almost entirely.
At this time already, among other reasons because of this systematic discrimination, American Jews are slowly losing interest in the State of Israel. Because if Israel rejects their Jewishness, why should they feel any sympathy for or attachment to it?
In this respect, Shas’ Minister of religious affairs is a strategic threat to the State of Israel; no less.
In democratic terms, Margi’s chutzpah is simply outrageous. The Religious Affairs Ministry is being managed like the last remnant of the 1950s, with the minister enjoying budgetary freedom that no other minister enjoys. Under such circumstances, it is difficult to blame Shas for doing almost anything to secure this perk-rich ministry.

Unfortunatley Hess' argument is weak and his piece is inconsistent. First, the inconsistency. Despite opening with a plea "Let's not get into ideology" he does just that near the end:

Margi outdid himself by referring to Mikvehs of all things. We, members of the Conservative Movement, have no need for our own Mikvehs. We’ll be happy to use the public ones – some of them truly luxurious – built and renovated by the State. However, Jews who are not Orthodox are banned from entering them. Yes, it’s as terrible as it sounds.
When a bride is interested in going to the mikveh ahead of her wedding, and it turns out that the rabbi at the ceremony is Conservative, she is thrown out in a humiliating fashion. And you don’t want to hear how many times Conservative converts were humiliated to the point of tears or blows.

First, he puts out a lie: non-Orthodox Jews are not banned from entering mikvaos. Non-Orthodox rabbis with their invented ceremonies that are pale imitations of the proper halachic ones find they will have problems, true, but one can hardly be surprised by that. Imagine you're the local Orthodox rav running the mikveh and a female conversion candidate, escorted by her female rabbi, show up and announce they need the mikveh for conversion so that she can marry the Jewish boyfriend she's been living common-law with. Exactly how should the rav respond? With a smile and a wave?

And no, I don't want to hear how many times Conservative converts were humiliated. Suffice it to say that any rav who treats someone in that fashion, Jew or non-Jew, is commiting an unforgiveable chilul HaShem. As Chazal note in numerous places, one who shames his fellow in public is likened to a murderer, to the point that many poskim hold that publicly humiliating someone is the unofficial fourth yehared v'al ya'avor after murder, incest and listening to Barry Mani... I mean avodah zarah.

However, the unacceptable behaviour of a few bad rabbonim does not change the rules and in Israel the rules are that state instutions like mikva'os are run al pi halacha. Halacha does not take time off when non-halachic Jews show up and decide they want to use the facility.

In addition, the idea that Conservative Jews are losing interest in Israel because they supposedly can't use mikva'os there is a weak argument. How many Conservatives use a mikveh at all? I'm certain that one can count on two hands the number of men who use it on a regular basis. I'm certain there are many women that do but the overwhelming majority of them don't. Access to a mikveh is not a defining issue for Conservatives.

The real reason Conservative, Reform and other non-religious Jews are losing interest in Israel is because interest in Israel is, for the Jewish neshama not a political emotion but a religious one. A Jew who has a connection with Torah feels a connection with Israel. One who has lost a connection with Torah may feel some sense of connection with our Holy Land but it is in many ways a different one. It may be due to nationalistic pride or some sense of brotherhood but it lacks the deep spiritual content that the Torah-based viewpoint provides it. As Rav Kook notes in Oros, God, Israel and Torah are one. You cannot have two of the three and feel the same way.

For the average non-religious American Jew, abortion rights, unions, the economy and global warming are far more important issues to deal with because, since they are generally American first, they embrace American values and concerns. This is the real reason for the divide. No longer do most American Jews watch the evening news and say "those are my brothers". Now they say "those are Israelis" and they are Americans. That's the divide.


Bartley Kulp said...

In a nutshell it is simply the sands of time.

First of all very few Jews in America are really reform or conservative. What I mean is that they do not have any tenants or lack of in their Judaism. On a deeper level they are incrementally losing their Jewish identity.

A great litmus test used to be employed by the Jewish agency in Israel. During their seminars with American students they used to ask the question; if there was a war with the United States and Israel, what side would they pick? All of these were secular students of course.

Most of the respondents would start stuttering, "but there is no war or who's fault was it?" A few would pick Israel without question. Almost none picked the US without hesitation.

I think today the results would be much different with some siding with the United States. I think that their numbers are increasing with time.

Garnel Ironheart said...

I think your point about no one really being Conservative or Reform is important.
To be Orthodox you have to live a certain lifestyle. To be Conservative or Reform all you have to do is take out a membership in one of their institutions.

Shalmo said...

but but but but but.........


All Orthodox were at one point against zionism since it clearly contradicts the THREE OATHS

Political pressure eventually resulted in orthodox changing their minds, but true blue orthodox like Satmar remain anti-zionist

Bartley Kulp said...

Shalmo said...
"but but but but but.........


This is true but also irrelevant to the conversation here. What is being discussed is patterns within the secular Jewish community. They haappen to be the biggest sector of American Jewry with the most clout ie; connections, fundraising and lobbying potential.

This is potentialy a matter of Israeli national security.

Oh! and regarding my war question, almost no anti zionist Orthodox Jew would ever participate in a war against the State of israel. A most notable exception would be Nuterei Karta.