In recent weeks I have been labeled a liberal, progressive and feminist. Although no harm was meant I realize sometimes it’s difficult discussing issues that have so many facets. Some of the issues included a woman I knew from my youth who recently became an Orthodox Rabbi of a synagogue, bridging the gap between Orthodox and Reform Jews and the continued negligence of the Chief Rabbinate in Israel towards the unaffiliated, North American Jewry and more.
Perhaps it’s my nature to be curious and rarely do I feel threatened by those that are different from me. My spiritual mentors remind me that categories are limiting and most often prevent growth. I think its important to engage with the Women of the Wall and communities that are outside my way of thinking. To ignore or refuse to except their presence is foolish.
Today we have new issues that need working in particular the polarization of views in the Jewish community. It seems that nobody likes to hear about other peoples’ community. When I recently talked about the Reform and Women of the Wall, my peers were quick to label them as angry, troublemakers and heretics while questioning my religious observance.
These comments doesn’t fly. Its the equivalent of saying that the Venezuelan people fighting for social democracy are troublemakers and Iranians fighting for freedom as angry and all without cause. I find that people insecure about their own personal ideology generally feel threatened by those that are different.
Although there is a real divide I find that there is more that binds us together then separates us. That was Natan Sharansky’s first impression as he arrived in Israel for the first time after being freed from prison. On his first day in Israel he was welcomed to the Israeli Parliament. The House Speaker opened by saying welcome to the Jewish Homeland. Within seconds member of parliament accused the Speaker of racism claiming that this country was the home to Arabs, Jews, Christians and more. Sharansky recalls thinking at that moment , “if they only understood how much more we have in common”. (Taken from his book Fear No Evil)
The second area is inspiration. We all need a bit of inspiration to move us forward. Why shouldn’t women have women leaders? Why can’t women advise women on religious matters? Why can’t a women lead a community? I fully support women to lead and inspire. Look around, we men haven’t done such a remarkable job with assimilation still relevant as ever.
People have grievances! In many instances they have a right to be angry and sometimes being a trouble maker is the only way to solve the problem. The Chief Rabbinate isn’t being attacked and disassembled because of their efficiency; its their contempt and abuse of their religious authority that people will go so far as to marry outside of Israel rather then to recognize the Chief Rabbinate.
Lead rather then react. This would be my suggestion to the Chief Rabbinate in Israel, Orthodox Union and RCA. Stop worrying about the effects of sharing your title with women and be leaders. Lead the people. Nishmat didn’t wait for the approval or blessing of the Orthodox establishment regarding the Yoetzet Halacha. Nishmat saw a need and led the people without compromising Jewish tradition. This seems to be the reason for the growing success of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School and Yeshivat Maharat while Yeshiva University Rabbinic program is lagging behind.
Why do we assume only the negative? Why must their intentions be destructive and harmful? I believe that if we pay a little bit more attention to what they are saying and less to our ego we will become better listeners and better problem solvers. The days of pushing away are over.
I think we need to stop labeling people and start addressing important issues. Ultimately we are all family so lets work things out.