In Israel today there are two distinct camps. On the one hand the “right” believes in the authenticity of the Torah and the power of our Sages; That Jews have a 3,000 year old history in the land of Israel. They believe that Israel is unlike any other country. It’s importance and strength stems from its ancient history of settlement and their dedicated allegiance to the Torah and the traditions that have accumulated over the many years of its history. It is the land that was promised and given by G-d to the Jewish people. Included in this category is any Jew, black yarmulke or knitted, who believes in the eternity of the Torah and the centrality of its mitzvot.
On the opposite side of the spectrum you have the “left.” These are the people who essentially believe that Israel is a modern country that should not be guided by its ancient Torah and traditions. Instead, people should be guided by their own conscience and religion should not have any impact on the way the government operates with regard to marriage and conversions or sexual partners. In short, “I can do what I want when I want, as long as I’m not hurting anyone or breaking any laws.” Indeed many of these people despise Torah and religious Jews.
In truth this is not a new phenomenon. Why is there a need to focus on this issue in our present times? Because if you have visited Israel recently you may have noticed that the people espousing these views are at the brink of physical warfare. People are so incensed by the audacity of their counterpart that tensions and lack of respect are virulent.
I remember the Israel of the 60’s and 70’s. Though there were always two camps, there was an overwhelming majority of people who respected the religious Jew. Somehow the rift in recent days has become so intense that it can actually be classified as dangerous.
There are no simple solutions to this growing and aggravating problem. But there are certain strategies that the religious parties and specifically the Rabbinate in Israel can implement to attempt to alleviate this imminent disaster.
Most Jews, religious or irreligious, Israeli citizen or not, have had some negative experience with the Rabbinate in Israel. Simple requests are blown up into major confrontations with the Rabbinate not caring as to the upheaval they cause. Rabbis refuse to sit down and dialogue even with those rabbis who espouse their Orthodox views. They exclude people and institutions for no apparent reason, when dialogue with them would solve most of the problems. As an example, I for one can vouch for the excellence of the young men who receive ordination from Yeshivat Chovivei Torah. Yet the Rabbinate excludes these outstanding men, and their outstanding leader Rabbi Avi Weiss, without even dialoging or stepping foot into the yeshiva to see firsthand the caliber of students that attend. With the Conservative and Reformed groups the Rabbinate even refuses to dialogue even when it comes to non religious issues.
Rabbis have always prided themselves on their caring for all of Am Yisrael, religious or not. The greatest of our Sages had always displayed compassion for all our people without differentiation as to their religious observance. Yet the Chief Rabbinate in most cases lacks this sensitivity and this willingness just to dialogue with their fellow Jews. Power has become so pervasive among the religious political representatives, that they lose sight of what is really important; the unity of our people.
The battle lines have been drawn. A repeat of Jewish History in which we become our own greatest enemy is about to unfold. Isn’t it time for dialogue and sensitivity?