Wednesday, February 19, 2020

 Vic Rosenthal's Weekly Column


I belong to a Masorti (Conservative) congregation in Israel. Although most Israelis don’t believe this, the movement is theologically much closer to Modern Orthodoxy than to Reform Judaism. There is a commitment to halacha, albeit somewhat more lenient than in Orthodoxy (but not so much as Orthodox Jews tend to think). The biggest difference is the equal role granted to women and men in every respect, including participation in ritual.

Our rabbi leans a little leftward, at least compared to me, but he is capable of distinguishing politics from religion, and I like him.

Having said that, I am absolutely appalled by the anti-Israel politics rampant in the Conservative seminaries in the US, where most of our rabbis, American and Israeli, are educated.

Recently, a group of 36 rabbinical students from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and the Zeigler School of Rabbinic Studies – about half of the student body – signed an open letter opposing Trump’s “deal of the century” to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The letter opposes Trump’s plan and PM Netanyahu’s intention to extend Israeli law to Jewish communities in Judea/Samaria and to annex the Jordan valley:

Each of these proposals flies in the face of decades of diplomatic efforts to achieve a just and peaceful future: Trump’s plan would leave Palestinians with a handful of discontiguous territories surrounded by settlements, and Netanyahu’s would make permanent the status quo in which millions of Palestinians live under Israeli military control without civil rights. Trump’s irresponsible vision and Netanyahu’s objective of annexation will move the region closer to catastrophe and even further from peace.

One would expect rabbinical students to have enough grasp of the facts to know that everything in the paragraph above is wrong. Millions of Palestinians do not live under Israeli military control; they live under the Palestinian Authority in Judea and Samaria, or in Gaza under Hamas. To the extent that their civil rights are circumscribed, it is by the PA and Hamas. Only a small number of them live in Area C, where they are under the Israeli military government (and probably have more rights than those under the PA).

The Trump proposal, in fact, “flies in the face” of decades of diplomatic failure to end the conflict based on unrealistic formulas that try to satisfy the insatiable demands of the Palestinian Arabs. Indeed, we should be thankful that none of the previous proposals went far enough to make them happy, because in every case the proposed agreements would not have adequately protected Israel from the terrorism and war that the Palestinians believe they have the inalienable right to wage. Trump’s proposal is the first that recognizes the realities of geography, and the everlasting Palestinian aspiration to end the Jewish state.

The letter continues,

As emerging Jewish leaders, we wish to make clear that any political decision that strips Palestinians of their rights is antithetical to our belief in human dignity. We dream of a democratic Israel that affirms the humanity and agency of all who dwell there, and of a government that honors the shared history of Jews and Palestinians in the land.

The Palestinians do not automatically have a right to a fully sovereign state, or a right of return to Israel for the descendants of 1948 refugees. These are not human rights, and the granting of these wishes would be inconsistent with right of Israeli Jews to live in peace – a real human right.

The reference to the “shared history” of the Jews and Palestinians in the land is most likely a nod to the tendentious Palestinian narrative of an indigenous people dispossessed by non-native colonialist settlers, the awful injustice of the nakba.

 The letter continues for several paragraphs of nauseating virtue-signaling. Hashem help future congregants who will be forced to listen to the sermons of these pompous fools! More importantly, it shows an alarming lack of identification with the Jewish Israelis that would suffer the consequences of their desired “vision of a shared destiny with our Palestinian siblings.”

The students suggest that their universalist ethic, in which “human rights for all people,” including people whose greatest desire is to conquer our country and kill or disperse its Jewish residents, represents the “values of Jewish tradition.” But surely personal and collective survival, pikuach nefesh, has a higher priority in Jewish tradition than the aspirations of our enemies.

In addition to their divergence from traditional Jewish ethical principles, these future rabbis fail to understand, or they deny, the importance of the relationship between Hashem, the Jewish people, and the Land of Israel that I see as the single most important theme in the Torah.

This is not the first time Conservative rabbinical students have displayed their ignorance and arrogance. In 2017, thirteen students (some whose names also appear on the more recent letter), wrote a similar letter opposing the historic decision of President Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. I won’t bother to quote it, but it is based on the same virtue-signaling misapprehension of Jewish values.

This phenomenon is partially a result of the attitude that “anything Trump or Bibi likes must be bad,” but it is a lot more than that. Their un-Jewish, I would even say anti-Jewish, morality is identical with the Tikkunism that has become the official philosophy of the Reform movement. Indeed, the Masorti movement in Israel seems to have developed close connections with the Israeli Reform movement, sharing many of its political goals (although not its approach to Judaism). In my opinion, this doesn’t bode well for the future of the Masorti movement, which will have to differentiate itself from Reform if it ever wants to have a hope of attracting native Israelis.

This is painful to me, as someone who finds the misogyny inherent in Orthodox Judaism troubling – and no, I don’t intend to get into an argument about this. I would like to see a truly conservative Conservative Judaism in Israel as well as the US, for that matter. But that is never going to happen if these are the future rabbis that can be expected to carry the flag.




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