Many people who know me, know me to be an ardent supporter of Israel. Israel can do no wrong. Israel does not “occupy” lands, they are disputed. Israel is on them also to protect themselves from Palestinian terrorist attacks.
Israel is probably the most humanitarian country in the world. Their leading medical technology has saved many lives, not just of its allies, but also of its enemies. In fact, I had heard that the Palestinian leader of Hamas brought his granddaughter to an Israeli hospital, knowing that not only would they treat her, but also because he knew they would save her life. And they did.
Last Sunday, however, Israel crossed the line. Benjamin Netanyahu gave in to political pressure from the Ultra-Orthodox members of the Knesset and suspended a plan to enhance an area where non-Orthodox Jewish men and women can pray together at the Western Wall or Kotel.
Response was uniform and swift coming from many organizations including AIPAC, the Jewish Agency and Charles Bronfman, the Canadian-American billionaire Jewish philanthropist. This was one of the few things in recent history where the majority of the Jewish community stood united.
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism issued a statement on their website. They claimed that “Conservative Jews Deplore Freeze in Creating Mixed-Area Prayer Space at Western Wall”. They were appalled that after “the government of Israel signed an agreement to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall”…”Only 17 months later, the very same government voted to suspend that compromise plan.”
Isabel Kershner, writing for the July 3 issue of the New York Times, states that “Netanyahu’s political maneuvering to selling world Jewry’s birthright for a bowl of lentil soup, an allusion to the biblical deal Jacob made with Esau”. She is referring, of course to religion being sold for political alliances.
So who cares, really? How often do the guys go out together to play cards, pool, or like in the Flintstones, bowl together and hang out at the water buffalo lodge? What about the women going out to lunch together or play mah jongg by the pool? What’s wrong with a few minutes apart to pray?
First of all, is there any reference in the Torah to separate praying areas? To my knowledge, the only time praying is even mentioned in the Torah was when Isaac was praying the fields when Eliezer brought Rebecca home for him. Otherwise, it was all sacrifices, and they don’t say much about male and female roles besides the Cohenim and Levites officiating, and they were all men.
The Orthodox, who are ultimately fundamentalists, love to put fences around things. Talmudically they put fences on their roofs so no one falls off, but then they put it around laws to make sure they’re observed. Prayer should be done with concentration and focus, and nothing wreaks your focus like the love of your life next to you, right guys?
The press release from USCJ used the word, “egalitarian”. Conservative Jews believe in that and our liturgy and practices reflect that concept. We took out the phrase, “who has not made me a woman” in the morning blessings and substituted “who has made me in your image” for both genders to recite. Conservative Judaism believes that women can get Bat Mitzvahed, put on tefillin, and even be rabbis and cantors. Yes, egalitarian.
Conservative Judaism believes in adapting our principles to the modern world. Yes, we should keep Shabbat, but it’s OK to drive to synagogue to make a minyan. Yes, we should keep kosher, but not so glatt. And yes, we believe in equality of the sexes.
Isn’t it interesting that Israel is one of the first modern countries to have a woman prime minister. Everyone remember Golda Meir? Woman occupy positions of government in Israel almost completely equal to men. It should be interesting to see how Mr. Netanyahu handles this affair. Especially since a lot of his female citizens carry Uzi’s.