Home  Principles & Statements  Positions of the ACJ  Articles  DonationsAbout Us  Contact Us  Links                                         

Religious Intolerance In Israel Is Called A Challenge To Jewish Unity

Allan Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
September-October 1997

Discussing the attack by a group of Orthodox Jews upon men and women from an American Conservative Jewish delegation of visitors to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Rabbi Scott White, who teaches at the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy in Overland Park, Kansas, laments that such religious intolerance threatens any idea of Jewish unity.  

Writing in Sh’ma (September 19, 1997), Rabbi White states that the attack in 1997 on the occasion of Tisha b’Av caused this reaction: ". . . I am frightened. I fear that, like our ancestors, we will bring ruin through internal disputes. That the hundreds of Conservative Jews attempting to daven at the Kotel (Western Wall) would receive shabby treatment at the hands of fanatical ultra-Orthodox comes as no surprise. That they would be evicted by the Israeli police acting under orders from Israeli government authorities is, as they say, a horse of a different color. We have taken a wrong turn and have crossed into dangerous territory."  

The Western Wall, White points out, "has always been a symbol of Jewish unity. Yet among those who were prevented from worshiping there was Yehoshua Lior, president of the Masorti (Israel’s Conservative) Movement. After being evicted, Lior spoke about his part in liberating the Kotel during the Six-Day War. ‘We soldiers liberated the Kotel for the entire Jewish people,’ he said. ‘Not so that one day there would be a rule: Orthodox only.’ The vast majority of Diaspora Jewry is not Orthodox. How will these Jews react when they travel to Israel and find they are banned from praying, as a congregation, at our religion’s holiest site?"  

Rabbi White concludes: ". . . the Kotel ban dwarfs the question of ‘who is a Jew.’ The longer the ban is in place, the more liberal-minded Jews will question whether a society that discounts their type of Jewishness deserves their support; the more they will prefer the Diaspora’s freedom of religious belief and practice . . . The horns of this dilemma are razor sharp. Placating the fundamentalists erodes the bond between Israel and the Diaspora, and deepens the polarization between the Orthodox and non-Orthodox in Israel. Resisting their demands, on the other hand, risks igniting sectarian anger at least as intense as that which took the life of Yitzhak Rabin . . . our Sages attributed the demise of the Second Commonwealth to sinat hinam — baseless internal hatred. The Romans may have destroyed the Temple, but we destroyed ourselves. This year we added another calamity to the litany of woe that befell us on Tisha b’Av. It was then . . . that Israel banned all but one kind of Jewish prayer at the Kotel."  

< return to article list
© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.