Earlier this month, MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu) created a firestorm when he said that Reform Judaism wasn’t really “Jewish,” but a “different religion.” Responding to critics, Rotem later apologized for his remarks, saying he had “deep differences” with the Reform movement, but affirming that “we are all Jews and members of the same religion.”
Unfortunately, Rotem’s initial remarks reflected the dismissive attitude of all too many secular and Orthodox Israelis. On the plus side, Rotem quickly realized that the non-Orthodox denominations are loud and proud.
The World Union of Progressive Judaism and Masorti Olami tirelessly advocate in Israel for non-Orthodox conversions, as well as for equitable state funding for non-Orthodox rabbis. The Jewish Federations of North America is refining an initiative relating to religious diversity and civil marriage in Israel. Even Orthodox activists have pushed back against the Israeli rabbinate, saying it has overreached in determining which American Orthodox rabbis do and don’t fit its rather arbitrary criteria. This month, a diverse group of rabbis from our area met with these groups in a mission to explore pluralism, a trademark agenda of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ (see page 10).
Critics of these efforts say they drive a wedge between Israel and the Diaspora, or impose American values on Israel. And yet none of these criticisms hold up. Pluralism tightens the bonds between Israel and North American communities, through direct partnerships and ideological affinity. The non-Orthodox movements have made inroads within Israeli society, offering a much-needed alternative for spiritually hungry Israelis. Pluralism and freedom of religion also remain hallmarks of a healthy democracy — in Israel just as in the United States.
Rotem insulted not only Reform Jews, but all Jews who are working to assure that the world’s only Jewish democratic state flourishes as a center for a global Jewish people.