Thursday, May 22, 2008

Haredi anti-Zionism, where draw the line?

Anti-Zionism Israeli Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss and company greeting Ahmadinejad
at Iranian anti-Holocaust conference.

"You go ahead and enjoy your state for a few years longer!"

an anti-Zionist haredi on Yom Ha'atsmaut

31 May, 2008

Zionism, the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, begins with an identification with, and concern for the survival of the Jewish people. Beyond this overriding concern the movement is ideologically inclusive, tolerant of political platforms serving the political right and left, religious and secular. Israel is the fruit of Zionism and agent of its mission. But over the years Israel’s status as a democratic and modern state, its identity as home and refuge to all Jews is increasingly threatened by a tiny and intolerant ultra-orthodox minority supported and encouraged by a political culture of expedience and self-interest. In recent months several incidents occurred which, if not redressed, threaten to change the character of Israel from Zionist to non-Zionist, or worse. Most recently a haredi anti-Zionist judge on the High Rabbinical Conversion Court, Rabbi Avraham Sherman, embarrassed, disrespected and all but excommunicated the court’s head, pro-Zionist Rabbi Haim Drukman. Sherman, backed by two other haredi judges, ruled that according to their understanding of Halacha all conversions conducted by Rabbi Drukman, or performed under his jurisdiction for the past ten or more years, are invalid.

Several days after that controversial ruling Rabbi Sherman and supporters returned with yet another challenge to the conversion process, this time ruling that persons hearing- or speech-impaired are unacceptable as candidates for conversion! Who will Sherman next determine unqualified by birth or infirmity to be acceptable to the Jewish nation? Might he conclude that "Halacha" demands that each and every Jew not of his narrow belief community prove our “purity of blood” by providing evidence that our mothers and theirs’ back three generations are truly Jewish according to his understanding of Jewish Law?

Rabbi Sherman and the Conversion Court controversy is only the most recent of a long string of haredi anti-Israel incidents to appear in the press. Take, for example, that visit by a delegation of Natorei Karta to Iran in support of Ahmadinejad’s anti-Holocaust conference. They were not only greeted by Ahmadinejad himself upon arrival, but were photographed with their grey beards and black coats smiling and embracing the sworn enemy of the Jewish state. More recently a gang of haredim physically assaulted a young man for attempting to raise the flag of Israel on the eve of Independence Day. And one day later, on Yom Ha'atsmaut, a reporter asked a haredi apparently enjoying the celebratory fireworks in Jerusalem how he felt and was told, "What can I tell you? You go ahead and enjoy your state for a few years longer!"

Individually such provocations as Rabbi Sherman and the Conversion Court controversy, the treasonous actions by Natorei Karta in Teheran are disturbing; together they represent a pattern and point to a serious disjuncture between the Zionist state and extremist detractors among its ultra-orthodox minority. Where is the boundary between the State of Israel and this anti-Zionist minority today; where should it be?

A headline from the 22 May on-line edition of Jerusalem Post reads PMO dismisses Rabbi Haim Drukman. The reason given was that the pro-Zionist rabbi, appointed by PM Sharon and reappointed by his successor to head and reform the Conversion Authority had passed the age of retirement. In fact Rabbi Drukman had passed that age before being asked by Olmert to reaccept the thankless position! So what really motivated Olmert to act now, to “retire” the rabbi within weeks of the mutiny by Sherman and his two supporters in the conversion controversy? Certainly it would have a thing to do with Olmert’s precarious political situation, his need to reinforce his position as head of the governing coalition by appeasing the haredim for support?

Two other examples of boundary confusion between state and religion are the perennial reappearance of “Who is a Jew” in the Knesset, and the move by the chairman of the Knesset Constitution and Law Committee to amend the Law of Return.

“Who is a Jew” is the effort by ultra-orthodox members of the Knesset to make their particular understanding of Halacha shape civil law for the state in matters of Jewish identity. Lest we forget, Halacha is not writ in stone but is reinterpreted by succeeding generations according to the realities of the day. Nor is there a single understanding of Halacha universally accepted by all rabbinic scholars of a given generation. So unless the Government of Israel is willing to adopt one group’s interpretation of Jewish identity and conduct above all others, thereby creating a state religion (the Rabbinate and the High Rabbinical Conversion Court already go a long way in this direction), “Who is a Jew” can never be adopted by the state, should not even be accorded legitimacy by being raised within the halls of the Knesset. It is no accident that whenever this issue is raised the Diaspora despairs and cries “foul.” Merely raising the issue, to say nothing of enacting it, is a slap at Diaspora Jewry, the vast majority of who, as in Israel, are not orthodox.

And finally, the Law of Return. Several months ago the chairman of the Knesset Constitution and Law Committee proposed eliminating the Grandparent Clause from the Law. The Law of Return is Israel’s commitment, its Zionist heart, as home to all Jews, as refuge to our Diaspora. The Clause was enacted by the founding fathers in response to Germany’s Nazi-era law defining as “Jew” a person with even a single Jewish grandparent. While history does not repeat itself it does serve as precedent, and the founding fathers understood that the German law would one day come to serve as precedent for a future Holocaust. To eliminate the Clause is to weaken the Law. A weakened Law combined with a narrow definition of “Who is a Jew” would disqualify all but those few orthodox who fit the narrowed Halachic definition. It would leave nearly all Diaspora Jewry to face a new Shoah as did our grandparents sixty years ago, alone and defenseless.

While the proposal by the committee chairman may merely have been an over-reaction to a short-lived domestic issue (young Russian expat hooligans desecrating synagogues), such cannot be said of Rabbi Sherman and the Conversion Court scandal, or of those promoting “Who is a Jew.” Both clearly are exclusionary in intent and strike at the heart of Jewish identity. Both are intended to serve the limited and selfish needs of a minority community regardless of cost to state and Diaspora. Both would widen the rift between orthodoxy and all others within Israel, would further erode trust by the Diaspora which Israel was created to protect.

And so the unavoidable question: how do anti-Zionists, a community intent on undermining, even destroying modern Israel and its Zionist underpinnings come to be appointed to positions of authority regarding questions of personal and social identity? How is it that openly-professed opponents of the State of the Jews come to represent Israel in any official capacity? Are Israeli policy-makers so insensitive to their responsibilities to Israel and the Diaspora beyond immediate political need and expediency, of coalition politics, to appoint so divisive a minority to sit in judgment, so divisive an issue as “Who is a Jew” to even enter the legislative process?

All Jews concerned for the Jewish People and Zionism, living in Israel and the Diaspora, should be concerned about the corrupting influence of the anti-Zionists as a political force within the state. As Jews they deserve the same rights under the Law of Return, the same obligations under the laws of the state as exist for Jews of all persuasions. But as opponents of the State of the Jews and its Zionist commitment; as, for all practical purposes, a fifth column within the state, they have no place within the government or bureaucracy, cannot be allowed political influence beyond the right of any other Israeli to peaceful public protest, and the ballot.
Jews today are no less threatened than when Herzl sounded the alarm sixty years before the Holocaust.

Zionism’s mission is as relevant today as it was in 1898 (see my webpage, For Israel to forget our history, her mission, is to reduce the State of the Jews to the state of the Israelis, but one more tiny and isolated Jewish island within an ocean of real and potential enemies.

No comments: