Tishah B’Av and Our Israel
I will hear Parshat D’varim on Shabbat and Lamentations on Tuesday in Jerusalem. I am here to participate in the effort to stop the Rotem Conversion Bill from passing in the Knesset. How ironic it is that the bill was voted out of committee on the first of Av and will be brought for first reading just after Tisha b’Av (the 9th of Av), the fast day on which the Jewish world commemorates the loss of the two ancient Temples. One of the reasons our ancient Rabbis gave for their destruction was sinat chinam - the internal arguing of one Jew with another.
Rabbi David Saperstein and I are in Israel to represent our Reform Movement organizations that are working alongside the Conservative Movement, the Federations of North America and the Jewish Agency for Israel to stop the Conversion legislation. Our joint efforts have involved the URJ, ARZA, CCAR, WUPJ, WRJ, MRJ, and of course, the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism and its Israel Religious Action Center.
The word eichah means “how”. It is most familiar to us in the opening line of Lamentations “How does the city sit solitary” The same word, eichah, is used by Moses in this week’s parashah when he exclaims “How can I alone bear the trouble of you…and the bickering”. Today some are asking, “How can we, who do not live in Israel, interfere in the internal political struggles of Israel”?
My answer is that when it comes to questions of the Jewish people, eichah–how can we not raise our collective voices. For the 2,000 years of exile we had no central religious authority. Each Jewish community, be they Sephardim or Ashkenazim, wherever they dwelled in the world, made their own internal religious decisions based on their place in the long march of Jewish history and their own reading of our Torah and traditions. Even Moses could not be the sole decision maker. He recounts in this week’s portion how a system of courts was established to have justice be closer to the people, not vested in just one individual.
The proposed conversion bill, if passed, would formally legislate absolute authority on religious matters in Israel to the Chief Rabbis. With half the world’s Jewish population and the only Jewish sovereign state in the world, such a decision has significant implications for all Jews. We have not had a central Jewish authority since the time of the Temples and Kings. We do not need one today.
What we do need is an understanding that that there are many legitimate ways to be a Jew. We are not obligated to like each other or agree with each other and the Jewish decisions we make. We are, however, obligated to love each other for we are bound, each Jew to all other Jews, in an eternal Covenant within our own Jewish Civilization.
Israel lives in a tough neighborhood. She needs and deserves our complete support no matter where we choose to live. And, with that support comes the obligation to speak out about the major questions that affect the whole of the Jewish people. Israel needs and deserves our vigorous participation in the debate as to what kind of Jewish state Israel is to be.
The 10th day of Av, which is Wednesday, is also a critical day. It ushers in a period of comfort leading to the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. Let us pray that this year on the 10th of Av the Jewish world has had enough of the divisiveness that leads to destruction and that it has been replaced with comfort that leads to reconciliation.
(Originally posted on Ten Minutes of Torah)