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Hiddush CEO Rabbi Uri Regev & Chairman Stanley P. Gold

A message from Hiddush

Jan. 18, 2018
2 Sh'vat, 5778

Dear Friends,

With painful occurrences of acts of terror, heightened exposure to President Trump's moves regarding the funding of Palestinian social and education needs, the faltering peace process, plans for moving the embassy to Jerusalem, the increasing hype over criminal investigations involving Netanyahu and his close associates, etc... With all of that, one may think that matters of religion & state would be pushed off of the public agenda and out of media coverage. In reality, the opposite is happening.

As we have often attempted to convey, the multifaceted clash of religion-state affairs is high on the public's list of priorities, and it creates repeated eruptions, which capture the public's mind and the political docket.

In the last couple of weeks, prominent among these issues have been the Shabbat wars, the Kotel controversy (which has brought numerous litigants, including Hiddush, together before the Supreme Court for many hours of deliberations), and the increasingly hot debate over military service for women in Israel. All three deserve further analysis because they bring to light in the most acute manner the gap between the different segments of the population, as well as the inability of Israeli politicians and leaders to continue pushing these controversies under the carpet.

More and more groups are not willing to settle for the limited scope of freedom of religious expression and practice that the political and religious powers have accorded to them.

At this time, we want to share with you an important exposition of the debate over the place of the Kotel controversy in the American Jewish public discourse and American Jewry's efforts at influencing Israeli policies. Peter Joseph's article (on the right), in its scope and sophistication, bears particular importance, given his prominent role in the leadership of key American Jewish institutions. We have asked Rabbi Pamela Frydman, the former co-chair of Rabbis for Women of the Wall and a major activist in Jewish social causes and beyond, as well as the chair of Rabbis and Cantors for Religious Freedom and Equality in Israel, to respond to Joseph's article.

We want to present both perspectives for your consideration and would love to hear your insights.


Stanley P. Gold,
Hiddush Chair

Rabbi Uri Regev,
Hiddush President


American Jews:
Your Obsession With
The Western Wall Is Ridiculous

By Peter Joseph

American Jews watch video of their religious leaders being beaten up and denied access to a sacred and holy space, and it makes their blood boil. They view the Women of the Wall and the struggle of the Reform movement to be recognized by Israeli governmental and religious authorities as rallying points that are worthy of outrage. Israeli Jews, on the other hand, watch the same events unfold and merely shrug.

By seizing upon access to and freedom of worship at the Western Wall as the hill on which to die, American Jews are displaying a tin ear as to what is really important to Israelis: religious pluralism. Israelis are concerned about religion-related issues that affect their daily lives, such as conversion, the ability to have weddings and funerals the way they want. The Western Wall and their ability to pray there according to their own traditions is one of a myriad of issues that they constantly confront related to religious pluralism and Jewish observance.

This makes it more difficult for American Jews to build bridges with Israeli Jews and form coalitions that will truly elevate religious pluralism into a top-line policy issue. Protesting over the Western Wall, no matter how emotional and heartfelt, does not advance the causes of non-Orthodox Judaism and the Reform movement, or bring Israel closer to being a true homeland for all Jews.


In Defense of the Right to Care

By Rabbi Pamela Frydman

I believe it is unfair to claim that Jews of the Diaspora have developed an obsession for the Kotel, the Western Wall, as Peter Joseph stated in his article in The Forward. Love of the Kotel has been a carefully cultivated interest and passion fostered by Jewish leaders for centuries in order to keep our people connected with the only remaining remnant of the structure that surrounded the hill on which the Holy Temple stood in ancient times.

Even today, the Kotel is precious to millions of Israeli Jews, in particular, those who embrace an Orthodox Zionist or Haredi lifestyle. Tragically, many such Jews also viciously harass Women of the Wall and Reform, Conservative and other Jews who visit the Kotel to pray and connect each in their own way.

I believe Joseph is right that there is also a preponderance of Israelis who do not care about the Kotel. I believe, however, that the problem is one of perception and not reality. Modern non-Orthodox Israelis have lost the connection that previous generations had with the Kotel because secular educators feel uncomfortable bringing their classes to a place where boys and girls must gather separately and everyone must cover up in ways that are foreign to them.

Were the Kotel compromise to have been implemented, there could be a new atmosphere fostered by a single unified entrance and signs that tout both gender separation and egalitarian worship as though these two venues were each facets of the same faith, which they actually are. I fear that the divide between Israeli Jews and North American Jews is a divide being fostered by those who wish to insist that they are right. Tourists are not going to flock to Israel and spend their money there because we tell them that the tourist view of Israel is flat out wrong and they should worry instead about the needs and sensibilities of the natives.

When tour groups start learning about Israel’s scientific, medical, and agricultural advances together with the plight of Israeli citizens who must leave their homeland to get married or who live together and raise children without being able to marry, then, and only then, will we start to develop a common language among Israeli and Diaspora Jews of non-Orthodox persuasions.



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