16 December 2010
A Message from Daniel Sokatch
Several years ago I witnessed a debate between two clergy members about the role of social justice in Christianity. The first speaker, a conservative evangelical pastor, argued that the bible backed his positions against gay marriage, for the death penalty and in support of the war in Iraq. The second speaker, a longtime anti-gang activist and advocate for the poor, listened to his colleague and said simply, "That's not my Jesus."
Last week, reading the news that scores a group of leading Israeli rabbis, including the chief rabbis of several Israeli municipalities who are employed and paid by the State, had endorsed a discriminatory rabbinic ruling forbidding Israeli Jews from renting or selling property to non-Jews, particularly Arabs, I was reminded of that debate. I knew exactly what that Jesuit priest meant. The tragic and racist Judaism of those Israeli rabbis is, quite simply, not my Judaism.
And we at the New Israel Fund felt it was critical that those Israeli rabbis understand, loud and clear, that theirs is not the Judaism of hundreds and hundreds of their colleagues in America and beyond. To help convey that message, NIF organized a letter from rabbis outside of Israel calling on Israeli rabbis to take a forceful public stand against the ruling. As of today, over 800 rabbis from North America and several other countries – including representatives from every Jewish religious denomination – have signed on. And the letter has provoked a strong response. Hundreds of Israeli rabbis have spoken out against the ruling, including many prominent figures in the Orthodox community. This powerful display of religious leadershipwas covered in the major Israeli and Jewish papers and even Fox News!
We are heartened that Prime Minister Netanyahu has voiced his opposition to the ruling. We now encourage him to see that rabbis promoting such discriminatory, anti-Israel and, frankly, un-Jewish policies in the name of the State of Israel are removed from the state payroll.
As awful as the ruling was, it really doesn't come as much of a surprise. Over the past year we have seen, again and again, the toxic results of the marriage of ultra-Orthodox power and ultranationalism in Israel. This is only its latest manifestation. We have seen it also in the segregated buses, the tightening monopoly on all aspects of religious life, the harsh rulings on who is a Jew. But this Judaism is not the Judaism that animates the spirits of millions of Jews in Israel, the United States and beyond. And you can be sure that NIF will continue to fight for religious pluralism, freedom and respect in Israel as we have for the past three decades. In this new and troubling environment, we will continue to take the lead in standing up to this brand of narrow ultra-Orthodoxy that all-too-often claims to speak as Israel's official state religion. Not in our names.