Isn’t pluralism Jewish? – Opinion

Rabbi Pesach Lerner’s recent op-ed on “American-style liberal Judaism” demands a response. To no one’s surprise, Rabbi Lerner rejects the existence of “pluralism” within Judaism, attempting to refute Dr. Yizhar Hess, a prominent lawyer and vice president of the WZO.

On the other hand, many Jewish sources that favor unity oppose uniformity. Bemidbar Rabbah (13: 15,16), for example, states that “there are 70 faces in the Torah.” For extensive documentation of an alternative to Lerner’s position, I recommend “Is Judaism really in favor of pluralism and tolerance?” By Rabbi David Golinkin, President of the Schechter Institute in Jerusalem. Yes, Conservative, Reform, and Orthodox leaders disagree on issues of ideology. There is no world board of rabbis that asks all of us to reach consensus.

What is both surprising and disturbing is that Rabbi Lerner’s article is inappropriate for a leader within the WZO wall-to-wall coalition. Rabbi Lerner is the founder and chairman of the Eretz Hakodesh Party. Eretz Hakodesh became a member of the American Zionist Movement and the World Zionist Organization was not without requirements. It meant an affirmation of the “Jerusalem Program”, a commitment to Zionism and the Jewish people. The Jerusalem Program calls for “mutual respect for the multifaceted Jewish people.” This means overlooking the ideological differences between dozens of Zionist groups. [AZM has 39]as we collaborate on behalf of Medinat Yisrael. Each group is asked to encourage contributions to the Jewish state from those with whom in other contexts we might disagree.

Rather than applaud the AZM and WZO colleagues, Rabbi Lerner belittles the Zionist commitment of non-Orthodox Jewish movements by drawing attention to the non-Zionist outliers in their ranks. How sad! As president of Mercaz Olami, I am well aware of the general pro-Zionist grassroots attitudes among our “Amcha”. The 2020 Pew Poll documents that 93% of conservative Jews in the US feel “a responsibility to help Jews in need.” Furthermore, 78% feel “emotionally attached to Israel”, 77% feel “in common with Israeli Jews”, 75% follow news about Israel, 66% consider “caring for Israel” as “essential” or “important”, and 59% have been to Israel.

These pro-Israel attitudes have also translated into Zionist actions. Conservative congregation delegations and Conservative rabbis make up the largest “stream” present at the AIPAC Policy Conference. Conservative members of the synagogue are critical to the success of UJA, JNF, Israel Bonds, and many of the other pro-Israel organizations. Conservative single young adults comprise nearly half of all American lone soldiers. NATIV, USY’s year-long MASA Israel program, reports that 96% of alumni engage in Jewish organizational life on campus, 77% in leadership positions, while 16% make aliyah. . Per capita, the Ramah camps produce more olim than any other American Jewish summer camp.

YAAKOV HAGOEL assumes his new position as president of the World Zionist Organization (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

In conclusion, we applaud all AZM and WZO member groups for their commitment to Israel. Rabbi Lerner, we praise Orthodox Jews who proudly sing “Hatikva,” serve in the IDF, make aliyah, and support Israeli causes philanthropically. We also praise Israel’s commitments to Reform Jews, secular Jews, Jews engaged with global affiliates of Knesset political parties. By uniting on behalf of Zionism and the Jewish people, we strengthen national institutions and each other, even if we disagree on issues of religious ideology.

The writer, a rabbi, is the president of Mercaz Olami, the Zionist organization of the world Masorti / Conservative movement, and former president of the International Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative Movement.

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