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Letters to the Editor

Religious freedom in Israel still needs addressing


Rabbis for Religious Freedom and Equality in Israel (RRFEI), the rabbinic association that supports the work of Hiddush that promotes religious freedom and diversity, gives great credit to the Reform movement and Conservative movements, and the Women of the Wall for making the painful sacrifice of giving up their demands of being allowed to hold egalitarian prayer services and women’s minyanim at the traditional Western Wall plaza. While a section of the Wall, which hitherto functioned as an archaeological garden, and had never operated under the dictates of the Orthodox rabbinic establishment, has now been designated as a pluralistic prayer space, it must be underscored that this compromise stipulates that the main Western Wall prayer plaza will officially remain under ultra-Orthodox authority.

Most positive, from RRFEI’s perspective, is that the vast majority of world Jewry, the liberal streams, will, at long last, possess an official area in which to pray according to the customs and theology of the modern Jewish world.

However, RRFEI remains concerned that in recent months Prime Minister Netanyahu has sent very mixed messages regarding the equal status of the non-Orthodox streams in Israel — one for external consumption, abroad, and one for domestic Israeli policy. When Netanyahu speaks with leaders of the Diaspora Jewish community, he voices his support for equality, while the persistent discrimination and denial of key religious freedoms and equality within Israel only continues to degrade. The Ministry of Education’s recent, public freezing of funds designated in the State budget for Jewish renewal, intended for non-Orthodox and secular educational initiatives, serves as a clear reminder of this.

The Western Wall compromise, which requires no substantial concession on the part of the ultra-Orthodox, only further highlights the willingness of PM Netanyahu to trade away the core values of religious freedom and equality, in exchange for the religious parties’ votes, necessary to keep him and his party in power. Therefore, we fear that the Western Wall agreement will simply be used as a smokescreen, aimed at convincing Diaspora Jewry that this represents the implementation of the PM’s promise to ensure that every Jew will feel at home in Israel, while in truth it avoids addressing the real issues that impact the lives and dignities of so many Israeli and Diaspora Jews. So, as welcomed as the Kotel compromise is, it must not distract world Jewry from the need for dramatic changes in Israel in such critical arenas as freedom of marriage and divorce, Who is a Jew, and state-sanctioned, religiously-based gender discrimination.”

Rabbi Mark H. Levin and

Rabbis for Religious Freedom and Equality in Israel


Misguided support

The Jan. 21 issue of The Kansas City Jewish Chronicle, beginning on page 1, discussed the Sanders/Clinton race (Bernie Sanders surging in the polls, but are Jewish feeling ‘the Bern’?” mentioned a poll in which Clinton is said to have strong Jewish support and continued with narrative strongly supportive of Hillary.

The following day, Jan. 22, the Wall Street Journal carried a nearly half page opinion by Michael B. Mukasy, U.S. Attorney General 2007-2009. Its headline: “Clinton’s E-mails: A Criminal Charge is Justified.” Mukasey observes that Hillary’s explanations have come to look increasingly improvisational and contrived. He writes that the FBI criminal investigation has metastasized to include the possible intersection of Clinton Foundation donations, the dispensation of State Department contracts and whether or not regular processes were followed. He adds that the FBI seeks to learn whether donors to the Clinton Foundation received special consideration.

One wonders whether or not enthusiastic support for Hillary is misguided.

David S. Jacobs, M.D.

Overland Park, Kansas