Please join me this Friday night at 8:00 PM for a presentation by Gideon Aronoff, Executive Director of the Masorti Foundation. Gideon’s topic will be “Religious Tolerance in Israel: Reality or Illusion?”
In his book Directed by God: Jewishness in Contemporary Israeli Film and Televison, Yaron Peleg argues that despite efforts to limit Jewish religiosity in the State of Israel and keep the nation secular, Israelis are nonetheless becoming more religious, fueled in part by the growth of the ultra-Orthodox community and the settler movement. Peleg writes that the transformation toward a more religious stance is especially reflected in Israeli film and television, which he says is having an impact on the relationship between Zionism and Judaism. He argues that films such as Kadosh, Waltz with Bashir and Eyes Wides Open, and television series such as Shababnikim and Merchak Negiah explore how secular Israeli culture deals with Jewish religious heritage. Peleg identifies a Hebrew word- Hadata- that means “the process of making someone more religious” or “religiousification,” in this case of Israeli society. His theory is that secular Israelis are inclined to embrace a hybrid identity, one split between secular and religious, and that many if not most Israelis are more religious than one might think.
Peleg’s writing is a compelling justification for the support of the Masorti Movement in Israel. Rather than demand or coerce religious behavior and compliance from people, Masorti Judaism, like Conservative Judaism here in North America, is committed to an inclusive approach to Jewish life. Indeed, Masorti’s core values are being welcoming and inclusive, honoring the traditional practice of Judaism, and working for religious freedom in Israel. Masorti Judaism welcomes all types of people into their fold, including those who know they want to practice Judaism in a way that is inclusive and egalitarian as well as those who are searching for where they belong. Masorti reaches out to those who are often disenfranchised and put off by the often coercive and demanding ways of Orthodoxy.
One might think that Israel is a country where religious freedom is ingrained and practiced, but that is not always the case. The Chief Rabbinate’s stranglehold on religious authority, coupled with government support and funding, make it a formidable presence that controls Israeli society’s rules for marriage, divorce, conversion, burial and kosher certification. Israel is not a theocracy that demands or legislates religious behavior from its citizens, as are some countries. But the idea of religious pluralism and tolerance, of making space for individuals to explore Judaism on their own terms and in their own way, and of tolerating different views of what constitutes appropriate Jewish practice, is frowned upon by the Chief Rabbinate. That is precisely why the Masorti Movement is vital for Israelis who want to explore their Jewish identity in ways that are not coercive or intimidating, but inclusive and tolerant.
I encourage you to join me this Friday night to welome Gideon Aronoff, Executive Director of the Masorti Foundation, who will speak to the congregation on “Religious Tolerance: Reality or Illusion?” Gideon will share success stories from the work of the Masorti Movement and will give us all a clear reason for why Masorti Judaism is so deserving of our support. The service begins at 8:00 PM, and Gideon will speak at approximately 8:30 PM. I hope to see you there!
Special thanks to Will Brown, Oheb Shalom member, who suggested Peleg’s book and podcast to me.