Supporting Freedom of Religious Practice in Israel

NEW YORK, NY—The recent detention and fingerprinting of Anat Hoffman, director of the Israel Religious Action Center, civil and consumer rights advocate, founding member of Women of the Wall and past member of the Jerusalem City Council, for her role in advocating a woman's right to pray at the Kotel opens a new and troubling chapter in intra-Jewish relations in Israel.

The many groups of Conservative Judaism listed below, affirm that Hoffman's detention, following the recent arrest at the Kotel of Nofrat Frankel for wearing a tallit and carrying a Sefer Torah during worship services on Rosh Hodesh, drives a wedge between our communities at a time when working for unity within Israel and enhancing the connection between Diaspora Jewish communities and Israel should be a primary concern. We urge the municipality of Jerusalem, the State of Israel and its ambassador to the United States to realize the gravity of this issue and take immediate steps to promote religious pluralism, provide equitable treatment to non-Orthodox streams of Jewish life and end the harassment of women seeking to pray with dignity at the Western Wall, Judaism's most holy place.

We urge members of our congregations and all members of Conservative Judaism to write a letter to Ambassador Michael Oren expressing the above sentiments. Further, as Conservative Jews, we hope for a pluralistic Israeli society that welcomes all Jews who share a commitment to Jewish continuity, peoplehood and Zionism. When the government limits access at the Kotel, changes the status quo of "who is a Jew," and refuses to grant Masorti rabbis equal rights in Israel, many in the Diaspora community, whose support of Israel is crucial if Israel is to continue to flourish, instead feel alienated.

By standing with the Women of the Wall, we affirm our unity as a single world-wide Jewish community. We affirm our connection with our sisters and brothers in the Land of Israel and we affirm the abiding holiness of the city of Jerusalem in our lives.

The following groups of Conservative Judaism support this statement:

Cantors Assembly
Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs
Jewish Educators Assembly
The Jewish Theological Seminary
Masorti Foundation
Masorti Olami
MERCAZ Olami
MERCAZ USA
Rabbinical Assembly
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
Women's League for Conservative Judaism
Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies


Sample Letter to Ambassador Oren

You may also download the letter as Microsoft Word file from: http://rabbinicalassembly.org/living/social_action.html

Letters should be sent to:

Dr. Michael B. Oren, Ambassador of Israel to the United States
Embassy of Israel
3514 International Dr. N.W.
Washington DC 20008
info@washington.mfa.gov.il

Dear Ambassador Oren:

We write as friends of Israel, but we write in sorrow.

Recent events in Israel, most notably those dealing with women at the Kotel, have dramatically highlighted the fact that in many ways non-Orthodox streams of Jewish life have less freedom and are less well treated in Israel than anywhere else in the free world.

As important as it is, and we most strongly support Women of the Wall in their efforts, the Kotel is not the ultimate issue. Across the board, our dedicated Masorti rabbis and lay leaders in Israel deal on a daily basis with State actions that are inimical to the free expression of religious beliefs.

The United States Government estimates that the Government of Israel spends upwards of $450 million a year in support of Jewish religious programs. We know that well less than 1% of that amount goes to Masorti and Reform combined. The Government of Israel pays the salaries of over 3,000 rabbis, all Orthodox. Fully halakhic weddings performed by Masorti rabbis in Israel are not recognized as legal by your government. We know that Masorti rabbis, converts and even brides on their wedding day have been blocked from using publicly funded mikvaot.

Unfortunately, the list could go on and on.

By permitting ultra-Orthodox extremists to control public life and block other caring and devoted Jews from fully realizing their spiritual quest, intentionally or not you send a message that Israel is not committed to democratic principles. This is a distortion of Jewish values and is destructive of the fabric of world Jewry. It has its greatest negative impact on our young people.

You and your government must deal with this before the problem escalates. It cannot be ignored, and you must understand that as staunchly as we support Israel, we will not let these matters pass.

Sincerely,