In 1989, I wrote the following: "The most serious long-term threat to Israel's existence is the lack of tolerance and mutual respect among Jews. The fact that Israeli society has not yet succeeded in making tolerance and mutual respect a basic value of its society and educational system must be rectified. We can succeed at that because we teach these values as part of the Jewish religious tradition. We can no longer look upon the Masorti movement in Israel as necessary just so that we can have some 'rights' there.
"You must realize that our way of practicing Judaism, our way of studying Judaism, and above all our way of relating to other Jews are necessary for the success of Israel. The verse we say all the time is 'ki mi-tziyyon tetzei Torah.' The question we must ask is 'which Torah' will come forth from Jerusalem, i.e. which 'Torah' will be the major influence on Jewish life around the world? The spiritual health of Israel depends on Masorti."
There is no doubt by now that what we have blithely characterized as "religious-secular polarization” is a much deeper polarization of values. In that climate moderates have no choice but to fight against the effort to turn Israel into a fundamentalist country. But, how do we do that?
First and foremost by doing what we have been doing: making available to Israelis everywhere in the country different models of Jewish belief, study and practice. Enlarging and expanding our congregations, 'Noam' Youth Movement, 'Marom' student movement, and supporting 'Tali' school education.
Some people think that there is a paradigm shift going on now in Israeli society. On the one hand, rabbis expressing extreme views are under attack. On the other hand, many secular Israelis "envied" religious education. They wondered if the values and atmosphere of the yeshiva world was not superior "morally" to their own.
Today this perception is undergoing revision. The assumption that religious education meant moral superiority is no longer automatic. So called “secular” Israelis are studying Jewish texts in order to find moral and spiritual enrichment and guidance for living.
Convene international conferenceWhile I am happy that my own set of values and beliefs is making a contribution to the health of Israel's spiritual life, I am profoundly sad at the degeneration of the "religious establishment." If the old saying about power corrupting is true, and I think there is a lot of truth in it, then we see its application to the "power establishment" of religious Jewry in Israel. Instead of having a vision of Jewish renewal, there is a definite tendency to keep the "old boys network" alive and well fed.
The High Court of Justice has recently ruled on the legitimacy of Conservative and Reform conversion. The Orthodox establishment attacked this decision with the usual vituperative rhetoric, e.g. now Israel will be open to total assimilation. How the conversion of non-Jews to practicing Judaism in the State of Israel could lead to assimilation was not explained.
Instead of seizing the opportunity to create broad-based agreement on standards for conversion, halachic standards which all would accept at this point, the chief rabbis slipped back into the rhetoric of "Jewish wars."
We should publicly call on the Government of Israel to convene an international conference of all streams of Judaism, including the "hiloni" or secular, to reach agreed upon rules and procedures for conversion, and put this argument behind us for good! There could hardly be a better way at this time to restore some of the lost faith of Jews in Judaism and in the Rabbinate, and pave the way for a better future.
Rabbi Michael Graetz, Rabbi Emeritus in the Masorti congregation 'Magen Avraham' in Omer, is one of the Founders of the Masorti Movement in Israel, its first director and past president of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel. He is past winner of the prestigious Simon Greenberg Award and past member of the Israel Law Committee.