Rabbis and leaders of various Jewish movements – Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform – on Thursday attended an event hosted by President Reuven Rivlin at his residence ahead of the Tisha B'Av fast.
The participants discussed the destruction of Jerusalem and the unity of Israel, and in the spirit of the times expressed a commitment to a tolerant, fair, and respectful conversation – even regarding controversial issues.
Among those speaking at the conference, which was organized with the Jewish People Policy Institute, were Rabbi Benny Lau of the Ramban Orthodox community in Jerusalem; Rabbi Chaya Rowen-Baker of the Conservative Ramot Zion congregation in Jerusalem; Rabbi Meir Azari of the Reform Beit Daniel synagogue in Tel Aviv; Dr. Moti Zeira from HaMidrasha in Oranim; and others.
"Like family, a society also needs solidarity and brotherhood," President Rivlin told the attendees. "A society without this – as the Talmud teaches us – is destined for destruction. The notion of family is intrinsic to a healthy society. In a healthy society there exists unity and ethics, leniency on the law alongside the letter of the law.”
The president went on to emphasize, “We must remember and ensure the existence of unity, of the simple 'love of Israel' within us, within the Jewish people… We must not forget for a moment, that fierce debates are a sincere and genuine expression of a concern for us all – Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, and Secularist – for the present day, and for the future of the Jewish people.
Rivlin said that "one could disagree with the positions and opinions of members of the Reform or Conservative movements, but one could not deny their dedication, or the clear voice with which they speak, in support of the State of Israel here and around the world. One could debate with the Religious Zionist community, or with the Kibbutz movement, but one could not deny the contribution of these movements to the building of the State of Israel, to its well-being and security.
Rivlin emphasized his commitment to ensuring that the president's residence continues to act as a home for all sectors of Israeli society. "This is certainly not an easy task - specifically because the grave disagreements between us also concern the question of who is entitled to be represented and where. And yet, this is a mission in which I am determined to succeed, out of the understanding that the pursuit of unity without blurring opinions, of creating solidarity without deleting identities, and of striving to develop a common language even for disagreements - is the task of this office and is my task."
Recent remarks by Religious Services Minister David Azoulay suggesting that Reform Jews were not truly Jewish cast a shadow over the event, as did an incident last month in which Rivlin himself refused to allow a Conservative rabbi to officiate a bar mitzvah scheduled to take place at his residence.
"One of the things the Jewish people must have is the shared leaning on a collective memory and shared symbols," said Dr. Moti Zeira. "The mission we all share can change Israeliness and the hostility and ignorance in society… To deal with ignorance, we must create a shared dialogue."
"I am a Conservative Jew who doesn't always agree with many Reform Jews, but I can celebrate what they do," said Rabbi Chaya Rowen-Baker. "I need them to serve those I cannot."
"We know how to die together, but today I ask: Do we know how to live together?" asked Rabbi Benny Lau. "We have great responsibility, because not every generation is given the opportunity to build a home. The generations before us did not have the opportunity we do. This home is not temporary."