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Many in our community were outraged at the violent physical and verbal attack on a Conservative prayer group at dawn on Shavuot in Jerusalem by a mob of non-Conservative “Heridi” and “Ultra-Orthodox” yeshiva students and residents. The police offered some protection and evacuated the Conservative worshippers, but would not control or disperse the mob.
One religious leader in Israel, a renowned woman who considers herself “Orthodox,” had this to say about the attackers: “They are not Jewish but an idolatrous sect that splintered away from God, from Torah, from holiness, from Jewish essence. People who use violence against other people just because they are too ignorant to recognize varieties of Jewish ritual are not Jews. People who destroy non-Jewish property because they think the Torah allows to hate non-Jews have not really received the Torah. People who violate the holiness of Shabbat and Yom Tov have not received the Torah properly and do not fear God. People who push and harrass physically and verbally Jews in prayer cannot pretend to be Jews. People who desecrate a Torah because they don’t know enough halakha (Jewish law) to realize that women can touch it and read from it should be banned from the people of the Torah. People who commit all these abominations near the site of the Temple should not be allowed near any Jewish holy site or object. Leaders and teachers of people who commit all these abominations should be officially forbidden from falsely using the title “rabbi.” Houses of study where people are allowed to collect dirty diapers for the purpose of throwing them on other people should be closed permanently and dispersed, and never again allowed to be called “yeshivot.” All the people involved in such practices worship themselves alone and no transcendent God, they bring disgrace on Jewish tradition and endanger the Jewish people and its future on its land.”
While these words may sound harsh to many ears, they are tame in comparison to the malicious tirades delivered against Conservative and Reform Jews.
I would not want to be part of the verbal abuse of declaring other Jews to be “not Jews.” But if we accept the proposition of our critic cited above, namely that those who carry out such attacks are not practicing Judaism, then we are left with a question: Who are the real Jews practicing real Judaism? The answer, terrifying as it may be, is you.
This can be terrifying because it means that the responsibility for the survival of Judaism as we know it rests on your shoulders alone. We have awakened from the delusion that if we send a few dollars to some Yeshiva in Israel then “they” will make sure Judaism survives. It means that we have to live as Jews, we have to be the Jews, and we have to support our institutions that teach the traditions of Judaism as we know them. Lighting shabbat candles, reciting the Shema, coming to a daily or shabbat service, baking a halla, reading a passage from the Torah or other Jewish book — these are the redemptive acts that we ourselves must do. Our own synagogue, our United Hebrew School, Ezra Academy, Kadima-USY, Makom, JTS, MERCAZ, Masorti-Israel — and above all our own family — these are the institutions that we must support. No one else is going to Jew it for you.