This week, in "Cash, But Not Criticism," Sigal Samuel criticized a letter I sent to the members and supporters of the Rabbinical Assembly, the international umbrella organization for Conservative rabbis, after Anat Hoffman of Women of the Wall was arrested last week while praying at the Western Wall in Israel. Her arrest and detention for uttering the shema ought to find no sympathy from any Jew.
As Conservative Jews, we are proud to be part of a movement in which, in the United States, Israel and around the world, our rabbis and other colleagues prioritize women’s equality—especially in the most holy moments of prayer. While the Rabbinical Assembly’s entire international community of 1,600 Conservative rabbis is focused on advancing religious pluralism in Israel, we are especially proud of our rabbis who are in Israel. With the unique perspective of working on the ground from within the country, they act as real agents of change in our mission to achieve full religious pluralism and women’s full equality. This is why we should support them—with both funds and a unified front. We must herald our resources to do all we can to support the channels of Conservative Judaism in Israel in the fight for women’s equality.
Undoubtedly, it is time for Israel to change. It is time for women to be treated respectfully and as equals. No religious sect or minority should have the power to impact negatively the religious experience of their fellow Jews.
But this is an ongoing mission, one that we have been involved in for decades. Symbols are crucial because they help people internalize what these struggles mean—not only to those most frequently and directly affected, but to all of us as a unified people and community. Symbolic acts allow people to experience injustice and the suffering caused by inequality. We must remember that achieving change is a long-term struggle. It takes focus and unity and a respect for each other’s perspectives. It takes “intellectual critique” combined with “financial support,” to use Ms. Samuel’s words. We will need the courts, we will need education, and we will need strong communities of committed Israelis who seek to change their own society.
At the same time, I wish to make clear that we share an unambiguous commitment to Israel and her safety and security. We are outraged when women are not treated equally to men, whether in the religious sphere, or any other sphere of public life. Many have asserted the right and the need to offer critique of policies. The Conservative Rabbinate has and continues to do so. But we must also be allowed to express our ongoing love and commitment for Israel; she deserves no less.
Matthew Kalman broke the story of physicist Stephen Hawking’s boycott of Israel. Then Cambridge University tried to falsely deny it.