Rabbi YAEL SPLANSKY
Holy Blossom Temple, Toronto
Rabbi MARK FISHMAN
Congregation Beth Tikvah, Montreal
Rabbi Splansky: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talks about klal Yisrael (the totality of world Jewry) and “one Wall for one people,” yet he’s sold his brothers and sisters for a bag of silver-coin votes. We aren’t alone in our outrage. A recent poll tells us that two-thirds of Israelis oppose the government’s direction with regard to conversions and the Kotel. You are studying at the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. How is the matter being discussed there?
Rabbi Fishman: When it comes to the Kotel controversy, let me begin by saying that Netanyahu chose expediency over principle, because of a calculated political need to keep his coalition happy. This is the sad but real world of politics and it fills me with pessimism – in the world of political gain, principles of righteousness are pushed aside. Yet let me be provocative here: the entire Kotel is not a synagogue. It never was and never should be. I believe that we should free the Kotel from all formal services and restore it to its previous state: a bare wall remaining from the Temple that Jews have approached for personal, individual prayer. The moment it becomes “owned” by anyone, or any group, we immediately divest it from whatever value it may have once had.
Rabbi Splansky: I agree the Kotel should never have become a synagogue under the auspices of one rabbi. I would support your solution of a return to it being a public holy place. I’ve seen early photographs of the Kotel being used as a place for women and men to come for private prayer – no mechitzah, no minyanim, no bar mitzvah machine. But that model is even further off the table than the current model calling for separate, but equal, prayer spaces.
We don’t have a vote in Israel, but we do have a voice. Israel’s Declaration of Independence says so. We are duty-bound to raise our voices now, when the Jewish character of the Jewish state is being tested.
Rabbi Fishman: The greater issue, I believe, is that we must be seen as the laughing stock of the whole world. While the UN and the world is mocking our connection to the Kotel, we are fighting with each other as to who is allowed to go there and pray. At this time of year, we find ourselves in a period of national mourning and tragedy over the loss of what was once the religious, cultural, spiritual and political centre of our world. We now mourn for three weeks in a period known as “between the narrow places,” and yet, we still seem to be spinning our wheels, unable to move forward.
Rabbi Splansky: A very fair-minded and accomplished congregant recently wrote to me. His Jewish identity is rock solid, but when he read the recent articles about the conversion and Kotel controversies in The CJN, he wrote: “My love for the State of Israel is wavering. How can Reform Jews love the State of Israel when it displays such negative views towards Reform and other progressive Jews in Israel and worldwide?” How would you respond to his plea for rabbinic guidance?
Rabbi Fishman: Our task and our challenge is to figure out how to live here together. Surely, we all have a stake in the future of the Jewish People in the State of Israel. I believe that those who live in Israel have a primary voice. Yet, even we who love Israel from a distance also have a role to play. We must focus on matters of Jewish revival, creating a sense of unity and community. By showing others the way through our own behaviour, we begin to create small ripples of change that ultimately grow into waves of renewal.