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Posted on February 25, 2022
Jews against Jews; Dangers to Jews
A couple of weeks ago, the Scholar Stream lecture (by Dr. David Fishman) was about the conflict between the early Hasidic movement and their rationalist opponents (Mitnagdim). The controversy was fierce, including ex-communication and other extreme measures. Though there were some eyebrows raised at the depth of the animosity, and there was surprise that the detente between the Hasidim and the Mitnagdim came at the hands of the Russian government, no one in my discussion group was particularly surprised that the rancor existed. After all, we hear similar things today.
Take this week, for example. In the name of “strengthening the connection between Israel and the Diaspora based on our shared Jewish identity,” a committee of American Orthodox leaders are in Israel lobbying the government against recognition of Reform and Conservative conversions; against broadening the system of kashrut certification in Israel; against the Kotel compromise which would allow an egalitarian davening in a section of the kotel on the other side of the Mughrabi bridge. Obviously, they believe that leaving Reform and Conservative Jews out of the Jewish community increases “shared Jewish identity”. If that sounds Orwellian to you, I assure you that it is not because of the way I have framed it.
We have a big problem in the Jewish world. The fact that this is not a new problem is hardly reassuring.
And the timing is extremely bad as antisemitism increases throughout the world. We are well aware of the rise in antisemitic incidents and rhetoric here in the US. We hear far too frequently about similar happenings in Europe. And now we must keep our eye on what is happening in Ukraine. Jews have a rich and complex history in Ukraine; historically, Ukraine has not been a particularly friendly place for Jews. Today the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is Jewish. It is hard to imagine how the conflict between Russia and Ukraine will be good for the Jews. Right now Israel is welcoming hundreds of Ukrainian Jews who are no longer comfortable at home; Israel is also preparing for the possibility of an evacuation of all of Ukraine’s Jews, which reportedly number between 150,000-200,000. Yesterday all the Conservative Movement affiliates came together for an international prayer for peace in Ukraine. You can watch a recording of the event here. In addition, Masorti Olami and the USCJ are raising money to help Jews of Ukraine.
At the beginning of Parashat, Vayakhel Moshe gathered the whole Israelite community together to build the mishkan, where Jews were to gather to be together and strive to reach the Holy Blessed One. May we work together today as we did then, united towards the shared goal of reaching towards God and towards godliness, with the Holy Blessed One in Jewish community.