Head of the Daniel Centers for Progressive Judaism
Sukkot 2016: Rabbi Meir Azari
Rabbi Meir Azari writes, "The recent years have seen a blossoming of Reform communities, Conservative, secular and the like, situated between what an Israeli would refer to as Orthodox and secular. Many are seeking a Jewish voice for good and equality."
Sukkot 2016: Rabbi Meir Azari
The Sukkah of Love
"And you shall rejoice in your festival," thus the Torah asks of us, and continues with words of encouragement and intention for the Festival of Sukkot. The Torah asks that our joy will not only be for us, but also an inheritance for our children and for all segments of society and its component parts.
The sense in recent years is that Israeli Jewish society has become less and less happy. A forlorn feeling envelops us. Many threats, crises, and conflicts make their impact. We are angry, scared, and so stressed. We are predators and prey alike. We want so much, and many times we don't get what we ask for. We so long for peace and tranquility, feelings that are so distant from us. The social justice we once felt was within our grasp is once again trampled on our streets.
One of the most prominent fractures in Israeli society is the status of women. This year, as in years past, we often heard voices from the ultra-Orthodox and Zionist Orthodox sectors of society calling for the exclusion of women from the public sphere, calling for them to take their places at the periphery of the camp. Once again there were storms over women singing, their place at funerals, segregated bus lines, and more. Just before the end of the Jewish calendar year, there were those who thought that at an event at the central, symbolic Israeli plaza would be held with women being excluded from taking the stage. Nonetheless, I suggest, in parallel, that we should take note of the processes of change and advancement in Israel. Out of love of Judaism, and its vision, which evolves to meet the challenges of the time, we should notice this phenomenon and take hope.
More and more Jews in recent years have been choosing a range of colors between white and black, colorful, lively and stimulating. The recent years have seen a blossoming of Reform communities, Conservative, secular and the like, situated between what an Israeli would refer to as Orthodox and secular. Many are seeking a Jewish voice for good and equality. I write these words as a Reform rabbi who just this week conducted 6 egalitarian weddings between the cities of Or `Aqiva in the north and Ashqelon in the south; and just this week 5 families celebrated bar or bat mitzvahs with us.
The holidays of the month of Tishrei in recent years allow us to see the processes of changed and development in Jewish Israeli society, alongside growing storms of religious coercion this year. Alongside the Sisyphean struggle for religious freedom, science and culture in Israel; a struggle that is so urgent and complex, it is important that we also recognize and be proud of the positive processes occurring right before our eyes.
The public shofar blasts that were reserved for men, are produced more and more by women that seek communities of egalitarianism and genuine partnership.
And so, during the months of Elul and Tishrei in hundreds of synagogues and congregations the voice of the Shofar is proudly sounded by women. In egalitarian houses of prayer, Reform, Conservative, and secular, loaded to the brim; the public shofar blasts that were reserved for men, are produced more and more by women that seek communities of egalitarianism and genuine partnership.
More and more Israelis are proudly freeing themselves from the chains of the Orthodox establishment, looking for an egalitarian Jewish expression that is relevant for our day. Many feel that the voice of the shofar sounded throughout egalitarian communities in Israel symbolizes change, renewal, release from bondage, and correction of wrongs.
One of the points of rupture, if not the main matter in the renewal of Judaism is the relation to women and their status. At a time when in some of Israel's communities the exclusion of women is reinforced and strengthened, at a time when two religious political parties represented in the Government do not permit women on their membership lists, at a time when attempts are made to remove women from the stage at public events, at a time when women singing can create a storm, it is only appropriate and heartening that other communities are growing - the "guests" of change and renewal. These Jews are not only fighting against religious coercion, but rather these brave men and women are seeking to establish a relevant Jewish alternative for the time and place in which we live.
A Jew who choose to pray in an egalitarian prayer quorum; a Jew who chooses to pray along with a female prayer leader, where a woman delivers a sermon on Torah; a Jew who visits a sukkah alongside diverse Sukkot guests - the familiar men, as well as the mothers of our nation; he is a Jew who chooses to join the unique circle that stands against the forces of darkness and the radicalization of the religious establishment - the clear voice of the Jewish alternative.
The more communities without partitions between men and women are strengthened, the greater the proportion of women in Jewish and religious leadership, the easier it will become to fend off the calls for the exclusion of women from the public sphere, for gender segregated transport. The more Sarah's voice is heard alongside Abraham's voice, we will become free from the fear of Israel's state empowered, monopolistic rabbinical courts.
The more men and women learn that alongside our forefather Isaac, we can invite to our sukkot as guests our foremother Rivka or Henrietta Szold, Jewish Israeli society will be bettered and inspired. We come not in the same manner as the haters and opponents of renewal to destroy, but rather to broaden and improve, to add holiness and deepen our common destiny.