American Orthodox leaders have a message for their non-Orthodox friends: Take a deep breath.
When Israel’s cabinet voted twice to further empower the country’s charedi Orthodox religious establishment last month, Reform, Conservative, and other non-Orthodox Zionist leaders were outraged. They canceled meetings with Israel’s prime minister. They gave an on-camera statement with an Israeli opposition figure. They launched lobbying efforts in Jerusalem. They accused Israel’s government of “betrayal.” They threatened legal action. One lay leader said she’d stop flying El Al, Israel’s national airline.
These leaders have decried the June 25 votes to suspend the agreement to expand the Western Wall’s non-Orthodox prayer area and to advance a bill that gave Israel’s chief rabbinate more power over Jewish conversions. This week, leaders also have criticized the rabbinate’s so-called “blacklist” of diaspora rabbis it does not trust to confirm the Jewish identities of immigrants to Israel.
But when it comes to the supposed crisis swirling between Israel and U.S. Jewry, America’s most prominent Orthodox organizations mostly have remained quiet. The Orthodox Union and Rabbinical Council of America, two umbrella American Orthodox bodies, both said that they are not commenting on the matter. The RCA will meet with the rabbinate next week regarding the list of rabbis; it has received assurances that the so-called blacklist may have been misconstrued.
And while some modern Orthodox rabbis have criticized Israel’s actions, they have not called for retaliatory action against the Israeli government. Others sympathize with what they see as the chief rabbinate’s defense of traditional Jewish law.
Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, a prominent modern Orthodox leader, was sympathetic with his non-Orthodox colleagues — up to a point. “I’m disappointed in the modern Orthodox for not responding strongly, because of the divisive effect that this has on the Jewish people,” said Lookstein, the rabbi emeritus of Kehilath Jeshurun, a modern Orthodox synagogue on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. “And I am concerned about some of the overreactions of liberal groups who are calling for all kinds of boycotts and actions on the part of American Jewry to punish Israel for these decisions. That kind of response will be more dangerous than the actions of the Israeli government itself.”
Charedi Americans, meanwhile, insist…