Like most of my fellow liberal Jews, I find it deplorable that the Israeli government reneged on a deal for egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall. I’m also feeling something that others probably aren’t, though: hope for a lesson learned about liberal Judaism’s own walls.
What the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate is doing to the liberal denominations, by claiming other expressions of Judaism are invalid, is what the Reform and Conservative movements have been doing to Jews like me for decades. So I encourage my friends in those movements to please hold onto this feeling and, in Rabbi Hillel’s famous formulation, “what is hateful to yourself, do not do to others.”
Growing up in Conservative Judaism, it was made quite clear to me that “good Jews” don’t intermarry and if I ever did, I should not expect to find a welcoming return. If anything, the timing of the Wall decision was lucky for the Conservative movement because it pushed the spotlight away from mounting frustration with their failed intermarriage policies. While Conservative rabbis no longer rail against intermarriage from the pulpit as in my youth, the message is still loud and clear. Who I married is perceived as a statement about my relationship to Judaism and an indicator of the kind of kids I will raise, and I am clearly “not Jewish enough.”
I get the same message, though more subtly, from Reform Judaism. To the Reform movement’s credit, the many intermarried households they serve rarely feel the official favoritism toward in-marriage — though they bump into it from time to time (half of the Reform rabbinate still would not officiate at an intermarriage). But despite my two decades of service as a Jewish communal professional, which includes having trained literally hundreds of Reform movement professionals and rabbis on outreach and engagement, if I applied to their rabbinic seminary, I’d be automatically disqualified simply for being intermarried.
In explaining its continued prohibition on admitting intermarried rabbinic students, the Reform movement claims that rabbis must live up to “higher standards” of Jewish observance. Well, Israel is applying even higher standards of Jewish observance at the Western Wall. Don’t they get to set standards too?
The real issue, regardless of whether liberal denominations get their place at the Wall or not, is that the policing of Jewish observance by Jews against other Jews is disastrous regardless of who’s doing…