Friday, 18 November 2016

Same Thing Over Again

Every once in a while hope for a progressive orthodoxy in this country bubbles up. Learned, committed self-defined orthodox Jews start talking about changing women’s roles, an openness towards critical scholarship and the like, and a new dawn is heralded. For those - our founder Rabbi among them - who waited for decades for Orthodox leadership to emerge from intellectual culs-de-sac these flickers of hope seem to offer so much. But then pressure is brought to bear from extremists, the so-called middle-ground buckles - not so much from being persuaded of the justification of the right-wingers, but simply from threats of exclusion. And the leaders of any new progressive development are whipped back into place, or cast adrift.
I’ve been reflecting on this pattern, centuries old at this point, this week as I’ve read two very similar stories. One regarding one of the most highly regarded educators operating - or attempting to operate - on this seam. Elie Jesner has found himself banned from the notionally modern-Orthodox, London School of Jewish Studies for the ‘sins’ of teaching at the pluralist Jewish day-school JCoSS and as part of a series organised by the Friends of Louis Jacobs. He’s written about it here.

Miriam Lorie found her invitation to speak with Bat Mitzvah students at Elstree and Borehamwood United Synagogue rescinded for the ‘sin’ of being involved in Borehamwood Partnership Minyan. More here.…/im-on-my-shuls-blacklist-and-it-…/

In a world with plenty of big problems these tiny vignettes can seem petty, but they raise the most important questions about the nature of the religious quest. 
On whose side do we stand? 
Are we prepared to give support to organisations whose intolerant fundamentalist beliefs we do not share and who practice the gentle art of persuasion with threats (and acts) of excommunication?

I fail to understand why the great masses of Anglo-Jewry continue to allow their commitment, their memberships and their money to be attached to a denomination that behaves this way. It’s unacceptable. Since Louis was treated similarly it has happened time and time again and the position of orthodoxy at the ‘top-table’ of both Anglo-Jewry and national religious engagement seems poisoned by such behaviour.

It’s an honour to serve a community founded because of a refusal to tolerate such orthodox bullying. It’s an honour to wear, proudly, the badge of being Masorti and non-orthodox. The badge stands for a willingness to engage with truths from wherever they may be found and a desire to celebrate, within our communities, the broadest range of diversities on issues of gender, sexuality, belief and even commitment. Yes, I believe we are a stronger community because we value ‘even’ those Jews who don’t believe full observance is the only goal of a Jewish life.

If you have friends who affiliate Orthodox, please pass this note on to them. Tell ‘em they are welcome here. Or I can put them in touch with communities more local. And if you share in my fortune of being a member of New London, support us; come more often, give more generously, be more committed to making our future brighter so the ‘other’ option - a Judaism of open-minds and open-hearts can prove ever more tempting to those who no longer wish to affiliate as Orthodox.

Shabbat shalom

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