“A lot of the students were very upset and shocked. You’d think that the Knesset would be a place of ingathering of the Jewish people, but actually we learned that it has boundaries that don’t include liberal Jews. Paradoxically, this decision served as an appropriate end to our conversation about religion and state in Israel."
Knesset Bans Non-Orthodox Rabbis And Rabbinical Students From Praying In Knesset’s Synagogue, Which Is Reserved For Orthodox Use Only, Knesset Speaker Says
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
As if anyone needed it, here's more proof Israel, in violation of its own laws, discriminates against non-Orthodox Jewish movements.
A group of about 60 male and female non-Orthodox rabbinical students attended an event in Israel’s Parliament the Knesset earlier this week and found out firsthand that despite laws that are supposed to protect freedom of religion, they are truly not wanted in Israel.
While most of the rabbinical students were members of the Masorti (Conservative) Movement, there were also students from all major and minor non-Orthodox seminaries worldwide in the group, which was attending an event in Knesset organized by Jewish Pluralism Watch, a Masorti-movement-founded organization which which monitors elected officials behavior on matters of religion and state.
According to a report in Ha'aretz, the co-ed group asked permission to use of the Knesset’s synagogue to pray mincha (the afternoon prayer service). The brief prayer service would have been egalitarian.
But Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party refused to allow them to do so. The Knesset synagogue, Edelstein reportedly said, can only be used only for Orthodox prayer services. Instead, Edelstein suggested the group use a non-sacred space in the Knesset building.
“A lot of the students were very upset and shocked. You’d think that the Knesset would be a place of ingathering of the Jewish people, but actually we learned that it has boundaries that don’t include liberal Jews. Paradoxically, this decision served as an appropriate end to our conversation about religion and state in Israel,” Rabbi Joel Levy, the executive director of the Masorati Movement’s Jerusalem yeshiva and the man who asked Edelstein for permission to use the synagogue, said.
But it isn’t as if the Knesset was honest and upfront with the liberal rabbinical students and their teachers. At first, the group was reportedly told the reason they could not use the Knesset’s synagogue was because it was being used.
“So I told them we would wait [until the synagogue was free], and from there the request got shuffled up to [Edelstein] the speaker of the Knesset,” Levy said. Edelstein then told them they could not use the synagogue because they were not Orthodox.
Yizhar Hess, the executive director of the Masorti Movement in Israel, defended Edelstein, claiming that Edelstein is a long-time friend of liberal Jews, that the request to use the synagogue only came from one of the students “at the spur of the moment,” and that “the Knesset is blessed to have” Edelstein as speaker.
“The issue in question came up at the spur of the moment during the visit by one of the students, and knowing the Knesset speaker as I do, I have no doubt he will delve into the matter and find an appropriate solution. In his previous position as minister of Diaspora affairs and in his current position, Edelstein never made us feel discriminated against. The Knesset is blessed to have a speaker who understands the Jewish world, in all its different facets, so well,” Hess, who is widely but quietly looked down on by Conservative rabbis and scholars worldwide, said.
“Edelstein did not respond to a question from Haaretz asking him on what basis he made the decision to ban egalitarian prayer in the Knesset synagogue,” Ha’aretz reported.
Member of Knesset Dov Lipman of the centrist largely secular Yesh Atid Party, is a liberal haredi rabbi who immigrated to Israel from the US. Lipman “found himself serving as an intermediary between the group and the Knesset speaker’s office” as the conflict over using the synagogue escalated, Ha’aretz noted.
“There’s no doubt we need to work to find a solution to this problem, and I intend to address it with the speaker of the Knesset. After all, I’m heavily invested in making sure all Jews feel at home in Israel and certainly in the Knesset. Personally, I have absolutely no problem with the same synagogue being used at different times by different groups,” Lipman said, adding that reserving space in the Knesset for a particular use normally requires considerable advance notice.
Use of the synagogue for prayer – unless a previously scheduled event is taking place inside it – should not normally require reservations when the group seeking to use it is already in the building for an approved reason, because the specific purpose Israel’s secular founders had when building the synagogue there was to provide space for non-secular Jews to pray. (Indeed, three years ago a delegation from the Conservative Movement in the Knesset to meet with lawmakers spontaneously and without asking permission entered the synagogue and held a brief prayer service. They were not stopped.) But Lipman failed make this point.
Instead, in an attempt to at least partially justify Edelstein’s ban, Lipman went on to say that several hundred Orthodox workers in the Knesset use the synagogue regularly and “through a complete lack of understanding of Jewish life and values in America, they would view an egalitarian service in the synagogue as an affront.”