Monday, April 7, 2008

Diaspora Jews?

The Jewish Agency head, Zev Bielski and the Diaspora Cabinet Secretary, Oved Yechezkel are in the process of redefining Israel’s relationship with Jews abroad. The whole thing seems absurd and another means of legitimizing their jobs. Essentially the Jewish Agency is a throwback to pre - state days. It was kept alive as a political gesture providing employment to political hacks that are very low on the “lists” and have no chance of becoming Chevrei Knesset. Had it not been for the funding provided by UJA, Keren Hayesod and other Federations there would be no Jewish Agency. It relies on that funding, so to downplay the philanthropic angle by redefining the relationship is disingenuous.

Even if one was to argue that a redefinition of the relationship was long overdo it would seem silly to engage this conversation with Bielski or Yechezkel. Bielski, as was already mentioned above is the head of an impotent organization that is bolstered by American Jews who are in need of lackeys. After all, philanthropists love hobnobbing with politicians when they visit Israel. The organization isn’t respected in Israel and employs a good number of Olim. Israelis who work there are either third rate political hacks, usually ashamed to admit to their friends who their employer is. Yechezkel is the Diaspora Cabinet Secretary. His title tells you everything you need to know about his understanding of the Jewish community outside of Israel.

I have yet to meet a Jew in America or Europe who considers himself to be in an existential state of Diaspora. True, there are Jews who believe that they are in a perpetual state of Galut relieved only of this cumbersome burden only when the Messiah shows. However, most Jews, certainly those Jews that Yechezkel has been mandated to relate and redefine do not see themselves in a state of Diaspora. How could they? With international airlines flying everyday it is virtually impossible to play the Diaspora card. As long as Yechezkel and other government hacks see the Jewish community in a heightened state of Diasporatic angst there is no chance that they can help, understand, much less redefine the relationship between the two communities.

I would even suggest that until Yechekel and Bielski bring into line the Chief Rabbinate there is no chance of redefining anything. The RCA and the Chief Rabbinate have entered into an unholy alliance whereby they have now erected an orthodox stranglehold on the conversion process. There is, to say the least, a significant amount of non – orthodox conversion in America, not to mention the staggering number of intermarried couples who chose to identify Jewishly. These people and their families together with the liberal religious community make up the overwhelming majority of American Jews. How do they propose to redefine a relationship with people that their Chief Rabbinate refuses to recognize as Jews? As things stand the relationship that will be redefined can only be with the orthodox community. Mostly everyone else is de facto excluded. The largest movement in America, the reform movement recognizes one as being Jewish through patrilineal descent. How will the Yechezkel’s of Israel’s establishment institutions hope to redefine their relationship with the reform movement without dealing with this issue? It’s almost like Israel recognizing the “right of return” of Palestinians.

Redefining the relationship with the Jewish community outside of Israel will require bold moves on behalf of the religious establishment in Israel. Principally, they will have to understand that Jews abroad, unlike their Israel counterparts are not subject to an autocratic system whereby ones’ Jewish status is defined by a rigid orthodox standard. They are free to marry who they want, when they want. Jews living outside of Israel aren’t bound by halachic standards such as a forbidding a “cohen” to marry a divorced woman or for that matter a woman marrying a Jewish man without a “get”. There are rabbis that simply do not recognize these halachic standards. And they aren’t the exception to the rule. On the contrary, it is the small orthodox community that is the exception to the rule. So the question is what will be the nature of this redefinition of the relationship between the community of Israel and those Jews living outside of Israel.

Logic would dictate that the only way in which such a discourse could take place would be if the program was between the halachic community in Israel and the halachic community outside Israel. But then why bother. The orthodox community, while vocal, is on a fraction of the overall Jewish community and certainly aren’t representative of the larger Jewish community. Perhaps that’s the whole point. After all, the anachronistic, inept Jewish Agency will spend significant funds, spin their wheels, produce a lot of paper and in the end will land up yellowing on someone’s shelf in a back office on King George Street.