First Ever Egalitarian Mincha in the Knesset Synagogue

Tuesday was a moment of triumph and a reminder of troubles faced by religious non-orthodox Jews in Israel. On Tuesday, January 24, for the first time in the history of the state of Israel, an egalitarian minyan prayed mincha in the Knesset synagogue.

The service was lead by Canadian Rabbi Jennifer Gorman. Two days later she wrote in her blog:

On Tuesday I led Mincha in an egalitarian minyan at the Knesset. It happened quietly, no fanfare at the time, but the joy and pride in the room was palpable. I’ve been jotting down notes since, trying to get the experience on paper, but, while I have pages of notes for every other day, my notes on this experience seem to consist of fragments and single words. The emotion is like a balloon inside me that seems to keep inflating. I left the Knesset shaking, tears in my eyes, my cheeks hurting from smiling, but even so, it wasn’t until the following day morning, seeing it in the news, that the significance really hit me. It’s like waking over and over on my birthday to the greatest present ever. With all my oral skills, the word that keeps repeating is, “wow.”

Rabbi Alan Silverstein, chari of the US Masorti Foundation, told the Jerusalem post:

It was an inspiring service and we were extremely happy to be praying in the beautiful synagogue of the parliament of the Jewish state. Each Shabbat we pray for the well-being of the State of Israel in Conservative communities worldwide, and here we had the opportunity to do this great mitzva in the synagogue of the Israeli Knesset, one of the most important symbols of Jewish sovereignty.

But there were also reminders of predjudice against non-orthodox practices, beginning with the way the historic minyan was reported in Israeli newspapers. The two major Israeli news services that covered the story could not bring themselves to acall the prayer service a minyan. The Jerusalem Post called it a “prayer service”. Ynet called it a “quorum”.

Haredi Members of the Knesset were unhappy but felt they had little ground for objection since the knesset synagogue was a public space. MK Israel Eichler (United Torah Judaism) told Ynet “Unfortunately, I know where we live. There’s nothing we can do about it.”

MK Nissim Zeev (Shas) equated the service to an arab prayer service and said that the only reason that the egalitarian minyan was tolerated was that the minyan was not at the regular time. At the regular prayer time it would have been a disgrace and provocation. . He referred to the egalitarian minyan as a “glorification of women” and told Ynet:

Even if Muhammad asks to pray there, I’ll say ‘tfadal’ (‘go ahead’ in Arabic)….”Thank God, Israel doesn’t have many communities of this kind, which sow the rift among the people of Israel … But when they arrive, you can’t prevent them from doing so in a public place like the Knesset.

In a phone interview with the Canadian Jewish News , Jennifer Gorman said that they were not “looking to make waves”. Masorti Jews davened every day and had asked in advance if the chapel would be available for them to use after their meetings with Knesset leaders.

Earlier in the day delegates from the Masort/Conservative movement met with MKs from Labor, Kadima, Likud, and Israel Beiteinu. The meetings focused on the impact of religious extremism on Israelis abroad.

The problem of viewing non-orthodox Jewish ritual as some sort of “less than” ritual with the same standing as Arab prayer is well known.

David Lissy, executive-director and CEO of the US Masorti Foundation observed

All of us love and support Israel and members of our communities are part of the central leadership of AIPAC, Hadassah and the Jewish Federations but the State of Israel degrades us time and again when it says that we are second-class Jews that are rabbis cannot conduct wedding ceremonies here and that our converts are not considered Jewish enough for the Jewish state. The discrimination against non-Orthodox movements in Israel does massive damage to the image of Israel as a state for all Jews.

Israeli Seth Farber, director of the ITIM religious rights group and an Orthodox rabbi seconded that observation. He told The Jerusalem Post that

…some very difficult decisions lie ahead. A lot of work still needs to be done to make Jews of all denominations feel comfortable in Israel, There isn’t enough strategic thinking going on to think about how Israel can be a homeland for all Jews. The state wasn’t founded to be insular and indifferent to Jewish people and so there needs to begin a sincere dialogue with Diaspora communities to tackle these issues.

You can see more pictures of the minyan here.


Categories: Exclusion of Jews, Signs of Progress | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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