A few months ago, when Women of the Wall (WoW) held their Rosh Chodesh prayer service at the Kotel, I joined them. The experience was powerful, and it demonstrated just how much the struggle for the right to pray at the Wall is representative of a much larger issue: freedom of religion. Prayer at the Kotel isn’t just about how who gets to pray wearing what. It raises larger issues about how we conduct religious conversions, how we marry, and how we are buried — that is, how we make religion a personal or communal practice rather than an isolating or estranging one.
Early in our statehood, politicians gave control over religious decisions and Judaism’s holy sites to the ultra-Orthodox. Today, we need to take religion back from an oligarchy that fails to see how far it has pushed Jews away from Judaism.
Jewish life is everywhere in Israel. Our educational system, national holidays, language, and much else weave Judaism into the Zionist project and the State of Israel. But when all of Judaism’s wide streams are sucked into a tiny stream, people are pushed away from all aspects of Judaism. Zionism, as a movement encompassing and incorporating Judaism as a religion, must continue to innovate and grow, and it must understand where Israeli Jews stand today — facing and embracing a modern world in which Judaism as a religion is a choice.
As a member of the 19th Knesset, I know that this is the time to redefine the relationship between religion and the State of Israel. President Obama said in his speech when he was here in Israel, “As a politician, I can assure you that political leaders will not take risks if the people do not push them to do so.” I believe that statement to be true, and I believe Women of the Wall is pushing politicians in much the same way that we did in the summer 2011 tent-movement social protests. And, as a member of the Knesset for the Labor Party, I hear that voice.
As a member of Knesset, I hope this government will create a “democracy” of sorts for Judaism, one with room for civil marriage, divorce, and gender and sexual identity differences, and one with a serious option for
religious women to do military service. Over the past months, I’ve met with the rabbi of the Kotel and the leadership of Women of the Wall in an effort to reach a compromise, perhaps along the lines of Natan Sharansky’s plan. I hope to assist this process going forward, advocating for a freer, more just administration of the Kotel.
Born in Israel, the homeland of the Jewish people, I can’t abide anyone deciding for me, or millions of Israelis like me, how Judaism should be manifest. No one should tell me that my Judaism is not “good enough.” And, as a Jewish woman in Israel, I refuse to be pushed aside as a second-class citizen. No one branch of Judaism can determine how I live my life — as a Jew or as a woman. The morning I stood with the women of Women of the Wall, I felt accepted by a Judaism in which I could believe what was in my heart. It made me remember that religion, at its core, is about just that: the contents of the heart.email print