David Rotem said last week that the Reform movement is not Jewish. “It is another religion,” he is reported as having said.
Mr. Rotem represents Yisrael Beytenu in the Israeli Knesset. Given that the party name translates to Israel Is Our Home, the question of exactly whose home it might be inevitably presents itself.
Mr. Rotem is chair of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. In 2010, he spearheaded a bill on conversion that would have consolidated all power over conversion in the office of the chief rabbinate, and so invalidated most non-Orthodox conversions around the world. After an outcry from the diaspora, the bill was dropped.
A similarly loud outcry from many corners of the organized Jewish world met Mr. Rotem’s comments this time, and he apologized quickly. “I had no intention of hurting anyone or the Reform movement,” he said, adding that any child of a Jewish mother is Jewish. (By not recognizing the Jewishness of any convert he seems to have at least attempted to sidestep the conversion issue.)
But it is time for us as a community to consider the deep chasms that divide us from each other. To be sure, those divisions are not new, but they seem to be widening. Perhaps it is the weather that brings such images to mind, but it seems as each small subgroup of us is on our own ice floe as they bang into each other before they float separately down the river and out of view.
It is normal and human to assume that no matter where were are on the spectrum, we are in full and sole possession of the truth. But we all are human, and so that cannot be true. Each of us, even the most self-assured and self-righteous among us, can see only a fraction of the truth.
We are all part of one people. In the most practical sense, if Israel were to alienate the non-Orthodox who make up a majority of Jews outside its borders, its situation would go from today’s grim to absolutely dire. And in a larger sense, we all depend on each other’s partial view to combine to a full one.
It is unfortunate, given his responsibilities, that Mr. Rotem seems to have such disdain for Jews unlike himself. It would be disastrous would his sensibilities be allowed to guide Israel’s policy.