Let’s pretend to change political and spiritual realities
I’ve already written last week about our era of make-believe. The evacuation of the Amona settlement, I wrote, was a manufactured drama. The settlers needed it, the coalition needed it. The outcome did not change, but the actors played their part with reasonable success. Thus, other actors feel the need to participate in their own drama of make believe. Let’s pretend that the Knesset can truly pass an “outpost bill” that could withstand legal challenge. Let’s pretend that the Orthodox Union can truly – by issuing a statement – reverse the trend of women becoming clergy in Orthodox synagogues.
Let me deal with both.
1. The outpost bill
The outpost bill aims to prevent evacuations like Amona, when Jews sit on private Arab land in the West Bank for a long time. It essentially says that Palestinian owners will get compensation – and Jews will not be evacuated. The Attorney General warned that this law is illegal. The Prime Minister asked the Knesset not to vote on the legislation prior to his meeting with President Trump. But the Knesset, as of Monday morning, seems insistent.
Why? Make believe is the answer.
The head of the Jewish Home is criticized by his base for failing to prevent the Amona evacuation. The members of the Likud party are worried that if they postpone the vote Bennet will make them look leftish. Other members of the coalition just don’t care. Why should they care? It is widely assumed that the law is indeed illegal, and that the High Court will strike it down. If that happens, everybody wins. Israel does not have a problematic law on its books. The leaders of the right look bold and daring. The prime minister proves his better judgment. The opposition proves that it fought against a truly problematic law. The court takes the heat. The court is not part of the political system, so no politician really cares if the justices take the heat.
Brace yourself: The right is going to celebrate a non-achievement. The left is going to mourn a non-death. The right is going to pretend that the new legislation solves a major problem for Israel – it does not. The left is going to pretend that the new legislation is yet another sign that Israel is committing suicide – the legislation means no such thing.
2. The OU Statement
The American Orthodox Union issued a statement according to which women will not be allowed to serve as clergy in Orthodox synagogues. The statement pathetically also says: “just as the Rabbinic Panel has made clear that women serving in clergy roles or holding clergy titles is at odds with halacha and our mesorah, the Panel has also proclaimed – and celebrated – the important, and fundamentally successful roles that women can and must play within our communal and synagogue structures, including as educators and scholars.”
Some more make believe. Let’s pretend that any of the proponents of women’s elevation was waiting to hear from this OU panel. Let’s pretend that any of these proponents is going to follow the ruling. Let’s pretend that “Orthodoxy” is still a stream of Judaism cohesive enough to be considered a stream.
This statement, again, is an everybody-wins type of decision.
The ruling rabbis win: they will not be attacked by fellow conservative Orthodox rabbis. Yes, they will have to deal with some criticism from the more liberal Orthodox voices. But let’s be honest – attacks from liberals are usually less aggressive and hence of less concern.
Conservative Orthodoxy wins: their way is still the highway of Orthodoxy. They might see that the wind is blowing in new directions, but at the moment they are still able to withstand the wind and hold the line.
The Orthodox Union wins: it has proved to be no less Orthodox than the ultra-Orthodox organizations.
The liberal Orthodox groups win: they need someone to fight against and a cause to rally their troops against. Had they been less trigger-happy, they would shrug this statement off – why should they even care about a statement or a ruling of this or that group of rabbis? They do, though. The battle is part of the platform.
Orthodox women win: Their “issue” is back on the table. It has been proved, once again, to be the defining issue of Orthodoxy today.
But what has changed as a result of this statement? Nothing has changed. Nothing at all.