Shoftim - weekly Torah portion

Just over a week ago a huge billboard calling “A Jew Doesn’t Expel a Jew.” appeared on the Ayalon highway, also known as highway 20, a traffic congested artery that crosses Tel Aviv from north to south, just near the Azrieli Towers. Many people wondered why these words have suddenly resurfaced remembering that they were used at this time of the year twelve years ago during the Israeli departure from the Gaza strip. The answer popped up when the signage on the billboard was updated a few days later, “A Jew Doesn’t Expel a Jew. From the Kotel.” The modern Menorah logo of the Israel Reform Movement and its name, prominently visible. I have no doubt whatsoever that many have felt and will feel uncomfortable with this message. I have personally heard conflicting reasons for such discomfort. However, like every message the goal is not bring us to our comfort zone, rather, it wants to generate a debate, critique, an attempt to understand and a set about change.

This discourse is of particular importance because in a matter of a few days the Supreme Court of Justice will be hearing our complaint about the issues relating to the Wailing Wall and therefore it is of an utmost importance that our voices are heard loud, clear, unmistaken, unapologetic and demanding – justice. The state of affairs where we cannot pray at the Kotel according to our Minhag, especially after a compromise has been reached and approved by the government, is unacceptable and cannot continue. A humiliating body search at the entrance to the Kotel performed on our daughters, wives, rabbis and cantors is a disgrace to the Israeli Government and its prime minister, the chief of police and the police of Israel. It is a disgrace that we can no longer agree with, accept or live with, and it must dissipate into thin air sooner rather than later before more damage is made.

Moses demands, “You shall appoint for yourself judges and officers in all your towns which the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not distort justice; you shall not be partial, and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous. Justice, it is justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the Lord your God is giving you.” It seems that our officers have failed during the Rosh Hodesh of Elul prayers, and we have to bluntly state that, that it happened yet again, with all this business of justice. An officer who is unable to see an injustice made before his or her eye is performing one of the worst crimes that serves the ultimate wickedness. An officer seeing what the chief rabbi of the Kotel together with his appointed guards have been doing to our people is closing his eyes to justice, she collaborates with the worst. They allow unjustified confiscation of national property of the Jewish people. Now this issue is to be decided by a court of law, the job of cleaning away this disgrace is before their door step because they have to clean what the ministers of the government were not wise enough to cleanse ages ago, by simply applying justice; Justice!

The pursuit of justice is something that I also ask and demand from ourselves as I also listen to voices amongst us who feel that this issue of the Kotel is too high on the priority list of the Israel Reform Movement. I think that it is important to understand that even for those of us who do not feel that the Kotel is of the highest priority they have still the obligation of the active pursuit of justice; such justice means to stand with those who want to exercise their right of access to the Kotel in a Jewish way that happens to be somewhat different from that of Rabbi Rabinovich, the ways of some haredi politicians, and other opportunist politicians. Our Movement seeks justice and is involved in many aspects of applying justice, making it practical and accessible and not just easy to declare proverbs. Where we see an injustice it is there where we are going to be, especially in those cases where we can be of significant influence. We will raise the flag amongst the first, will be there amongst the few, and then, slowly but surely, one by one, then the masses, will join.

This week we also read the words of the prophet Isiah who said, “Thus says your Lord, the Lord, even your God Who contends for His people, ‘Behold, I have taken out of your hand the cup of reeling, The chalice of My anger; You will never drink it again. I will put it into the hand of your tormentors, Who have said to you, ‘Lie down that we may walk over you.’ You have even made your back like the ground And like the street for those who walk over it. Awake, awake, Clothe yourself in your strength, O Zion; Clothe yourself in your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city; For the uncircumcised and the unclean Will no longer come into you. Shake yourself from the dust, rise up, O captive Jerusalem; Loose yourself from the chains around your neck, O captive daughter of Zion.’” It may take time but we shall also see how this this cup of reeling is taken away, that monopoly on Judaism that was given to one of many streams of Judaism that is trying to control us all. Its days are now numbered, we will call for justice, seek justice and pursue it in just ways, and we shall reach our destination and accomplish our goals. We call upon our supporters, yet again, to reach out, wake up, dress up, we have a noble cause here. It is time for a and unclean religious establishment that protects its rights while dismissing the rights of others to be removed. The attorney general did not want to present their position to the court so they had to hire a private attorney, at the public’s cost, of course, who attempts to argue their case by using the King’s Order-in-Council as if a British King is still walking amongst us here in Israel and is a legal authority. They may have forgotten the words of Hatikvah speaking of us being free on our land and that we must remember that times when we were slaves in Egypt. Yet we, free men and women, do remember, we are not afraid and shall remain tireless in our pursuit of the Mitzvah, “Justice, it is justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the Lord your God is giving you.”

Shabbat Shalom.

Reuven Marko, 4 Elul 5777, 25 August 2017

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