Religious Diversity in Israel

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As one of our Israel Uncovered trip participants noted in his blog post last week, Israel is a complicated place that invites many questions. One question that I’ve been thinking about lately is the status of religious diversity, particularly within the Jewish community in Israel. Who has access to religious space and who has control over religious thought? This question was brought to the forefront this week because of two occurrences in Israel in the past two days; both of which have to do with religious pluralism and diversity in the Holy Land. The first is the passing of Rabbi David Hartman, z”l. Rabbi Hartman was a prominent Jewish thinker, philosopher and the founder of the Shalom Hartman Institute. He espoused a liberal brand of Orthodox Judaism in Israel. His views were seen as radical by some but nearly all can agree that he was an essential thought-leader and brought an important perspective to the quality of conversation about Jewish life in Israel. One young eulogizer wrote about Rabbi Hartman’s teachings regarding the importance of relationships, which we at The David Project can definitely get behind.

The second thing that happened this week that made me think about religious pluralism occurred at the Western Wall (Kotel). This space beneath the Temple Mount functions as an Orthodox synagogue with separate spaces for men and women to pray. There is no egalitarian space here and Women of the Wall have been fighting for the right of women to equal prayer space here for more than two decades. This week ten women were arrested at the Kotel for wearing prayer shawls (women are prohibited from wearing religious garments and reading Torah at the Kotel). Whether or not one agrees with the tactics of these women, the arrests certainly raise issues for me. Don’t the Israeli police have more important things to do than harass religious women who want to pray at a holy site?

How can we work towards more religious diversity in Israel?

Image taken from the New York Times article on the arrests of 10 women praying at the Western Wall