Statement on Gathering at Home of Israeli President Rivlin


After months of acrimony, the leaders of Conservative and Masorti Judaism issued words of praise for Israeli Reuven Rivlin,  following the pre-Tisha B’Av gathering he hosted at his official residence last night with the heads of Orthodox, Conservative/Masorti and Reform Judaism.

The event, a Torah study seminar, was built around the theme of unity. The speakers included Rabbi Chaya Rowen-Baker of the Ramot Zion Masorti community in Jerusalem, Rabbi Meir Azari of the Daniel Center for Progressive Judaism in Tel Aviv, Dr. Moti Zeira, of the Hamidrasha at Oranim College and Rabbi Benny Lau ofJerusalem’s Ramban Community.

Billed as an opportunity to unite the diverse Jewish community, the gathering achieved its aim, said Rabbi Steven C. Wernick, CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

“The fact that, following months of adversity, harmony was achieved through a singular – and significant – act is a reminder that positive change is always a possibility,” he said. “Following months of bruised feelings, President Rivlin’s generous gesture allowed us to come together and affirm the multiplicity of authentic approaches to Jewish life.”

The recent conflict between President Rivlin and the non-Orthodox branches of Judaism was sparked by challenges to the authority of non-Orthodox rabbis regarding a B’nai Mitzvah ceremony for children with disabilities.

According to Yizhar Hess, executive director of the Masorti Movement in Israel, the gathering at President Rivlin’s house was “a historic event.  For the first time in Israel’s history, a Conservative-Masorti rabbi led a Torah study at the President’s residence alongside a Reform and Orthodox rabbi.  It was a clear message of Jewish equality in the Jewish state that needs to be echoed to all levels of policy makers in Israel,” he said.

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, the executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, concurred. “We were pleased to have this important invitation from President Rivlin to explore these issues at the President’s residence. President Rivlin acknowledged the essential contributions of Jews of all streams to the Jewish state, an urgent call to all Israelis, religious and secular to acknowledge these contributions.  I see President Rivlin’s speech as a positive step on the journey to full religious equality and recognition for all the streams in Israel and look forward to working together with him to bring this ideal into fruition.

On Saturday evening, Tisha B’Av – a day of mourning that commemorates the destruction of both ancient temples in Jerusalem – begins. According to rabbinic lore, this was caused not by external forces but by internal enmity.

Rabbi Wernick believes that President Rivlin’s actions will reverberate for a while to come.

“At the event, Rabbi Chaya Rowen-Baker addressed the toxicity of sin’at hinam in which caused the devastation we mourn on Tisha B’Av. In contrast, we are thankful for President Rivlin’s effort to build affinity and respect within Am Yisrael and we hope for similar opportunities for collaboration in the future.”

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