Why we must urgently co-operate: Jonathan Wittenberg

By Jonathan Wittenberg, September 12, 2008

We have allowed our differences to damage people. This must stop


Our statement is a call to pluralism, a plea that leaders and members of all denominations should articulate the core values of Judaism clearly and together, so that we guide the community with vision and responsibility, in a spirit of sensitivity and inclusion. It is no more than we pray for daily in the Aleinu, when we ask that God's name be made one on earth.

We fail. I once read a snippet in the JC : the Jewish community spends half its time bemoaning the fact that it is getting smaller and the other half enacting policies which ensure that this will continue to be the case.

One of our worst errors is to settle down to discord when we could stand together. Another mistake is our failure to talk. Nowhere do all our rabbis and leaders meet, openly, to share our love of Judaism and our concern for our people.

It is time for change. Real change involves nothing less than embracing the whole community. Partial alliances are no answer; I long for everyone to join together.

The first area for change concerns the public domain. As rabbis we must stand together to declare our key values. We shared no platform to defend Israel at the height of the terror attacks against it. We have never spoken together against the genocide in Darfur, or in the campaign to end poverty, or to condemn torture. If rabbis across the denominational spectrum do sit together, it is generally as guests of other organisations, often non-Jewish. How does this serve Judaism's values of righteousness and compassion?

The second area concerns how we allow our differences to damage people at their most vulnerable moments. Years ago I wrote a memo entitled "Where it hurts", listing how people suffer rejection over the status of marriages, who may speak at funerals, and access to Jewish education. There are genuine halachic issues at stake, but this does not justify how individuals are made to suffer. The Stanmore Accords were created to address these matters. Nothing has happened. How does this serve Judaism? We must try harder.

This is not an attack on difference. On the contrary, distinctions between movements are genuine and not only may, but should, be debated with passion. Judaism believes in "argument for the sake of Heaven". It has been said that if only different movements would go away our difficulties would end. But diversity is strength, and the present generation needs many doors into Judaism.

This, therefore, is an appeal not for uniformity, but for sharing, not to end differences, but to manage them well. Above all it is a plea to learn together, share together and lead together, for the love of Judaism.

Jonathan Wittenberg is senior rabbi at The Assembly Of Masorti Synagogues

Last updated: 2:08pm, September 22 2008