Israel Reaches Out to an Old Ally: American Jews

ladiesOutside the spotlight, one long-standing Israeli rift seems to be healing, at least for now.

The Jewish State has long had a fraught relationship with the non-Orthodox Jewish community in the U.S. Some 90 percent of American Jews are not Orthodox, and at a moment when Israel is becomingmore marginalized internationally, the government seems to be trying to mend fences with a Jewish community increasingly divided on Israel-related issues. A nadir in American Jewish sentiment about Israel appeared in a study that asked American Jews whether the destruction of the Jewish State would be a personal tragedy for them. Among American Jews age 65 and older, 80 percent responded that it would. Among those under 35, however, that number dropped to a mere 50 percent. A more recent Pew Research Center Portrait of American Jews confirmed a greater ambivalence about Israel among America’s young Jews.

The clearest indication of Israel’s apparent desire to mend some fences is a recent decision by the Israeli government to approve a new prayer space at the Western Wall where men and women can worship together. Such mixed-sex worship is a significant departure from the Orthodox tradition that has long governed policy there. For years, a feminist group called Women of the Wall has been demanding the right to wear prayer shawls and don phylacteries (long the province of only men) and to read from the Torah there. The rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinowitz, like the rest of the Orthodox establishment, has consistently pushed back, vowing to defend Orthodoxy’s hegemony over the site.

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About Daniel Gordis

Dr. Daniel Gordis is Senior Vice President and the Koret Distinguished Fellow at Shalem College in Jerusalem. The author of numerous books on Jewish thought and currents in Israel, and a recent winner of the National Jewish Book Award, Dr. Gordis was the founding dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism.

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