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The Ultra-Orthodox, Gays and the Future of Jerusalem

If Jerusalem is going to belong to and unify us all, it must be a place that observers, non-observers, or those who observe in non-halakhic ways all feel at home in it.
Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman is president of the Shalom Hartman Institute and holds the Kaufman Family Chair in Jewish Philosophy. He is author of the highly regarded 2016 book, Putting God Second: How to Save Religion from Itself, and is the host of “For Heaven’s Sake,” one of the most popular Jewish podcasts in North America. Donniel is the founder of some of the most extensive education, training and enrichment programs for scholars, educators, rabbis,

Originally published in Hebrew on Ynet

An open letter to my Haredi brothers from a religious Zionist

On one level, I understand your objection to car traffic and open parking lots on Shabbat, Friday night entertainment, and gay pride parades within Jerusalem. You realize that you cannot control the lives of all Jews, and as a result, you are willing to let these activities occur in Tel Aviv and Haifa, not to mention, New York and Los Angeles.

You do believe, however, that you can control Jerusalem. Jerusalem, which represents both the presence of our God within this world, and more deeply, the aspiration for spiritual and religious fulfillment to inhabit the earth, requires a different standard of religious practice in your minds. You believe Jerusalem is where Judaism must be lived in its fullest, a dogma you believe only you, more than any other Jews, understand and express in your lives

It is here that you and I part ways. As a religious Jew who is also a Zionist I believe Jerusalem is not simply important as the city of God, but as the capital of the State of Israel, a state which, as distinct from you, I value as a part of my religious life. As a committed Zionist, I believe the citizens of our country need unifying symbols around which to construct our shared collective life. Jerusalem, one of the few remaining unifying concepts in our deeply divided Jewish world, may serve as precisely such as symbol.

The meaning of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is that it is a city which belongs to all citizens of the State of Israel. While you and I may observe Shabbat in similar ways, my fellow citizens of Israel observe it very differently. While you want to preserve the city, I want to preserve our people.

As a Jew and as a Zionist, my identity is inextricably connected to all my people, and to alienate them and disconnect from them is for me as much of a sin as the desecration of the Shabbat. As a Zionist, I accept the fundamental commitment to build a home for all Jews here in Israel, and as such recognize my religious responsibility to share it among all Jews.

If Jerusalem is going to belong to us all, and through that unify us all, it must be a place that Shabbat observers, non-observers, or those who observe Shabbat in non-halakhic ways can all feel at home. It must be a place that all Israelis – be they straight or gay – see as theirs.

You and I part ways not only in our goals for Jerusalem, but also in the tactics which as religious Jews we should adopt in the pursuing of these goals. I believe that the recent confrontational and ugly demonstrations on Shabbat led by members of the Haredi community neither honor Jerusalem nor the particular brand of Judaism that you represent. Our tradition teaches us that to love God means to cause God’s name to be beloved to others. Your actions do not merely distance you from others but desecrate the name of God and our tradition in the eyes of Israelis.

It is my deepest hope that Israeli Zionists – religious, traditional and secular – lovers of Jerusalem – will understand what is at stake, and recognize that these issues cannot be allowed to be subjected to political coalitions’ considerations. I am writing so that our Mayor, who is deeply committed to elevating the centrality of Jerusalem for all Israelis, will understand that his success will not be dependent solely on greater culture and industry in Jerusalem, but also on whether all Israelis can see Jerusalem as a place where their Judaism can live.

This is not simply a political issue. It is at the core of our religious values and vision for Israel in which our loyalty to our people must precede our loyalty to Torah. It is an issue which will defines the meaning and essence of Zionism today.

You care about Israel, peoplehood, and vibrant, ethical Jewish communities. We do too.

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