This past Shabbat, I spoke to the folks who were present about a pattern I see in the attempt to repress and restrict women. Not immodestly, I suggested that a renewed commitment to Conservative Judaism was an important way to respond.
In brief, three things prompted this attention. The first is the recent rocket attacks on Israel. The rockets that were launched a week ago on Shabbat (March 10) caused sirens to go off in the midst of Shabbat worship. The Masorti synagogue in Beersheva had about 80 worshippers, but a shelter that held only 40. They had thirty seconds to determine who would enter the shelter and who would ride out the attack in the open. (Thank God, no one was injured.)
The second is the increasing influence of ultra-orthodox Judaism on public behavior in Israel. Segregated buses, separate sidewalks for men and women, attacks on "immodestly dressed" girls, refusal of IDF personnel to listen to a woman's singing voice and more are alarming examples of the attempt to disenfranchise half the population based on extreme extensions of Torah teachings designed to promote morality and devotion.
The third is the recent enactment of laws in Virginia (and elsewhere) requiring doctors to perform unnecessary and invasive procedures before a pregnant woman can avail herself of a safe and legal medical abortion.
The rockets are being fired by followers of extremist philosophies of Islam which devalue human life and consider women to be distracting and suggestive to men (unless they are covered entirely). The segregation is being promoted by followers of extremist approaches to Judaism that teach men a fear and disregard of women. The sonogram requirement was enacted by followers of extremist Christian philosophies which consider the moral agency of women to be inadequate when it conflicts with the values espoused by the men responsible for the new law.
I'm happy to elaborate on each point in other circumstances. But I'd like to encourage each of you to take action as a Conservative Jew in ways that respond to each affront to the values of egalitarianism and dignity that are foundational to our practice of the tradition. As I said in shul, the same values that bring us to observe Shabbat and kashrut, to support the State of Israel and to study Torah must impel us to resist the efforts to return half of our population to second-class status.
In addition to advocating for government and private institutions to refuse to allow the nefarious ambitions of terrorist organizations and the governments that support and accommodate them (including Iran and Saudi Arabia), your contributions to the Masorti Foundation
will enable Israel's expression of our Conservative Judaism to provide an alternative to ultra-orthodoxy for our individual kehillot (congregations) and the vast majority of Israelis who find no place to be both modern and traditional. In specific, your additional contributions to the construction of shelter space for Eshel Avraham in Beersheva will keep worshipers safer and provide adequate safety for the 240+ children who attend the pre-school.
And as members of a Conservative community who are also citizen of the Commonwealth of Virginia, you must raise a mighty protest over these unconscionable requirements that denigrate women. Any legislator who endorses these laws ought to be challenged directly and at the polls. (I might add that I am not suggesting a referendum on abortion, which carries its own moral challenges, yet is currently legal and safe.) I leave it to you and your own political inclinations as to whether you work from within a party structure or outside of it, but I urge you not to ignore this example of disenfranchising women as moral agents.
I am certain some of you will have passionate responses to this call for action. That, too, is in the tradition of Conservative Judaism. Make us all proud.