A coalition of Modern Orthodox American Jewish groups has formed to protest against possible Israeli concessions to the Palestinian Authority at the upcoming Annapolis conference.
Among the member organizations are the National Council of Young Israel, the Orthodox Union, the Rabbinical Council of America, Emunah Women of America, AFSI, Hineni, AJOP (Outreach), NCSY, Poalei Agudath Israel of America, ZOA, and more. More organizations are set to join in the coming days.
The new coalition's founder, Rabbi Pesach Lerner, the Executive Vice President of the National Council of Young Israel, is concluding a six-day whirlwind trip to Israel during which he coordinated the group's activities with pro-Jerusalem forces here.
The official impetus for the coalition's founding were statements by Israeli government leaders, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, that Jerusalem could be negotiable in the upcoming Middle East summit in Annapolis. "The message has still not been received by many Jews," Rabbi Lerner said, "that the door has been opened to giving away parts of Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount, Judaisms holiest and most revered site... Our coalition means that Jewish leaders around the world are coalescing around a simple bottom-line position: World Jewry opposes Israeli negotiations which would include any discussion of ceding sovereignty over part or all of Jerusalem."
The Coalition will increase awareness of both the sanctity of Jerusalem and the political machinations currently at play regarding it, and promote political and public action to keep Jerusalem off the negotiating table. The official name of the group is The Coordinating Council for Jerusalems Future.
"This is not the time to discuss the dangers of a terrorist Palestinian State as a neighbor to Israel," a Coalition letter to 2,000 American rabbis states. "Today, we must raise our voices at the thought of losing our united capital of Jerusalem. We call upon each and every one of you to: 1. Continue to educate yourself and your congregations. Peruse often Arutz Sheva, Jerusalem Post on-line, etc.; talk to your colleagues in Israel for a first-hand report of what is happening. 2. Designate your next [Sabbath] sermon to the topic of the undivided city of Jerusalem... 3. Take it upon yourself to write a letter or send an e-mail and/or fax to the Israeli Ambassador in Washington and the Consul-General in New York. Ask each of your members to do the same..."
Tzafrir Ronen is one of the founders of a similar group in the Zionist state. "A small group of us convened a few weeks ago," Ronen said, "just when Olmert's friend Deputy Prime Minister Chaim Ramon started this whole insanity about giving up Jerusalem. We realized that we had to do something immediately. Our group consists of many organizations here in Israel - the Nahalal Forum, Nir Barkat's group, the Land of Israel Loyalists, all eight groups of Homesh First, and more. We have been working together with Rabbi Lerner, and we will continue to do so. There is a lot that we have to do."
"It must be made clear," Ronen says, "that while Olmert is being investigated for all sorts of financial crimes - his real crime, and the one for which he must be toppled, is that of wanting to give away the Land of Israel and Jerusalem. Throughout our 2,000 years of exile, if any rabbi had ever hinted at giving up a part of the Land of Israel, he would have been out on the street in a minute."
The Orthodox Union (also known as the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations) which has been active for more than 100 years in day-to-day Jewish communal affairs, has sent out a flyer entitled 10 Ways You Can Help Jerusalem, to be displayed in synagogues, and each week it plans to send additional ideas. Suggestions include the reciting of Psalms 79, 122, 125, 126 and 137, which have special mention of Jerusalem; donating to an organization that supports the needy in Jerusalem; and placing a picture of Jerusalem on ones wall. The common denominator: keeping Jerusalem uppermost on the minds of Jews during these critical times.
The OU has also called on its synagogues to strengthen their Torah study by beginning the Nach Yomi cycle of daily chapters from the Prophets and Writings of the Bible. The two-year cycle, modeled after the popular Daf Yomi program, begins on November 1, and will be carried on OU Radio.
The OU's youth wing, the National Council of Synagogue Youth, is working on the development of special Jerusalem programming in all its 14 regions from coast to coast, and is developing videos to send to the regions and schools.
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The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), a close affiliate of the OU, issued the following statement: "We respectfully remind the American sponsors that Jerusalem is not merely a piece of territory. Since Biblical times Jerusalem has been and remains central to Jewish faith and practice. For Jews it is in fact the holy city par excellence. To barter even parts of its sovereignty away, or to weaken its Jewish character in exchange for some ephemeral pledges of peace from an unreliable PA, poses a severe threat to the very soul and morale of the Jewish State. An undivided Jerusalem is a statement of strength and faith and thus a guarantor of peace. A divided Jerusalem is a surrender to weakness which will ultimately become a festering sore that will create misery in the region."
The OU which last year reversed a longstanding policy barring criticism of Israeli government policy wrote a letter to Olmert insisting that his government not cede portions of Jerusalem to the Palestinian Authority.
On Tuesday Olmert responded, saying that the issue of Jerusalem currently is not under negotiations with the Palestinians and that in any future settlement, the Prime Minister will strengthen the Jewish character of Jerusalem, enhance its Jewish majority and keep Jerusalem as the eternal, united and internationally recognized capital of the Jewish people and the State of Israel.
But OU president Stephen Savitsky, while thanking Olmert for his response, said the prime minister who a day earlier talked about possible negotiations involving neighborhoods annexed to Jerusalem after the Six-Day War needs to be more explicit about his intentions.
The coalition effort had its roots in unhappiness in Modern Orthodox circles about the Jewish communitys relative silence during the 2005 Gaza withdrawal; it gained new impetus with the announcement of next months Israeli-Palestinian summit, and the growing sense that Olmert is ready to push quickly for an agreement with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.
Jeffrey Ballabon, the Republican Jewish activist, said the nascent group represents a turning point in Israel-diaspora relations.There was a sense among sectarian organizations in the past that it was necessary to defer to the Israeli government on matters of policy, he said, referring primarily to the Orthodox Union.
But in the wake of the 2005 Gaza withdrawal and the Hamas takeover earlier this year, people have re-evaluated; they dont want to see a repeat of Gaza, he said. We were asked to forebear for the sake of what was sold to us as peace, but all weve seen is more war and destruction. For many Jews in America, that was almost beyond bearing. And were no longer willing to countenance it.
Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, spiritual leader of Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood, N.J., and founder of an Orthodox group that supports active peace negotiations with the Palestinians, said he worries about the shift toward more active interference in critical Israeli decisions.
I share with all Jews a deep attachment to Jerusalem and its holy places, he said in an e-mail. I find it exceedingly difficult to conceive that we would be willing to give up our vision of a united Jerusalem under Israeli rule. At the same time, I am also concerned about the implications of public lobbying by diaspora Jewry against the decisions of any Israeli government.
But Nathan Diament, public policy director for the Orthodox Union, said the Gaza disaster has fundamentally altered the debate in the Jewish community.
The new coalitions efforts will be more coordinated and more comprehensive than anything weve done before because people have learned the lessons of the Gaza withdrawal, he said. Many in the Orthodox community are regretting that they fell short on the issue.
Christian Zionist leaders who have played an increasingly visible role in pro-Israel efforts and in supporting West Bank settlers and opposing new land-for-peace deals will be a significant part of the new effort.
Dr. James M. Hutchens, president of The Jerusalem Connection International and a regional director of Christians United for Israel said the Jerusalem issue will galvanize our movement. There are Christian sites in East Jerusalem. We have had a preview of what Palestinian control of Christian sites would look like; look at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, which they totally trashed.
He called discussion of possible compromises a betrayal and said groups like his will work with Jewish groups here and in Israel to fight any changes in Jerusalems status.
Pastor John Hagee, the CUFI founder, said this week that turning over holy sites to the Palestinians would be the death of Christian tourism to Israel, according to a report in the San Antonio Express-News. Theyre not going to a holy site controlled by Palestinians who have machine guns on their shoulders, of whom Christians by and large are terrified.
Evangelical visitors are critical to the Israeli tourist industry, giving groups like Rev. Hagees a big political lever in the battle over Jerusalem.
This militant Zionist position does unfortunately represent Modern Orthodoxy, a movement that is characterized by Jews bending Jewish law to fit their modern agenda. However, it is dishonest to say that it represents "world Jewry" as Rabbi Pesach Lerner claims. World Jewry includes hundreds of thousands of more traditionally Orthodox Jews who do not see any inherent value in Zionist sovereignty over Jerusalem or any other place. Most of these Jews, in fact, see the Zionist occupation of the Holy Land as a terrible sin and a disaster.
One has to wonder about the intelligence level of someone who utters such self-contradictory words: "Throughout our 2,000 years of exile, if any rabbi had ever hinted at giving up a part of the Land of Israel, he would have been out on the street in a minute." During exile, the Jewish people has no right to sovereignty over Jerusalem or any place; that is the very definition of exile. If any rabbi in past centuries had suggested that Jews during exile must have sovereignty over any part of the Land of Israel, he would have been out on the street in a minute. To Jews in the past, it was always self-evident that the exile was a Divine decree and that we have no right to emerge from it without a Divine decree. It is only due to the confusion of the Zionist era that this principle has been forgotten.
We hope and pray that these Modern Orthodox Jews, in the course of their studies of the Jewish texts concerning Jerusalem, come to understand the meaning of the verse in the Song of Songs (2:7), "I adjure you, daughters of Jerusalem, by the deer and hinds of the fields, not to arouse or awaken the love before it is desired." We Jews indeed originate from Jerusalem and are therefore poetically referred to as daughters of Jerusalem. But we are forbidden under oath to take action toward the redemption of our people before G-d desires it.