Yom Shlishi, 14 Heshvan 5780
Tuesday, 12 November 2019
Parashat Behaalotecha 2015

Parashat Behaalotecha 5775
5th June 2015 - Rabbi Margaret Jacobi

A year has passed since the Exodus. The time has come for the Israelites to celebrate Pesach for the first time as a reminder of that momentous event. ·But for some men, there was a problem. They had been in contact with a corpse, and so were forbidden from participating. They complained to Moses ·- it was unfair that they should be unable to take in a ritual to remember this momentous event in their lives. ·Moses went to God, and God agreed. They should have another chance to celebrate the Pesach meal a month later, so that they should not be denied the privilege of taking part in this historic ritual.

Thus, the law was changed in order to ensure that the men could still be full members of the community. ·An important innovation was put into place, Pesach Sheni, the second Pesach, in order to right a situation that was unfair and to ensure that no one should be excluded from participation, albeit a month later. We see a similar willingness to innovate and change in the much better known story of the daughters of Zelophehad towards the end of the book of Numbers. The daughters approach Moses because there are no male inheritors for their father. Again, Moses consults God and God tells him that the law must be changed so that in such circumstances, daughters can inherit.

One would not think from some present day manifestations of Orthodoxy that such innovation was possible. ·In recent times, mainstream Orthodoxy, both here and in Israel, ·has become more and more entrenched. The latest shocking example was last week, when it was revealed that the Belzer Chasidim in London had forbidden women from driving their children to school. ·This parallels the increasing limitation of ·women’s roles amongst the ultra-orthodox in Israel, which is extending beyond the ultra-Orthodox areas. ··There have been attempts to enforce gender segregation in public areas, including hospital clinics, buses and Ministry of Education seminars. ··With ultra-Orthodox parties now holding posts in the Israeli Government, their restrictions on life are likely to go even further. Far from trying to include people in, as our Torah portion teaches, every effort seems to be being made to exclude them.

In the midst of all this, the Progressive Movement in Israel is doing its best to ensure that there is a humane, sane Judaism in Israel, which brings people in and is not afraid to innovate. The Progressive Movement’s Israel Religious Action Centre is at the forefront of campaigning for religious rights for all Jews, as well as civil liberties for all Israelis and its work is increasingly being recognised both by Israeli citizens and the Government. We are privileged that its Director, Anat Hoffman, and Rabbi Miri Gold, the first progressive rabbi to have her salary paid by the Israeli Government, will be speaking at our Liberal Judaism Day of Celebration about their inspirational work.

We, too, in this country, must not be afraid to innovate in order to be inclusive. ·We have a fine record of finding ways to bring people in. ·To innovate is not to go against Jewish tradition, but rather to act in the spirit of the best of Judaism, going all the way back to Moses. We are part of the progressive movement world-wide because we believe in progress and change where this is called for. ·Let us live up to our name by having the courage to change when change is needed, whilst treasuring all that is best in our tradition. ·In doing so, we ensure that Judaism remains a living and vital force, bringing good to our people and to the world.