By Stephen M. Flatow
One of the most important and influential Modern Orthodox Jewish women in the world is under severe attack from Reform rabbis who want her to be denounced, humiliated, and fired from her job. So why aren’t the major U.S. Orthodox groups coming to her defense?
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely is the embodiment of everything that groups such as the Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Council of America stand for. She has risen to the senior leadership ranks of the Israeli government without compromising her Orthodox religious observance. She partakes in worldly affairs while remaining true to Jewish tradition. She proudly completed her national service (sherut leumi), obeying the Chief Rabbinate’s ban on women’s army service, and this even though religious girls are not required to serve. She is an alumnus of the Bnei Akiva religious Zionist youth movement, one of the jewels in the crown of modern Orthodoxy.
Hotovely is an exemplary role model for young modern Orthodox women. She completed both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in law at Bar Ilan University, served as editor of Bar-Ilan’s Journal of Law, and practiced law with a major Tel Aviv firm before entering politics. And on top of all that, she’s a wife and mother of two young daughters. She is living proof to young Orthodox women that they truly can “have it all.”
Tzipi Hotovely is, in short, one of the most impressive and effective representatives that modern Orthodox Jewry has had in a long time.
Now, when she’s under vicious attack, Orthodox groups should be rallying to her side, not running for the hills.
In a television interview, Hotovely noted Jews in the United States do not face the same kind of dangers that Israeli Jews face. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, and some other voices on the left responded with hysteria. They said they were “insulted” and demanded that Hotovely be fired.
A number of prominent writers and thinkers have weighed in. Yossi Klein Halevi said the deputy foreign minister made “a simple statement of fact.” Daniel Gordis wrote: “On the facts, she is indeed correct. Most American Jews do not spend much time dodging rockets. Most American Jews do not have children serving in the American military. And on average, American Jews enjoy an enviable level of socioeconomic security.” And Gil Troy commented: “Many Israeli and American Jewish leaders seem to be suffering from an attack of the stupids.”
All three of these writers did take issue with some aspects of Hotovely’s tone, or her approach. They would have preferred if she had shown more empathy for American Jews. But anyone who listens to the full context of her remarks will see that, in fact, she was quite empathetic.
Among other things, she said: “This is the home of the Jewish people of all streams, all of whom are welcome here to come and to influence Israeli politics. Please, just come! I am even willing to not have a right-wing leadership, in order to have all Jews sharing in this beautiful, amazing place called the State of Israel.”
And in a subsequent clarifying statement, the deputy foreign minister added: “American Jewry is important to us; we are siblings, and siblings are allowed to have an argument within the family. Israel is home to all Jews from all denominations. I view the link between us and the American Jewry as essential. Let me make it clear: There is no argument about the loyalty of American Jews to their country. The use of partial quotes from a full interview only undermines the central message.”
In Israel, Orthodox American olim weighed in. Rabbi Berel Wein wrote: “Recently a government official here in Israel dared to say that the Emperor known as American Jewry has no clothes.” David Bedein titled his article “Save Tzipi from the jaws of Jewish organizations abroad” and former Hollywood screen writer Tzvi Fishman wrote: “She could have, and should have, spoken in far harsher terms.”
But in the USA, only the Coalition for Jewish Values, a newcomer on the American Orthodox scene, spoke up in Hotovely’s defense. A CJV spokesman said, correctly, that “She held up a mirror to much of American Jewry, and some of their self-appointed leaders do not like what they see. Instead of attacking the messenger, they should do some soul-searching, and bring their followers to the love and support of Israel that should be natural for every Jew.” Arutz Sheva published an article strongly defending Hotovely by CJV’s Rabbi Prof. Dov Fischer of the Young Israel of Orange County.
I am puzzled by the silence of the other U.S. Orthodox Jewish groups. Are they hesitant about being involved in controversies? Are they worried that their non-Orthodox associates will think badly of them? This is no time for such fears. This is a time to stand up, unabashedly, and speak out for a woman who is such a strong and proud representative of everything that modern Orthodox Judaism stands for.