This is a guest post by Gabriel Webber, Deputy for Liberal Judaism. Follow him on twitter @gabrielquotes
It was symbolic that Charedi observers attended the Board of Deputies plenary yesterday. Their arrival finally closed a rift that began in the 1970s, when the Board was faced with another one of those ‘there’ll be a walkout either way’ moments – in that case, over whether or not to recognise the religious leaders of the Reform and Liberal movements.
I’d already noticed the parallel before I knew that the Charedim were coming along: the controversial change was really, really minor (now, admitting one Deputy from Yachad to join the ~250 others; then, introducing a rule that Progressive rabbis would be consulted on religious matters although the Orthodox Chief Rabbi would always get the final say – neither exactly an earth-shattering innovation); the dispute was over the ‘authentication’ of a body that divided opinion (now, recognising Yachad as part of the Jewish community; then, recognising the Progressive movements as proper Jews); and there were implicit threats of a walkout from whichever side lost.
In the 1970s, the Board decided to press ahead with its recognition of Reform and Liberal Judaism. The ultra-Orthodox issued a statement warning that the decision “gravely endanger[ed] the future of Anglo-Jewry” (sound familiar?) and withdrew their Deputies. Had the opposite decision been made, to deny the Progressive leaders recognition, it is likely that their Deputies would have left.
Back to the present, as now everybody in the western world must have heard, a plenary decided to admit Yachad as a constituency. Twitter was abuzz with pronouncements that the Board had just signed its own “suicide” note (direct quote) by recognising an organisation which was not only un-Jewish but which actively “hates Jews” (direct quote #2).
There were predictions that the right-wing would leave – and, as with the conflict 40 years ago, these predictions were aired beforehand as an argument against recognition (‘If you vote for Yachad/ the Liberal movement you’ll divide the community, and we’ll leave, and that will be bad for the Board, so don’t vote for them’).
Equally, had Yachad been denied representation, there might have been an exodus of those Deputies who felt that Yachad represented their position: ‘if the Board doesn’t want to represent Jews like us, so be it’.
It isn’t yet clear whether Yachad’s admission will provoke a walkout. But even if it does, that will be a walkout of protest, as opposed to a walkout of exclusion. The same was true in the 1970s: when the Charedim left, it was of their own free will, but had the Progressives been forced out by a vote that their opinions didn’t count, that would have made the Board obsolete as a representative body.
Of course, the Board of Deputies should represent the whole community. And it was a really special experience yesterday to sit in the first plenary in four decades which had delegates from the full spectrum of Anglo-Jewry. But in the interregnum things were not so terrible because nobody had been excluded. The absentees simply left by choice.
If people can’t handle inclusion, they are welcome to leave the rest of us to it. If people aren’t included, that is a problem.
The Board made the right decision in the 1970s. And it made the right decision yesterday. Here’s to a representative future!