Israeli ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Freuchman Mandelbrot recently ruled that Jewish women are forbidden to use front-loading washing machines because they force women to bend over in provocative poses. The same rabbi ruled that (white) Jews are forbidden to play the black keys on pianos because it might lead to interracial sex.
Soon after these rulings went viral online, people discovered that Rabbi Mandelbrot and his Facebook page are merely satire. The satire works because, in the eyes of both secular and religious Israeli Jews, Rabbi Mandelbrot is believable. He is a caricature of the very real sexism and racism that some ultra-Orthodox political leaders are advocating in the Knesset.
The majority of Israelis are distancing themselves from this brand of Judaism. They are becoming more vocal in criticizing extreme positions like those catalogued in our recent report “Racism and Gender in Israel.” It is no wonder, then, that more Israeli feet are walking into our congregations and opting for an alternative way to express their Judaism. It is also no wonder that ultra-Orthodox politicians like Israeli Religious Services Minister David Azoulay and MK Moshe Gafni are lashing out against Reform Jews, accusing us of “stabbing the Torah in the back,” and of being “sinners” and a “danger to Judaism.” Azoulay and Gafni feel threatened. That’s why they are lashing out.
What are we going to do? We’re going to make limonana out of these lemons. We’re going to take Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his word and accept his invitation to participate in “roundtable discussions” between the leadership of the non-Orthodox Jewish denominations in Israel and members of the government. We’re going to spread the message of URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs, who said during a radio interview in Israel yesterday: “Every day we stand up against the delegitimization of Israel while members of the Israeli government delegitimize Reform Jews. We’re going to rise above the name-calling and negativity. We’re going to continue our work to make Israel a more inclusive, egalitarian and democratic country.”