Israel is in the midst of an awakening, perhaps even a social revolution, but its official State Rabbinate and, indeed, virtually all religious officials, are silent. How can this be? Isn’t it the role of religious leaders to provide guidance?
Three weeks ago a few people set up tents on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv to protest the inability of people to find reasonably priced housing. There are now thousands of tent and camp sites in over 40 cities, and 300,000 people marched in protest Saturday night.
Although Israel has the 24th largest economy in the world, we are 42nd in the average earned income per citizen. While the economy may be strong, many educated, hard-working, taxpaying citizens find that they are unable to finish the month on the salary earned. At the same time, significant segments of our society do not work by choice. Tens of thousands are excused from military service.
Those who play by the rules, who work hard, who do military duty and pay taxes, are getting a raw deal. But the tipping point has surfaced and, in a wave of intensity that caught almost all by surprise, tens of thousands of working and middle class Israelis are demanding that Israel change social priorities.
The leadership of the Masorti movement and of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel has designated Tisha B’Av as a day of solidarity with the “tent protest” movement.
On the evening of the fast, and for the duration of the day, we will hold events connecting the destruction of the ancient Temple with this struggle for the future of our homeland. These actions will link the “senseless hatred” in their time with the gaping economic disparity in Israel today.
We call upon the government of Israel to concern itself with the welfare of all in the society. Not from the perspective of charity, but from that of justice; not tzedeka, but tzedek. The government must repair the errors which have brought the working and middle classes to the brink.
The continuing erosion of the middle class strikes at the heart of democracy. The government must alter national priorities in a profound and comprehensive manner, to be attentive to the cry of the people and to preserve our uniquely valuable homeland.
Israel was established as a fulfillment of a Zionist dream that yearned for social justice and equity. “Zionism,” Theodor Herzl wrote, “as I understand it, is not solely about the desire to acquire a legally secure piece of real estate for our downtrodden people, after all, but also about the desire to grow towards moral and spiritual perfection.”
This Tisha B’Av, let us commit ourselves again to that vision.
Rabbi Andrew Sacks is the director of the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel.