Scholar-in-Residence Speaks on Israeli Affairs and Religious Plurality at TBI | Rowboat key

From across the world came a topic that touched the members of Temple Beth Israel on Longboat Key. Rabbi Uri Regev, a lawyer and rabbi of Reform Judaism in Israel, visited the congregation as a scholar-in-residence from January 14-16 and spoke at three events.

On January 14, the congregation gathered for Shabbat dinner and had the chance to meet Regev before services. About 60 members attended the dinner, but nearly 100 were present for the special service. Instead of Rabbi Stephen Sniderman delivering the sermon as usual, Regev took over.

Regev is a former member of Israel’s government and has focused his discussions on how politics in Israel have become toxic, as well as what he hopes to reform. A figure of Reform Judaism, he works for plurality and tolerance of all religions and wants to reform marriage in Israel.

“As an URJ (Union of Reform Judaism) congregation, we really aspire to liberalism when it comes to regulating religion, so it’s a subject close to our hearts,” the executive director said. Isaac Azerad.

Overall, Regev’s talks focused on current events in Israel and on the topic of religious plurality and acceptance of other religions. Regev’s talks were well attended each day, and Azerad said the debate was a success, although the Shabbat dinner and presentation were the busiest.

The first night was a presentation of Regev and the topic he would be discussing throughout the weekend, the second was for topic development, and the final day ended with a debate between Regev and Harold Halpern, an expert local of israeli affairs. The debate was novel and challenged the temple’s AV team to come up with a solution for Halpern to be offsite, with Regev being at the temple and some members of the public broadcasting live.

“It was almost like a game of mirrors,” Azerad said.

During Regev’s second-day discussion, he delved into the previous day’s topic and focused on the deterioration of the discussion on Israeli politics. The country’s legislative body is the Knesset, a 120-member parliament that governs by coalition. No party has control over the government, but parties compromise to try to get things done – usually.

“In America it’s a problem because you only have two parties,” Regev said. “In Israel it is a problem, because when we have elections we have about 30 parties competing… In recent years there has been a serious problem because of the growing acrimony between left and right . Due to the nature of the further fragmentation of the conflict between left and right, even if the dominant right is not so right, and the dominant left is not so left.

Basically, Regev said, there has been a trend in politics in recent years to label anyone who disagrees with the word of the ruling party as the opposite of what the party is. For example, someone who disagreed with Benjamin Netanyahu would be called a leftist when there was usually not much of a “leftist” in him.

“This deterioration in political discourse has clouded the waters and sometimes deteriorated into physical violence,” Regev said. “I don’t take sides between the left and the right. … We are focused on one thing and one thing only and that is religious freedom and equality and it is because we are only focused on religious freedom and equality, that we can reach out and embrace the left or the political right. Interestingly, when it comes to issues of religious freedom, issues of pluralism, and issues of religious equality, there are significant overlaps on both the political left and the political right.

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