Originally published in The Jewish Chronicle, 13th April 1973.
The festival of Passover revives the eternally relevant message of freedom. The Exodus from Egypt came about because slavery is an abomination and because every man has a right to determine his own destiny and be free from dictation on how he should think, act and express himself. The religious foundation for the ideal of freedom is that man, created in God’s image debases that image both when he refuses to be free and when he denies other men the right to be free.
Yet there have been many religious believers who felt obliged to limit freedom where its exercise conflicts with their own firmly and sincerely held religious views. Religious intolerance in the Middle Ages was based on the principle that truth can have no truck with error, so that for the acknowledged upholders of the truth it is betrayal to let error have its say. Chesterton has pointed out that even the heretic in the Middle Ages shared this attitude. He never boasted of being a heretic. So far as he was concerned he alone was Orthodox.
It is against this background that Chief Rabbi Goren’s outburst against non-Orthodox Judaism in Israel can be understood. There is nothing more irritating than when the practitioners of intolerance pose as liberals. It is to Rabbi Goren’s credit that he honestly admits his intolerance, justifying on religious grounds discrimination against what he considers to be a gross distortion of Judaism.
Respectfully, we feel that Rabbi Goren is mistaken. While no one can expect Orthodoxy to recognise other forms of Judaism as legitimate expressions of the Jewish religion, it is all too often forgotten that, by the same token, it is unreasonable to expect Liberal Jews to accept Orthodoxy as the only valid interpretation of Judaism for today. Liberal Jews also have their principles. They reject some features of Orthodoxy which to them are offensive both morally and intellectually—the attitude towards women for example—in the name of Judaism itself as they understand it.
If a pluralistic society is not to collapse through internecine strife, the only possible attitude is one of live and let live, of reciprocity, of mutual recognition of the integrity of all positive groupings in Jewish life. The contrary is the medieval view in which there is no room for democracy. The State of Israel is a modern, democratic State, which safeguards the rights of the irreligious to behave and act as they see fit, something that would never have been tolerated in medieval society. In such a State it is completely inconsistent to attempt to deny religious, albeit non-Orthodox, Jews the right to follow their beliefs in their own way and have the same religious freedom as the Orthodox. Moreover, on reflection, Rabbi Goren must surely realise that any identification of Orthodoxy with intolerance harms the very cause of which he is so distinguished an exponent.
The problems of freedom are many and difficult. The Jewish people, together with the rest of mankind, still have many lessons to learn on this score. Passover is a constant reminder that freedom is no static condition. It involves a constant struggle to preserve and it is ultimately in the interest of us all for freedom to win out.