Are we not all brothers Drop ultra-religious myths

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The prime minister has been meeting Conservative and Reform leaders in an effort to find a creative solution to the controversy surrounding possible changes in the conversion law.

These meetings come against the background of troubling acts of violence by the haredim against Jews who do not believe as they do. Recent calls to violence can no longer be dismissed as the words of a few fringe radicals.

Some key haredi leaders have called upon their followers to banish Conservative and Reform Jews from Israel.

Haim Miller, deputy mayor of Jerusalem, was quoted as saying, "Everyone to whom the integrity of the Jewish people matters must struggle to see that the Conservative Jews have no place in Israel."

A recent ad in a major Israeli paper called Conservative Jews a Satanic cult and worshippers of Baal. It cited halachic decisions permitting our murder because of our opinions. The ad was signed by members of all the major Orthodox rabbinical bodies.

The threat is real. Such statements set the stage for the vicious attack by hundreds of haredim on those of us who sought to pray in an egalitarian minyan at the Western Wall on Shavuot.

A number of myths propagated by the haredi world are misleading, even dangerous.

Myth: The only correct understanding of the Torah is the Orthodox interpretation.

Truth: The Talmud and Midrash teach that there are "70 faces to the Torah" (i.e., an unlimited number of interpretations). Each is "the words of the living God."

Myth: Praying at the Wall was a provocative act.

Truth: We chose a spot way off to the side and at the rear of the Western Wall plaza so as not to offend others.

One might term the gathering of Jews outside the Moscow synagogue on Simchat Torah in years past "provocative," or the illegal immigration of Jews to Palestine during the British Mandate, or the refusal of American blacks to sit in the back of buses.

Yet all these acts were the fulfillment of the biblical injunction to "pursue justice."

Myth: Haredi violence is perpetrated by a few unruly youngsters.

Truth: The garbage hurled at us on Shavuot and the obscenities screamed came from students of the Porat Yosef yeshiva, one of Israel's most prestigious yeshivas. Even after the filing of a criminal complaint, no apology has been forthcoming.

The attacking mob consisted of hundreds. No haredi leaders tried to restrain their followers.

Myth: The Torah belongs to the Orthodox.

Truth: The Torah, and all our Holy Books, are the rightful property of all Jews, for all of us stood together at Sinai.

Myth: Women are prohibited from reading from the Torah.

Truth: The Talmud explicitly states that women may, in theory, be called to the Torah (Megillah, 23A).

Myth: Women are prohibited from donning tefillin.

Truth: The Midrash and other sources tell us that Michal, daughter of King Saul, put on phylacteries. So did Rashi's daughter.

Myth: The Jewish people cannot live together in peace with such widely diverging approaches.

Truth: The followers of Rabbis Hillel and Shammai not only lived together, but also married one another.

Myth: Only Orthodox rabbis may perform a valid conversion.

Truth: The codes rule that even a conversion performed by three laypersons is valid.

It's time to separate fact from fiction. I call upon the haredi leadership to sit down with us in the spirit of brotherhood and find a common language in which to dialogue — so that, in the spirit of Aaron, we become pursuers of peace.