We are living in historic times, especially as we look for an expansion of pluralistic Judaism in Israel and the continued rights of Jewish women in Israel.
In a historic move for pluralistic Judaism in Israel, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has adopted a recommendation that would allow non-Orthodox rabbis to receive state funding, in response to a 2005 petition by American-born Reform Rabbi Miri Gold and the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) to the High Court.
Although the justices have not yet handed down their verdict, which is expected in the next few days, Weinstein’s approval of Gold’s petition marks the first time a non-Orthodox rabbi has been deemed deserving of a government salary by the State of Israel, which heretofore has only recognized Orthodox Judaism.
Anat Hoffman, the executive director of IRAC, greeted the news with great enthusiasm: “I think we are alive in a historic moment,” she enthused, “The first olah from Detroit [to become a rabbi] … the first non-Orthodox rabbi to be recognized by the state of Israel — Miri Gold — has made history. And it is high time that the state recognized that its citizens have a diversity of religious needs that cannot be met only by Orthodox Judaism.”
Gold, the rabbi of Kibbutz Gezer, midway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, petitioned the Supreme Court seven years ago asking that she receive a state salary for her work as a municipal rabbi. Although Gold’s Orthodox colleagues receive a salary funded by Israeli taxpayers for their duties, the Gezer rabbi was paid privately, meaning her congregants were forced to pay twice for her services.
Hoffman elaborated: “Every Israeli citizen pays for religious services from his tax money; there is no reason why Reform or Conservative Jews should have to pay privately for something that should be paid from public funds. And Israelis hate to be suckers.”
Local councils provide religious services for their residents using government funds, but non-Orthodox clergy members were not welcome on the municipal committees, nor did they receive a state salary.
Earlier this week, in another historic victory for the Reform movement, Rabbi Alona Lisitsa took her seat on Mevasseret Zion’s religious council, as ordered by the High Court of Justice. Lisitsa was named to the local council in 2009, but the Religious Affairs Ministry delayed approving her appointment until the court made its decision, according to media reports.
ARZA, the Reform Israel Fund, released this statement:
“Miri’s success is success for all of us. With patience and perseverance, we will build an inclusive democratic Israeli society,” said Rabbi Daniel Allen, Executive Director of ARZA; The Reform Israel Fund. ARZA is the major American Reform Movement funder of the Israel Religious Action Center, an arm of the Israel Reform Movement, that brought the case to court six years ago. “Israel’s Declaration of Independence guaranteed religious freedom, it has to be that this freedom is for all Israeli’s, Jewish as well as Christian and Muslim. This decision brings us closer to the day where this will be the reality in Israel rather than the ideal.”
The ruling in this case follows other successes by the Israel Religious Action Center including the placement of a Reform Rabbi in Mevasseret on the Religious Council there, the finding that forced gender segregation on public transportation is discrimination and prohibited, and the allocation of pre-fab units to non-Orthodox congregations for synagogue buildings.
May this significant decision portend to the continued nurturing of a native Israeli Progressive Judaism that speaks to Israelis of all backgrounds and includes them in the warmth and light of Progressive Judaism.