Reform Jews - Lior Mizrahi/Baubau - May 30, 2012
Reform Jewish women doing a practice run for a bat mitzvah. Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Baubau
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The announcement by the attorney general recognizing the right of non-Orthodox rabbis to receive state remuneration is an incredible step forward in the struggle of liberal congregations for equal rights in the Jewish state. Albeit, the funding will be provided through the Ministry of Culture and not, heaven forefend, through the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

The government's announcement yesterday comes in response to a Supreme Court ruling to this effect and followed a seven-year court battle. The case began when Rabbi Miri Gold, the religious leader of Kibbutz Gezer's Congregation Birkat Shalom, appealed to the Supreme Court, as the community's rabbi, to enjoy state remuneration on a par with that granted to Orthodox rabbis.

The government's agreement to comply with the Supreme Court ruling is of immense significance on a number of counts.

This is the first time that the State of Israel has recognized the right of non-Orthodox rabbis to function as the leaders of communities and receive government remuneration for their work as do some 4,000 Orthodox rabbis.

Of no less significance is the fact that the government has conceded that the title "rabbi" also be applied to Reform and Conservative religious leaders. An attempt had been made by the government's legal representatives to propose that the term "community leader" be used instead. However, the Supreme Court rejected this.

Not only then will the term "rabbi" be used, but in this specific instance, the person who will benefit initially is of course a female rabbi. That is also no mean achievement and represents the first case in the history of the Jewish state in which official government recognition of rabbinical status will also be granted to a woman.

It is high time that the State of Israel accepted the pluralistic nature of its Jewish population and granted the same level of support to the Reform and Conservative streams as is enjoyed by the Orthodox establishment.

One of the major impediments to the growth of the Reform and Conservative Jewish movements in Israel has been the limited funding available for their development. Both have been primarily dependent upon foreign donations and financial support from abroad for their very existence. Were these two streams able to function on an equal footing with Orthodoxy, there is no doubt that even more Israelis would flock their way.

However, those familiar with the intrigues of Israeli politics would be well advised not to rush to open the champagne. First of all, the ruling has yet to be implemented and Israel has a long history of government and public institutions failing to carry out court rulings.

Secondly, the path is always open to a future government to introduce legislation overturning the Supreme Court ruling and thereby re-instating the so-called status quo in matters of religion and state.

Nevertheless, the government's decision does represent a major step forward in the ongoing struggle for religious pluralism and equal rights in the Jewish state.

Rabbi Michael Boyden is the director of the Rabbinical Court of the Israel Council of Progressive Rabbis