Poll: 59% of Israeli Jews Want Equality for Conservative, Reform Rabbis

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Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, November 3, 2014.Credit: AP

Some 59 percent of Jewish Israelis believe that Conservative and Reform rabbis should receive equal status to their Orthodox counterparts in the country, according to a new opinion poll.

The poll, commissioned by Hiddush, a non-profit that advocates for freedom of religion in Israel, also found that large majority of Israeli Jews disapprove of President Reuven Rivlin’s recent decision to exclude a Conservative rabbi from a bar mitzvah ceremony for disabled children that was supposed to have taken place at his official residence.

The survey found that 71 percent of Israeli Jews considered the president’s decision “unjustified.” Participating in the poll, conducted last week by the Smith Institute, was a representative sample of 507 adults.

Responding to the findings, Uri Regev, the executive director of Hiddush, said: “A president cannot be president exclusively to the Orthodox and cannot turn the presidential residence into an Orthodox synagogue. It is regretful that a president otherwise so sensitive to the rights of different sectors and of the disenfranchised in society has a blind spot for freedom of religion and equality among the different streams of Judaism.” Regev, a Reform rabbi, has been an outspoken opponent of the Orthodox monopoly over Israeli institutions for decades.

Among secular Jews, 93 percent said the president’s decision was unjustified, whereas among observant Jews, 67 percent backed the president’s decision. Among ultra-Orthodox Jews, an even higher 92 percent were behind him. Among supporters of Rivlin’s own Likud party, though, two-thirds opposed his decision.

On the question of equal status for Conservative and Reform rabbis, the findings also show a clear division along religious lines. Among secular Jews, 95 percent said they supported equal status for non-Orthodox rabbis, whereas among observant Jews, 90 percent objected to such recognition for non-Orthodox Judaism. Among ultra-Orthodox Jews, a full 100 percent expressed such opposition.

“One of the important jobs of the president is fostering relations between Israel and the Diaspora, where most Jews do not belong to the Orthodox movement,” said Regev. “The growing crisis with the Conservative movement will make it difficult for him to fulfill this central role.”

The bar mitzvah ceremony for the disabled children had originally been scheduled to take place in Rehovot. The mayor of Rehovot, an ultra-Orthodox Jews, refused to allow the ceremony to be held at a Conservative synagogue, and the Conservative movement, which runs this special bar mitzvah program for the disabled, refused to have it held in an Orthodox synagogue. 

The president’s office did not respond to a request for comment before press time.