An Unusual Show of Unity

Israeli Lawmakers From Left and Right to Demand That Gov't Recognize non-Orthodox Movements

In rare move, coalition and opposition members will join forces in an emergency session, titled 'It's Time for Equality,' on Wednesday

Rabbi Chuck Diamond, formerly of the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill, leads a vigil in Pittsburgh, November 3, 2018.
\ ALAN FREED/ REUTERS

Knesset members from across the political spectrum will hold an emergency session on Wednesday to demand that the government grant official recognition to the non-Orthodox movements in response to the massacre carried out at a Conservative synagogue in Pittsburgh a week ago.

It is rare, if not unprecedented, for members of the coalition and opposition to join forces in this manner to change the religious status quo in the country.

Eleven worshippers were killed a week ago Saturday morning when a man burst into the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh gunning them down.

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The invitation to the session titled “It’s Time For Equality” was signed by six Knesset members. “Anti-Semitism won’t define us,” it states. “It is time for a pact of brotherhood, rather than a pact of blood, among all the communities of the Jewish people.”

The purpose of the session, according to the invitation, is “to promote stronger ties between Israel and the Diaspora, promote religious tolerance and to have the State of Israel recognize all the streams of the Jewish nation.” The latter is a reference to the non-Orthodox movements.

The invitation was signed by two members of the coalition and four members of the opposition. The two coalition members – Michael Oren, the former ambassador to the United States who also serves as deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, and Rachel Azaria – are both representatives of the center-right Kulanu party.

About 20 Knesset members, including several members of the ruling Likud party, are expected to attend the session, where they will be presented with findings of a new study that shows that a growing number of Israelis have begun to identify with the non-Orthodox movements in recent years. According to the study, published by the Jewish People Policy Institute, about 13 percent of all Israelis identify as either Reform or Conservative. A much smaller share, however, are actually dues-paying members of Reform and Conservative congregations.  

Israel does not recognize marriages performed by Reform and Conservative rabbis, and individuals converted by Reform or Conservative rabbis cannot marry in the country. Institutions run by the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel receive only a tiny fraction of the funding allotted to those under Orthodox control.

Noting with satisfaction that members of the government were among those leading the initiative for change, Yizhar Hess, executive director of the Conservative movement in Israel, said: “I refuse, and I will forever refuse, to allow a despicable murderer to determine for us who is a Jew. But anti-Semitism has its own method of accounting.” Referring to previous deadly attacks in Israel against Jews praying in Orthodox synagogues and yeshivas, he noted that the bodies of the victims “are stretched out in a long long line, but it is one line. Of Jews. We’ve had enough with the discrimination against the non-Orthodox movements. This needs to be said loud and clear: It’s time for recognition. It’s time for equality.”