Knesset to Host First-ever Hanukkah Event With Reform, Conservative Rabbis

Other alternative candle lightings in Israel include Jewish-Muslim celebration in Tel Aviv and interfaith event at old Jerusalem train station.

Women of the Wall, along with MKs Michal Rozin and Tamar Zandberg, hold a small Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony at the Western Wall, December 18, 2014.
Danielle Shitrit

A first-of-its-kind Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony that will include representatives of the Conservative and Reform movements in Israel will be held at the Knesset this week.

The ceremony, to be held Tuesday afternoon in one of the main halls of the parliament, is the initiative of MK Michal Rozin (Meretz), head of the Knesset lobby for pluralism and civil equality. Among the candle-lighters will be men, women, religious and secular activists, as well as Ethiopian Jewish clergy. The event is meant to coincide with International Human Rights day, which falls this week.

The Knesset has not always provided a welcoming environment to the non-Orthodox streams of Judaism. Last year, for example, a group of Conservative rabbinical students visiting the Knesset was denied permission to use the synagogue on premises for a midday prayer service.  Several ultra-Orthodox Knesset members have in the past year drawn ire for their offensive references to Reform Judaism. 

“International Human Rights Day is a great time for bringing together all the different streams of Judaism,” said Rozin.  “Unfortunately, even during Hanukkah, certain officials continue to prohibit women and others from fulfilling their traditions in their own unique way. In response to this exclusion, I have chosen to initiate an event of this kind at the Knesset.”

Rozin was referring to the decision of the chief rabbi of the Western Wall not to include female candle lighters among those participating in the official state-sanctioned Hanukkah ceremony at the Jewish holy site. She was among a small group of female Knesset members to openly challenge his position.

Among the candle lighters at the Knesset event will be Gilad Kariv, executive director of the Reform movement in Israel; Anat Hoffman, chairwoman of the feminist prayer group Women of the Wall; Chaya Rowen-Baker, a Conservative congregational rabbi in Jerusalem; Mickey Gitzin, the director of Be Free Israel, a non-profit that promotes religious freedom and pluralism; Dr. Chana Kehat, a prominent Orthodox feminist; David Menachem, an Orthodox rabbi and interfaith activist; and Rabbi Idit Lev, head of the social justice department at Rabbis for Human Rights.

Among dozens of other less traditional Hanukkah events scheduled to take place around the country this week, Tag Meir, a grassroots organization that fights racism in Israel, will hold an interfaith candle-lighting ceremony at the old Jerusalem railway station. The Reform congregation of Kibbutz Gezer is planning a joint candle-lighting ceremony and supper with the monks and nuns of the nearby Emmaus Nicopolis Monastery, and Beit Daniel, the Reform congregation of Tel Aviv will hold a joint Jewish-Muslim candle-lighting ceremony at its Jaffa branch, to be followed by songs and story-telling