Justice for Progressive Jews – at Last

The direct involvement of religion with the state is a recipe for inequality. Yet moments such as these provide an opportunity for everyone to stop and think.

Aaron Goldstein.
Aaron Goldstein
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Aaron Goldstein.
Aaron Goldstein

This afternoon I was in a regular local clergy interfaith meeting when I received the news that the Attorney General, Yehuda Weinstein on behalf of the State of Israel, would for the first time recognize Reform and Conservative rabbis…as rabbis. Not only that, Rabbi Miri Gold and approximately 15 of her colleagues – who work outside Israel's major cities – will receive a state salary alongside their Orthodox peers.

At first, the non-Jewish clergy present could not understand why I was so happy. "Isn’t Israel a Jewish state?" I nodded. ‘How old is it?’ I told them. They were incredulous. "So you mean that you have been discriminated against all this time in the Jewish state? You must tell us more."

The direct involvement of religion with the state is a recipe for inequality. Yet moments such as these provide an opportunity for everyone to stop and think. It gives the government the opportunity to think: How good will it feel when this ruling is followed through. It would make the majority of Israelis who believe that a Conservative or Reform Jew should have the same entitlements as an Orthodox Jew feel that justice has been served.

It will worry those Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews - who have monopolized the state’s support of Judaism - that they have lost the game, where their prize was exclusivity. Reactionary responses will cement their isolation from the current momentum in Israeli society and the mood of its citizens towards embracing the rights of Progressive Jews. A counter-intuitive response - to act supportively of the new ruling - could be an approach that would not only be novel but might actually provide evidence that there is still relevance to the idea of a place in politics for Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox rabbis.

What will Progressive Jews be thinking after this landmark ruling? Well, some will be naturally cautious, and await Rabbi Miri Gold’s first pay cheque before celebrating. Others will note that concessions were made, and there are still absurdities - such as the proposal to be financed through the Culture and Sports Ministry and not that of Religious Services. But undoubtedly, most will be celebrating another small step to religious equality for all Jews in Israel.
Now that would be easier to explain to our non-Jewish neighbours.

Rabbi Aaron Goldstein is co-Chair of the UK's Rabbinic Conference of Liberal Judaism

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