A Big Step for Judaism

A liberal and pluralistic alternative to the Orthodox monopoly, while offering the people a choice for realizing their Jewish identity, are key in maintaining the unique combination of democracy and Judaism.

Gilad Kari
Gilad Kariv
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Gilad Kari
Gilad Kariv

When I was ordained a decade ago, I knew that official Israel wouldn't accept me as a rabbi. Since then I have found solace in the fact that hundreds of families that I have accompanied during times of pain and joy consider me a rabbi.

But I still had a hard time coming to terms with the fact that the country where I serve as a reserve soldier, pay taxes and raise my children was unwilling to respect me and my colleagues and treat us equally. In recent years, we have struggled to break open a crack in the Orthodox monopoly - we Israeli men and women who have chosen the mission of being non-Orthodox rabbis, as well as Reform and Conservative communities and secular organizations for the renewal of Judaism. We still have a long way to go before we achieve equality, but we have had our successes, too.

Reform and Conservative conversions are now recognized, the state has helped set up non-Orthodox synagogues, and organizations committed to pluralism have set the tone in Judaic studies in the state education system. These achievements are linked to the discourse on rights and the Supreme Court's role in advancing equality and religious freedom. But they're also linked to Israelis' growing realization that the monopoly granted to the Orthodox establishment is destroying the face of Judaism and deepening the alienation that many people feel.

The attorney general's decision to adopt the High Court of Justice's recommendation and require the government to support Reform rabbis in regional councils is another milestone. There will still be delays and attempts to thwart the implementation of the decision, but the move will succeed and spread to cities and local councils.

The Reform movement is willing to adopt a model in which the state does not support religious services at all, but as long as the Orthodox rabbis receive support, equality is essential. The only way to enable every Israeli family to choose between an egalitarian synagogue and a synagogue with a mechitza - a partition between the seating for men and for women - is to continue fighting.

The attorney general's decision will not end discrimination in marriages and divorces; it will not provide relief from the outrageous lack of justice in the ultra-Orthodox community's evasion of military service. Nor will it ease the distress of the new immigrants who lack a religious classification. It does not provide an answer to religious radicalization, racism or the exclusion of women, which are part of some rabbis' daily routine.

These issues and others are still waiting for the people to come to their senses and say that enough is enough. But this underscores the importance of the decision - the future of democracy depends on the diversity of the faces of Judaism in Israel and on the establishment of a moderate, humane and tolerant Jewish voice. No less, the future of Judaism in this country depends on the strength of its democracy and the entrenchment of values of equality and religious freedom.

A liberal and pluralistic alternative to the Orthodox monopoly, while offering the people a choice for realizing their Jewish identity, are key in maintaining the unique combination of democracy and Judaism. The establishment of Reform and Conservative communities in every Israeli town, along with the strengthening of study centers and pluralistic youth movements, are important components of the moral infrastructure. This isn't a short-term process. But the full implementation of the attorney general's decision will accelerate it and ensure that it succeeds.

The writer is the director of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism.

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