A Commitment to Israel Will Be Hard to Maintain if Equality Is Not Upheld

Rabbi Rick Jacobs
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Rabbi Rick Jacobs

It was truly an amazing moment to hear the news that Israel is prepared for the first time to give state recognition to a Reform rabbi; how fitting that the moment came on the heels of Shavuot, when we celebrate the gift of the Torah to the Jewish people. Due to the persistent efforts of our Reform Movement in Israel, the courts and the attorney general have taken the first step in acknowledging that the type of Judaism that is practiced by the majority of Jews in the Diaspora will be accorded recognition by the government of our Jewish homeland.

This is a clear example of something we all value: the strength of Israel’s democracy. It is also a signal that the structures of our Movement inside Israel today are strong and bold and inevitably moving in the direction of making Israel a more open and representative society. The tireless work of our Israel Religious Action Center and of our Reform synagogue movement has paid off, but as we all know, this is only a first step toward legalizing—and sanctifying—liberal Judaism in Israel.

Rabbi Miri Gold, who serves Congregation Birkat Shalom, has been a spiritual and religious leader to countless Jews in Israel who have been unrepresented under the current structure. With the support of Kibbutz Gezer and the Regional Council, her salary will henceforth be paid by the state - but only because she is classified as a member of regional council or farming community. This big step was achieved thanks to an agreement worked out between a panel of Supreme Court justices and the Attorney General.

As soon as we ensure that this new agreement is approved, our Movement will aim for the next step. Rabbis who are in cities need to be legalized by the state, too, and we won’t stop until that happens.

And there’s more. The current ruling doesn’t even touch on issues related to Halacha or religious matters. The Rabbinate, still unwilling to share authority with all of the streams of Judaism, won’t accept our rabbis within the framework of the Ministry of Religious Affairs. For now, the Reform rabbis will be functioning under the umbrella of the Ministry of Culture and Sports, but for us, this is not a game. It is the essence of who we are as Jews.

The Reform Movement, both in Israel and around the world, feels a deep commitment to Israel. But that commitment will be hard to maintain if we are not equal in Israel. We teach our young people about the miracle of the Jewish state, about the promise of a future that can unify all Jews, no matter where they live and no matter how they practice their Judaism.

But it has always been a puzzle to our members that in a state that lives in our heart and in our lives, we, as Reform Jews, are considered second-class citizens at best. Now, thanks to Rabbi Miri Gold, who has devoted so much of her life to creating the type of change that will sustain the Jewish people and Israeli democracy into the future, we have begun a new era.

Rabbi Jacobs is president of the Union of Reform Judaism, the largest movement of organized Jewry in North America and affiliated with the Israel Religious Action Center and the Israel Movement of Progressive Judaism.

Rehearsals for a Reform Bat Mitzvah, May 8, 2003.Credit: Lior Mizrahi / BauBau