Israel is for all Jews, not just the observant

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This past week, the Orthodox-led religious council of Mevasseret Zion, near Jerusalem, “allowed” Rabbi Alona Lisitsa — a Reform rabbi, and a woman — to take part in one of its meetings.

The event, described on page 12, was rightly hailed as a victory for religious pluralism in the Jewish state.

Another article on page 14, however, relates that a group of women praying at the Western Wall while wearing tallits, or prayer shawls, were accosted and questioned by police. It is forbidden in the Jewish state for women to read from Torah scrolls or wear prayer shawls at Judaism’s most holy place.

One step forward, two steps back.

We say, enough. Israel was created as a homeland for the Jewish people — all the Jewish people, not just the ritually observant. It was intended as a place where Jews could live in safety, where they could freely develop their religion and culture while respecting the rights of minorities living among them.

The fact that 64 years after its founding Israel still denies funding and legal recognition to the liberal branches of Judaism that dominate Jewish life in the diaspora is a tragic disconnect of the worst order. Non-Orthodox rabbis may not conduct wedding ceremonies within Israel — well, they may, but the marriages are not recognized. Non-Orthodox clergy do not receive state salaries. Non-Orthodox conversions are invalid.

Despite these formidable barriers, Reform and Conservative (Masorti) Judaism are growing. Spearheaded by the Reform-affiliated Israel Religious Action Center, legal challenges to the Orthodox domination of religious life in Israel win victory after victory, some of them small, but all important. In addition to its work on a variety of rights issues, the group has obtained state funding for the building of two Reform synagogues, one in the Galilee and one on Kibbutz Gezer, between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Israel’s Supreme Court is now considering the 6-year-old case of Gezer’s Reform Rabbi Miri Gold, who is demanding, with IRAC’s support, that the state pay her salary as it pays the salaries of hundreds of Orthodox rabbis. In the past few weeks, according to the Israeli Reform movement, more than 5,000 emails and letters supporting Gold’s case have poured into the office of Religious Services Minister Yaakov Margi, a member of the haredi Orthodox Shas party.

What does Margi say? He says Gold is not a real rabbi.

The coercive nature of Israel’s religious bureaucracy not only increasingly divides Israeli Jews from Jews in the diaspora; it hurts the Jewish soul. It stifles the spiritual yearning, communal energy and ritual creativity that have made American Judaism so vital and successful.

It has turned Jew against Jew in the Jewish state. And for that, we say, shame on you. It’s time to grow up.