A New Era for Progressive Judaism
Rabbi Gilad Kariv is an activist on behalf of religious pluralism and social justice in Israel, working as the executive director of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism and helping to integrate the Reform Movement in Israel into national and global political action. He has been called “a man who ties our Jewish heritage to our present life and emboldens the Jewish community to strive for a socially active future” by his colleagues at the Israel Religious Action Center.
Rabbi Naamah Kelman, the dean of the Jerusalem School of Hebrew Union College, has devoted her life to outreach, education and counseling. She contributes to the academic and international conversation about the role that women play in Judaism.
After making aliyah from Detroit, Rabbi Miri Gold has worked for years to allow non-Orthodox rabbis to be recognized by the Israeli government.
These rabbis are just three examples of the accomplished spiritual leaders within the Reform Movement in Israel. They have been ordained at Hebrew Union College. Some lead their congregations in times of crisis, in life cycle events, in community service, while others teach future generations of rabbis. Yet because they are not Orthodox, the government refuses to accord them the same status as Orthodox rabbis and are not provided with government salaries; the weddings at which they officiate are not considered valid in Israeli law.
This week marked a giant step forward in righting this injustice: Rabbi Miri Gold and 15 other Reform and Conservative rabbis in Israel will now receive state-funded salaries for the first time.
In May 2005, the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), the legal and advocacy arm of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, submitted a petition on behalf of Congregation Birkat Shalom, Kibbutz Gezer and Rabbi Miri Gold, requesting equal funding of religious services regardless of movement affiliation. Seven years later, after thousands and thousands of letters of support poured in to the Knesset and the offices of the Prime Minister, the attorney general finally indicated that the applicants will receive state funding.
Leaders of the Progressive Judaism have been celebrating since the news of this historic decision broke late Monday night:
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, wrote that the decision is ”a clear example of something all Jews value: the strength of Israel’s democracy.” He cited the commitment that the Reform Movement shows toward Israel, but insisted that this “commitment will be hard to maintain if we are not equal in Israel.”
Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, Executive Vice President of the Rabbinic Assembly, said, “this victory gives ample reason for hope. In stable democracies, struggles to overcome fundamental inequalities are, by definition, won by incremental victories.”
Rabbi Danny Allen, Executive Director of the Association of Reform Zionists of America, stated his belief that, “With patience and perseverance, we will build an inclusive democratic Israeli society.”
This victory is significant in principle, but the practical implications are still in question. While this decision validates the important work of the rabbis represented in the case, as well as the role that progressive Judaism plays in Israel, there is still much work to be done. The salary that Rabbi Gold and her colleagues will be paid will be taken out of the Ministry of Culture and Sports instead of the Ministry of Religion (Rabbi Jacobs said in response: “For us this is not a game. It is the essence of who we are as Jews.”). Furthermore, this decision only serves as precedent for future ones – it does not guarantee that non-Orthodox rabbis are truly on the path to being considered equal rabbinic authorities in Israel, nor does it necessitate that non-Orthodox interpretations of Judaism will receive the respect that they so deserve in the public sphere.
But regardless of what comes next, Rabbi Gold’s victory represents a true change in Israel. As she says in her own reflection:
“Today, ‘Hareformim’ is no longer a disdainful word to the growing numbers of Israeli Jews who have been exposed favorably to Reform communities in Israel and abroad. Rather, it describes a group of socially active Jews who believe that there is more than one way to practice Judaism, that Judaism is to be celebrated, that Judaism is meaningful in their modern lives, and that Reform communities are inviting and welcoming and enriching.”
We congratulate Rabbi Gold and the other rabbis, as well as IRAC Executive Director Anat Hoffman and the staff of IRAC, for this truly momentous victory, and we cannot wait for even more progress, which we know will soon come.