Recognition of non-orthodox streams ‘in progress’
Peres meets with Rabbinical Assembly members Photo: Mark Neiman/GPO
“Pluralism is already in process,” President Shimon Peres told leaders of the Conservative/ Masorti Movement, indicating that he sees recognition of non-Orthodox streams of Judaism as already underway in Israel.
Peres’s remarks were addressed to a gathering of close to 200 members of the Rabbinical Assembly, an umbrella group representing Conservative rabbis from around the world, who came to discuss issues of religion and state with the president at his official residence in Jerusalem.
In response to his comments, the president was told by several rabbis that their stream supports Israel unconditionally and regards itself as a Zionist movement, but is pained by the fact that it does not have what it considers proper recognition.
Peres commented that there has been some progress and that a dialogue is taking place.
He had no doubt that eventually the different approaches of all non-Orthodox streams of Judaism would be recognized in accordance with their equal rights as citizens of the country.
“Every Jew has the right to be a Jew as he sees fit,” said Peres. “We’ve always had different streams within Judaism.”
As for differences among Jews, Peres noted that the debate as to whether Israel is a Jewish state or a state for the Jews remains unresolved. Herzl wrote about a state for the Jews, he said.
Whether it is a Jewish state or a state for the Jews, Peres was adamant that the only way to preserve the Jewish character of the state is by carrying out the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A one state for two nations solution would eventually result in the Jewish population being demographically dwarfed by the Palestinian population, he cautioned.
Other Israeli leaders also expressed their sympathy for the concerns of the Conservative movement.
Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett, who is Orthodox, addressed the visiting rabbis in the Knesset, telling them that since Israel is “the home of all Jews in the world,” he feels “the magnitude of the responsibility” when Jews “do not feel at home here.”
Bennett stressed the need for unity among Jews and said that all Jews, “in their own way,” can “contribute to the chain of generations of the Jewish nation.”
Sectarian discord sowed the seeds for the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, Bennett asserted, citing a Rabbinic tradition. Accordingly, he said, “We will not let the Third Temple be destroyed” by such internecine conflict.
“We agree on seventy percent” of the issues but have “a talent for fighting over the rest,” he said, asking the audience if they think he agrees with coalition partner and Yesh Atid party chief Yair Lapid on everything.
“I don’t have all the answers or the solutions, so we need to form a dialogue as equals and in partnership. I’m committed to a roundtable with all denominations and every part of the Jewish people, until we can feel like we are one family once again,” said Bennett.
“I am not just the minister for the national-religious but for all of the Jewish people,” he explained.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who also addressed the rabbis, said that in matters of religion and state, it is important to know how to manage disputes.
“When one side wins, the Jewish people lose,” he said.
Executive vice president of the Conservative Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly Rabbi Julie Schonfeld said she felt that Bennett’s words indicated real progress was being made in terms of the relationship of non-Orthodox movements and the state.
For a head of an Israeli party to talk in terms of roundtable discussions and that no one is above anyone else is real change,” Schonfeld told The Jerusalem Post.
“We have, though, seen over the years a failure to fulfill promises, and the proof of progress is only in people’s actions.”
Schonfeld emphasized that the Conservative Movement would continue to demand equal funding, equality before the law and freedom of religious conscience for non- Orthodox movements in Israel.
“The goal for the Conservative Movement is for us and our leaders here in Israel to build an indigenous non- Orthodox religious expression in this country,” she said.
However, the playing field is not equal, she said, given the fact that non-Orthodox movements do not receive state funding for their rabbinic leaders or communal activities.
“In a democratic country everyone is equal before the law, so there should be equal funding and freedom for people to practice religion in ways their conscience dictates.
“Anything else does not meet the standards of Judaism or democracy,” said Schonfeld.
“Given the legislative difficulties in such steps, Schonfeld said that the Conservative Movement would continue to seek redress with the High Court of Justice but said that legislation on the issue was still a better option.
“In many democracies, the court is the avenue of last resort for minorities around the world, but it is preferable that legislatures legislate justly,” she said.
Attorney Yizhar Hess, the director of the Conservative Movement in Israel, said that the meeting between Bennett and the Rabbinical Assembly itself, as well as Bennett’s comments, demonstrated a new beginning in the relationship between “official Israel” and non-Orthodox Jewish movements.
Hess attributed these developments to the increasing numbers of Israelis who say that they affiliate or identify with non-Orthodox Judaism.
“This number has doubled in the last decade, and this change also has political and electoral ramifications, and the first people to feel this are the politicians.