Israel Conversations: Reform Judaism and Pluralism in Israel

At Israel Conversations last Shabbat, Marji Rosenbluth Philips discussed Reform Judaism and Pluralism in Israel, and referenced the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC).  The conversation focused on the historic development of the separation of civil and political institutions in Israel that resulted in the orthodox rabbinate having control over civil issues such as marriage, bar/bat mitzvah and death. 

They discussed how although the Law of Return (modeled after the Nuremberg Laws) allowed anyone with one Jewish grandparent to emigrate to Israel, unless one can demonstrate an orthodox heritage or conversion, Reform and Conservative marriage ceremonies are not recognized by the state of Israel, although out of country marriages may be.  They heard from Rebeccah Strober her personal story of her conversion first locally at Temple Beth Shalom, and then after serving in the Israeli army, by an orthodox conversion procedure sponsored by the army.  Rebeccah highlighted why she believed the Reform/Conservative movement was not initially popular with Israelis: either an Israeli was a Zionist and living the religious life by definition, or already orthodox.  Rebeccah gave a great example of how in the US we have to define ourselves as Jews and therefore chose our denomination:  On Passover, even though we don’t eat bread, we pass many bakeries still offering bread, so we must affirmatively define our religious choices.  In Israel, on the other hand, on Passover, nobody eats bread so there is no need to define or identify with a type of religious belief.  They discussed ways in which organizations such as (IRAC) are making in-roads into assuring civil rights for non-Orthodox Jews.