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How the Ultra-Orthodox Are Trying to Slow Progress in Israel

How the Ultra-Orthodox Are Trying to Slow Progress in Israel

We at the Israel Religious Action Center have had a busy winter, and there's a lot to show for it.  

After years of lawsuits and negotiations, the Israeli government announced six weeks ago a landmark decision to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall. Two weeks later, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that the Orthodox rabbinate can no longer prevent Reform converts from making use of Israel’s public ritual baths. The following week, more than 300 Reform rabbis converged in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv for the Central Conference of American Rabbis' convention; they were warmly greeted by more than a dozen Knesset members.

The American poet and writer Carl Sandburg once said, “If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell.”

The ultra-Orthodox establishment is doing lots of table-pounding and yelling in response to all these recent achievements. They have been illegally plastering anti-Reform doomsday posters (like these) all over Jerusalem, urging supporters to “do everything in your power to prevent the victory of the destroyers of our religion at the Kotel.”

Yesterday, they pressured the Ministerial Committee for Legislation into backing a bill that would require public ritual baths to operate only according to the instructions of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, effectively nullifying the Supreme Court’s recent ruling.  

Right after yesterday’s news broke, Rabbi Gilad Kariv, director of the Israeli Movement for Progressive and Reform Judaism, said,

“This is legislation that bypasses the High Court as well as a basic law, and if approved it would crudely trample the freedom of religion and conscience of Jewish Israelis and would send a harsh negative message to Diaspora Jewry.  We hope that both on this issue and that issue of the Western Wall, the Israeli government will defend the principle that the State of Israel is the state of the entire Jewish people, with all its denominations and congregations.”

Members of the Prime Minister Netanyahu’s coalition, including the Kulanu and Habayit Hayehudi parties, have already announced that they will torpedo the new proposed bill, and that yesterday’s vote was therefore meaningless. The Prime prime minister also reaffirmed last Sunday his commitment to implement the government’s decision concerning the Western Wall. We will be working with the Prime Minister and other government officials to make sure that these pledges and predictions all come to pass.  

Now is not the time to sit on our laurels. There is still lots of work to be done.

Anat Hoffman is the executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, the public and legal advocacy arm of the Reform Jewish Movement in Israel. She is also the chairwoman of Women of the Wall, a group of Jewish women and men from around the world who strive to achieve the right of women to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Anat Hoffman
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