By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
The members of the Israeli government, whether secular or Orthodox, don’t seem to pay much attention to the Reform and Conservative (Progressive) movements in Israel. If these seek evidence of recognition, they normally only get it through the courts, and even then it takes the government a long time to obey court orders.
Thus for example, though the government was ordered to recognize some Reform rabbis as being entitled to be paid by the state, it took the powers that be a very long time until they complied with the decision and then did so in a roundabout way.
When recently the government allocated funds to create opportunities for secular Israelis to be exposed to religious Judaism, it was only Orthodox institutions that were entrusted with the task. Progressives of every kind were deliberately kept out.
The professional leaders of Conservative and Reform Judaism in Israel may have protested and alerted the media, but it’s most unlikely that the government will change its policy, because it consists of people who’re either indifferent but don’t want to antagonize the Orthodox (e.g., the Likud prime minister and Yisrael Beiteinu foreign minister) or promoting non-haredi Orthodoxy (primarily the settler champion Naftali Bennett of Habayit Hayhudi who holds the Religious Affairs and Diaspora Relations portfolios) or the hapless finance minister Yair Lapid, the leader of the allegedly centrist Yesh Atid who seems to be under the thumb of Bennett and tries to pretend that he isn’t.
If they yield to Reform and Conservative demands, it’s usually solely because of American pressure. That’s probably why the cabinet is likely to rescind a decision to farm out an area next to the Western Wall to the reactionary organization Elad, which already runs the City of David to the despair of the Arabs of the village of Silwan where it operates.
The change of tactic doesn’t seem to have come about because of representations by the Progressives in Israel but thanks to the intervention of Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism in the United States. This change would be consistent with the proposal made some time ago by Natan Sharansky, the Chair of the Jewish Agency, which is beholden to American Jewry.
The coalition partners will probably go along with it, arguably because they see the whole Western Wall issue as being irrelevant to Israelis. Yes, it’ll provide the Women of the Wall a space to pray and read Torah wearing tallitot and tephillin, because the restrictions places on them so far have incensed many more Jews abroad than at home. And yes, Reform and Conservative Jews will be able to celebrate Bar/Bat Mitzvahs there, but most of those who avail themselves of it tend to be Jews from abroad. Besides, these celebrations are also good for tourism as they bring in visitors from overseas.
Nothing of the above should be read as an attempt to minimize the progress of Reform and Conservative Judaism in Israel. My aim is only to point out that such progress has come about not only without but often in spite of support from the powers that be. Sometimes local authorities are more accommodating, but on the whole the government is not interested other than to appease haredim and make nice to Americans.
Progressive Jews in Israel deserve unequivocal support of their counterparts in the Diaspora – consistently, not only in selective protests that get media attention.