US Jews joyous over Israel state-funding for non-Orthodox rabbis

Rabbi Schonfeld says Religious Services Minister Yakov Margi knows this is the end of the Orthodox Rabbinate's monopoly.

Yesterday's statement by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein that the state is prepared to recognize Conservative and Reform rabbis in Israel and pay their salaries, albeit not through the Ministry of Religious Affairs, has sparked huge joy among the Conservative and Reform movements in the US. Leaders of both movements believe that the thrust of the decision is part of a trend that cannot be reversed, and that it is the first step toward gradually loosening the Israeli Orthodox Rabbinate's stranglehold on religious life in the country and the personal rites of its Jewish citizens.

Conservative Movement Rabbinical Assembly executive vice president Rabbi Julie Schonfeld told "Globes" that, as far as she was concerned, Israel's decision to recognize Conservative and Reform rabbis was like the moon landing: One small step of a man, one giant leap for mankind, and in the Israeli context - a giant leap for the Jewish people. "This is the beginning of the end of the Orthodox monopoly on Israelis' lives," she said.

Rabbi Schonfeld added, "A new dawn broke today. What is done cannot be undone. This is acceptance of the Conservative Movement's basic demand for which we have fought for years: the beginning of equality in financing between the different movements in Judaism. Until last year, the Israeli government bankrolled the Orthodox rabbinical establishment to the tune of $450 million annually, while the Conservative and Reform movements received $60,000. The gap will not be reduced overnight but the money is less important. The achievement is the acceptance of the logic of basic equality between the two streams."

The Conservative and Reform movements have always seen the issue of religious pluralism as part of a human rights struggle, and, as in all human rights struggles, progress is measured in centimeters, then meters and only then in major change. "This is the process taking place in Israel at the moment," said Rabbi Schonfeld.

She observed that the opposition to the new reality expressed by the Orthodox rabbinical establishment in general and by Minister for Religious Services Yakov Margi of Shas in particular, who is threatening to resign, is no surprise because this is the beginning of the end of their monopoly.

Rabbi Schonfeld feels that the Conservative and Reform movements now have an equal opportunity to challenge for the hearts of Israeli citizens. The Orthodox movement, she insists, has at best not found a way through to most Israeli citizens, and at worst represses them and restricts their lives.

Yesterday, Rabbi Schonfeld was part of a Conservative Movement leadership delegation that met with President Barack Obama in the White House. He spoke about his commitment to Israel's security and his personal connection to Jewish tradition, which he said he had enormous respect for. Rabbi Schonfeld said that the meeting strengthened her belief in Obama's commitment to Israel.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on May 30, 2012

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2012

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