by Miri Gold, Kehilat Birkat Shalom, Kibbutz Gezer, Israel
The euphoria has subsided, interviews are no longer exciting, the insults of the Chief Rabbi Amar are to be expected and the denseness of Shas Knesset member Nissim Zeev is discouraging. Yet, a month after the unexpected but heartening decision by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to grant salaries to “rabbis of non-Orthodox communities” in Israel, there is still a feeling that an important step forward towards religious pluralism in Israel has been taken. I revel in the “mazal tov” greetings from Israelis who are not involved in Reform Judaism, but who sense that something significant and important has happened. A recent survey shows that 45% of the Israeli public supports the Attorney General’s decision, 35% are against, and the rest don’t care. That means that most Israelis don’t object to the decision.
Understandably—unfortunately—the ultra-Orthodox and the orthodox secular (those who are not observant but believe that the Orthodox have the patent on how to be Jewish) believe that one is a rabbi only if he (and of course there is no room to add “she”) is ordained by and approved “kosher” by the Rabbinate in Israel. Trying to imagine a more tolerable response is like expecting the lion and the lamb to lie together. Nissim Zeev repeatedly tells listeners that he was once the rabbi in Great Neck, NY. His congregants drove to synagogue, but at least, in his words, they respected him as their guiding light, they accepted him as the rabbinical figure who could steer them right. To him, anyone who calls himself or herself a rabbi is equivalent to one to takes the title of medical doctor without any training. Try to convince him otherwise! I don’t see this happening.
Rather than despair or be discouraged, angry, insulted or hurt, I take the advice of an Israeli-born colleague who told me, when the court case was first brought to the attention of the media in September 2005, not to read the talkbacks and comments that might be very unsettling. Instead, I think of Alice Miller, the young woman, a commercial pilot, who asked to try out to become a fighter pilot in the Israeli Air Force. She won her case in the Israeli Supreme Court, and gained the right to try out. She wasn’t accepted. However, years later, there are women fighter pilots, navigators, etc. in the IAF. Alice Miller did her part to allow women the opportunity to be accepted on their merit to this very grueling process, and to find their places alongside their male counterparts in this elite group. For the last seven years, I have hoped that I would, like Alice Miller, move the wheels of justice forward, even if only an inch.
Now I realize that the results of this move took many more years to materialize. Therefore, I have no illusions that we will find salary checks for fifteen rural Reform and Conservative rabbis in the mail any time soon. There will be red tape, threats to overturn the decision, and who knows what else to postpone implementation of the decision. It will take more time until city neighborhoods have Reform rabbis, and only then will the financial burden on the Reform and Conservative Movements in Israel be somewhat lifted. In the meantime, I repeat my mantra that hope is a commandment, and as Dr. Jerome Groopman has taught, we must hope for a miracle but work determinedly for our goals as though we cannot expect a miracle to occur. We can hope and pray, but we must continue to do our best to work for religious freedom, for justice, for parity, and for a rejoicing of pluralism in our beloved Israel.
Miri Gold was ordained from HUC-JIR Jerusalem in 1999 (the third woman ordained as a Reform rabbi in Israel). She serves as rabbi of Kehilat Birkat Shalom, a regional Reform synagogue based at Kibbutz Gezer. She petitioned beginning in 2005 to the Israel Supreme Court, demanding recognition as the rabbi of Gezer, and demanding a salary on par with the 16 Orthodox rabbis in the Gezer Regional Council. On May 29, 2012, the Israel Attorney General decided that the Ministry of Culture will pay salaries to rabbis of non-Orthodox council and farming communities. This signifies a major step forward towards achieving religious pluralism in Israel.