I Recognize You Now--Sort Of
Something really startling happened in Israel this week. The state looked up and saw a bunch of Conservative and Reform rabbis and said, “I recognize you. You’re a rabbi.” And it only took 64 years.
This is not a small deal. The Reform movement said, “this declaration by the state constitutes a precedential and historical achievement of the non-Orthodox movements and the wide public they serve, who have until now suffered from financial discrimination by the religious services.” Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, head of the Conservative movement said, “this is a historic day for Israelis and Jews around the world.”
On the other hand, we should not be too self-congratulatory. There is still a long way to go and it is fair to say that “financial discrimination by the religious services” still exists. One only has to note that while the salaries of Orthodox rabbis that serve their communities is paid by the Religious Services Ministry, the non-Orthodox rabbis will be compensated by the state in the form of financial assistance from the Culture and Sports Ministry. Also, those listed under the title, ‘non-orthodox rabbis’ will not have authority over religious and halachic matters. There is indeed still a very long way to go.
However, the Reform and Conservative movements were smart enough to understand that the first barrier is the toughest to break through and once you achieve recognition expanding the rights that go with recognition is an easier case to make. We can expect this case to be made in the courts shortly.
I can only speculate on the following, but I can’t help but wonder if the timing of this is not related to the formation of the new government that for the first time creates a large enough coalition that no single party can block changes by threatening to bolt. This latest policy change came in response to a petition that had gone unanswered since 2005 only weeks after the formation of the new coalition. Kadima made addressing military exemptions for the ultra-Orthodox a condition of joining the government. This might be seen as an extension of that priority, but that is only speculation on my part.
What I really hope is that if Israel is finally beginning to address this issue of religious pluralism, perhaps we are seeing only the beginning of a series of changes in social and diplomatic policies that Israel so badly needs to undertake.