In an unprecedented event in Israel, seven secular Jews who view Judaism as a culture, as opposed to a religion, will be ordained as rabbis Friday in Jerusalem.
The ceremony, which will be held at the Israel Museum, comes after the ordainees completed three years of study at the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism in Jerusalem. Twenty five additional students are currently studying at the program.
The organization, which promotes "secular humanistic Judaism," is closest to the Reconstructionist Judaism movement in the United States, said Oren Yehi-Shalom, 35, who will be ordained at the ceremony. Yehi-Shalom said that the participants do not pray to God, but believe in man's humanity.
The group's Web site lists the belief in God "as a literary character," citing the Dutch philosopher Spinoza, who is recognized as the founder of modern Biblical criticism.
Yehi-Shalom, who was born to a secular family in the Tel Aviv suburb of Petah Tikva, said he was approached by the organization while working in the field of education and completing his masters at Bar-Ilan University.
Those who will be ordained on Friday will work in the field of education, and will officiate at religious ceremonies that will not necessarily include God in them. The group has carried out dozens of such marriage and bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies in Israel, where no Jewish certification is needed to take part, and only a declaration of desire to undergo such a ceremony is needed.
The ceremonies would carry no legal standing in Israel though, and would be symbolic at most, since even Conservative and Reform marriages - not to mention marriages by the more left-leaning Reconstructionist Movement - are not recognized by the rabbinate.
Still, the ordination of the secular rabbis is bound to attract the ire of the Orthodox establishment in Israel, which has a virtual monopoly over religious issues such as marriages, divorces, and burials.
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