One of the most senior members of the Conservative Movement Rabbi Julie Schonfeld spoke out sharply against the religious establishment and government in Israel last week, saying that the state’s policies regarding non-Orthodox movements was endangering the unity of the Jewish people.
Schonfeld, the executive vice president of the Conservative Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, was responding to a speech given by Yesh Atid MK Aliza Lavie at the 2014 Convention of the movement in Dallas, Texas.
During her address, Lavie spoke of the numerous challenges in Israel created by the lack of legal legitimacy that non-Orthodox movements and rabbis have, such as the lack of recognition of non-Orthodox marriages by the chief rabbinate.
The Chief Rabbinate does not recognize the authority or legitimacy of non-Orthodox rabbis or religious ceremonies.
But in reply to Lavie, Schonfeld said that the longer the state did not accept the legitimacy of the non-Orthodox the more Jews in the Diaspora would become distanced from Israel.
“We are the Rabbinical Assembly. We are Masorati (Conservative). And we are Jewish. We are part of the Jewish people. We are Zionist. We are actually your core Zionist base in this country,” Schonfeld said in an emotional response to Lavie’s speech.
“I am afraid that world Jewry is becoming so profoundly alienated from Israel that... Israel will stand alone before a nuclear Iran, Israel will stand alone before a world which blames it unilaterally for its very existence,” she continued.
Schonfled said that she “understands” that the process of bringing about change on religion and state issues in Israel takes time, but said that “while you’re taking this time we’re loosing them [Diaspora Jews]. Give them this message back home. There are 3.5 million Jews in play, just counting Reform and Conservative Jews.
“While the Knesset is taking its time dealing with the rabbinate which tells us we’re not Jewish, that a Masorati marriage must be civil and not Jewish because they have said in so many words that it is another religion, if Yesh Atid does not step in and stop this there will not be a Jewish people left to talk about and there will not be world Jewry left to defend Israel.”
Last week, Lapid said that he Yesh Atid would advance a bill for civil unions in Israel that would allow anyone who is not recognized as Jewish according to Orthodox Jewish law to have a legally recognized partnership.
Lavie said that they had specifically left out the word marriage from the bill since she said that marriage was a religious word with religious connotations.
Deputy Minister for Religious Services Eli Ben-Dahan told The Jerusalem Post later that week that Bayit Yehudi would prevent such a bill from advancing in the Knesset.