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A few weeks ago there were articles on the front pages of virtually every major newspaper in North America and Europe about the ordination of three rabbis in Germany - the first such ordination since the advent of Nazi Germany in the 1930s. The Jerusalem Post reported on the ordination in its Sept. 17 issue. In general, however, the Israeli press did not give this milestone event the kind of attention it deserved.
More troubling than the lack of interest on the part of much of our news media was the official non-response on the part of the government. The ordination of these rabbis in Germany was high political drama, an event of historic proportions. The president and chancellor of Germany, the American ambassador to Germany, and official representatives from over 25 nations were present. And yet, the Israeli Foreign Ministry refused to send a representative. The Israeli ambassador to Germany visited a Chabad school in Vienna on the same day.
Why? Because those individuals were ordained at a Reform seminary. The government was seemingly justifying President Moshe Katsav's recent refusal to accept Eric Yoffie, the head of the North American Reform movement, as a rabbi.
THE REASON for this affront is that religious affairs in the State of Israel are controlled by the Orthodox rabbinate, whose discrimination against the Reform movement knows no limits. Last year, this same rabbinate threatened Ethiopian students who were registered to begin their studies at the Leo Baeck High School in Haifa, an educational institution of the Reform movement. The students were told that if they attended a Reform school they would not be allowed to convert. The students disappeared.
My daughter recently got married. Unlike her older sisters, she went through the Orthodox rabbinate. I warned her that the process could be a bit of an ordeal. It was more than she or I could have imagined.
She had to prove she was Jewish. I assumed this would be a simple matter. After all, she was born in Israel to a Jewish mother. We had my wife's identity card as well as my daughter's birth certificate, each stating that her religion is Jewish. What I did not know was that the rabbinate does not recognize the authority of the state in matters of religious concerns, all the while determining matters of religious concerns for the state.
In short, these state documents were not sufficient. Since my wife and I were married by a Reform rabbi, our ketuba could not serve as proof of her Jewishness. But my wife's brother is an Orthodox rabbi who was married in Jerusalem through the rabbinate. My daughter brought in his marriage certificate, his ketuba and his ordination certificate. Upon seeing that her uncle was married through the rabbinate, the attending rabbi, in his best sarcastic tone, asked me how was it possible that in one family someone could be married according to Jewish law, and others - my wife and me - by a Reform rabbi.
He took the documents and consulted one of his rabbinical colleagues, and then asked if my wife was adopted!
ORTHODOXY'S BIGOTRY toward Reform Judaism prevented a group of 25 young Ethiopians from getting the kind of education and care that they need in order to succeed in modern Israel by studying at a high school that is nationally recognized for its academic and social excellence; Orthodoxy's prejudicial world-view toward Reform Judaism humiliated my daughter and prevents hundreds of young Israeli couples from getting married with respect, as they turn to rabbis from non-Orthodox religious streams to perform their weddings, and then are forced to go abroad to have them sanctioned through civil ceremonies for registration in the Ministry of Interior, which kowtows to the rabbinate's outrageous behavior.
How long will we Reform Jews allow the Orthodox rabbinate to deny not only us, but all Israelis the opportunity and equality and the basic right to choose alternatives for their Jewish identity? How long must we acquiescence to this contemptible assault on our dignity? How long must we suffer Orthodox coercion?
How long will we permit pre-emancipation religious views to dictate national policies, whereby we sell our souls for the presumed riches of a promised divine heritage of land and glory, fusing religion and nationalism to a frightening degree? Are we angry enough at being discriminated, ignored and rebuffed? Are we furious enough at their spitting in our faces since the establishment of the state? Are we prepared to take on the rabbinical establishment and by extension the government, not exclusively for ourselves, but for Conservative Jews, Ethiopians, agunot, single mothers and even Palestinian farmers who come under attack from "religious" settlers?
Not only those of us in the Reform Movement in Israel, but also our Reform leaders abroad should tell the Israeli government, the United Jewish Communities and local Federations, which capitulate to this travesty, that it is either-or: Either you recognize our movement, its institutions and its leaders, or we will ask our members to divert their contributions and give exclusively to the development of a large and powerful Reform movement in Israel.
Only an intensely coordinated effort among our Reform leaders here and abroad, accompanied by substantial financial backing, can break the unacceptable stranglehold Orthodoxy has over us, and ultimately free Israel to be religiously, socially and politically tolerant, so that the Jewish state will be inclusive, pluralistic and truly democratic.
The writer, author of Jewish Schizophrenia in the Land of Israel, is a Reform rabbi living in Jerusalem.