In a recent op-ed my friend and colleague Rabbi David J. Forman suggests that Reform and Masorti (Conservative) Jews "Merge the movements" (The Jerusalem Post, October 20).
He is not correct when he suggests that little separates the movements in Israel and even further off the mark, at least as to Masorti, when he describes the non-Orthodox religious congregations in Israel as "comprised [sic] largely, with rare exception, of Anglo-Jewish populations."
Although Forman glosses over it all too lightly, there is a clear distinction in philosophy and outlook between these two Jewish religious movements. This is reflected in behavior as well. For example, no activity of the Masorti youth movement, NOAM, involves the violation of Shabbat and holiday restrictions; the same cannot be said of the Reform movement's smaller youth organization. He will also not find a single rabbi serving a Masorti congregation in Israel who travels, even to the synagogue, on Shabbat; the same cannot be said of Reform rabbis.
AS TO the nature of the membership of the various kehillot, I cannot speak for the Reform congregations in Israel. I can say with certainty, though, that with regard to Masorti, the "Anglo" characterization is not accurate. Our kehillot include some that are overwhelmingly Spanish- or Russian-speaking and virtually every kehilla has a large (in some, dominant) native Hebrew-speaking group.
One major difference to keep in mind is this: Masorti rabbis who welcome into their midst members of their movement's congregations from other countries know that those members are Jews according to the demands of Halacha: born to a Jewish mother or converted by a properly constituted rabbinical court with immersion in a mikve and with proper ritual circumcision for males.
While Israeli Reform rabbis hold to those definitions regarding members of their congregations and to those standards in their own practice of conversion, they remain marginal dissidents in the worldwide Reform movement, the Jewishness of whose members they can hardly examine closely if presented with candidates for synagogue membership, bar/bar mitzva or marriage.
This issue, about which governments have shaken and nearly fallen in this country, is hardly "nit-picking."
Reform and Conservative Jews in Israel share a political agenda and a strategic outlook regarding the Jewish renaissance that must take place here, and we have respect for the integrity of our Reform colleagues. In our common efforts, we have many allies, religious and secular. There is a wide and growing assortment of individuals and organizations that recognize that the Orthodox domination of Jewish religious expression has brought the Torah into disrepute and gained the title of "rabbi" much opprobrium. An even playing field in Jewish expression will benefit Conservative and Reform institutions alike, and our movements will appeal to different constituencies. This is as it should be.
In the meanwhile, though, if my Reform rabbinic colleagues find that they and their movement in Israel adhere to my movement's ideology, they are welcome to join others of their colleagues who have already applied for (and received) membership in the Rabbinical Assembly.
The writer is president of the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel, the professional organization of Israel's approximately 150 Masorti (Conservative) rabbis, and chair of the Public Affairs Committee of Israel's Masorti Movement.