Although Friday's ordination of six rabbis by the Progressive (Reform) movement's Hebrew Union College was intended as a religious and academic event, most speakers used the opportunity to comment on the gay pride demonstration which took place at the same time, and to the rioting by extremist haredi groups in Jerusalem throughout the preceding week.
"As we stand here today, we are aware of everything that has happened around us, the expressions of pride and prejudice, of tragedy and tension," Rabbi Dr. Michael Marmur, dean of HUC, declared at the ceremony held at the Merkaz Shimshon Cultural Center in Jerusalem.
Marmur, like many speakers at the convocation, also addressed the violence more broadly. The extremists, he said, were not opposed only to the gay community. "They also forced the chief rabbis to cancel a rabbinic convention that was meant to address the issues of women who cannot obtain a divorce," he declared. "This is why our ceremony today is so important. We understand Jerusalem and Judaism differently."
HUC president Rabbi David Ellenson echoed some of those same sentiments.
"Every person was created in the image of God, and we must promote this view in all our deeds and actions," he said.
Prof. Aharon Barak, president (Ret.) of the Supreme Court, was named an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters at the ceremony. Honorary doctorates of divinity were also presented to Rabbi Kinneret Shiryon and Rabbi Gil Nativ, both of the Reform Movement.
Addressing the question of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, Barak declared, "The phrase 'the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state'...reflects something that is instinctive about the State of Israel and about Israeli society...We are a democracy and our values are like the values of any democratic state. But we are also a Jewish state and for this reason are values are the values of a Jewish state. Israeli society as a whole is going to have to contend with this dualityâ€¦."
"All the strata of Israeli society and Jews around the world will have to ask themselves what are the values of the State of Israel and a Jewish and democratic state," he added.
Rabbi Nava Hefetz criticized the current values of Israeli society while promising that she and her colleagues would strive to promote social justice.
"The Orthodox establishment has rejected homosexuals and lesbians. Tomorrow they will reject the liberal community and then will reject women, or Arabs, or whomever...To be a Progressive rabbi is to accept the commandment to be a bridge for tikkun olam (repairing the world) and to change the landscape of our society, and to promote Judaism that is friendly and appealing and not oppressive or imposing. We are commanded to open the gates in those places where the gates have been closed," Hefetz said.
Hefetz also noted that the six newly-ordained rabbis include Israeli- and Russian-born candidates, together with one candidate, Corrie (Keren) Zeidler, who converted to Judaism in an Orthodox conversion in 1979 and is the first converted Jew to be ordained as a Reform rabbi.
"Together, we represent the changes that the Jewish people has experienced over the past two decades and we are part of the mosaic that is Israeli society today," Hefetz said.