Rabbis hold 1st mixed-prayer service in Knesset

Group of male, female rabbis and communal leaders from North America make afternoon prayers as per conservative customs.

Reform Jews pray in Jerusalem [Illustrative]_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Reform Jews pray in Jerusalem [Illustrative]_311
(photo credit: Reuters)
A historic prayer service was conducted in the Knesset on Wednesday by a leadership mission of the North American Masorti-Conservative movement, the first mixed men’s and women’s service ever held there.
The group, comprised of male and female rabbis and communal leaders from the US and Canada, met with several MKs to discuss the issue of religion and state, including Ministers Dan Meridor (Likud) and Uzi Landau (Israel Beiteinu), as well as Kadima’s Yohanan Plesner and Orit Zuaretz.
The meetings largely focused on the issue of religious radicalization in Israel and its influence on the country’s image abroad, particularly in America.
The group said afternoon mincha prayers when their schedule of political engagements was over, and, as is the custom in the Conservative stream of Judaism, men and women sat together without a partition.
The service was led by Rabbi Jennifer Gorman in the Knesset synagogue, in what the group described as an historical first.
“It was an inspiring service and we were extremely happy to be praying in the beautiful synagogue of the parliament of the Jewish state,” said Rabbi Alan Silverstein, chair of the US Masorti Foundation. “Each Shabbat we pray for the well-being of the State of Israel in Conservative communities worldwide, and here we had the opportunity to do this great mitzva in the synagogue of the Israeli Knesset, one of the most important symbols of Jewish sovereignty.”
The group also raised the controversial issue of rights for non-Orthodox streams of Judaism, referring to the lack of recognition the state grants to the Conservative movement’s rabbis and ceremonies.
“All of us love and support Israel and members of our communities are part of the central leadership of AIPAC, Hadassah and the Jewish Federations,” said David Lissy, executive-director and CEO of the US Masorti Foundation.
“But the State of Israel degrades us time and again when it says that we are second-class Jews,” he continued, mentioning Conservative marriages and conversions in particular. “The discrimination against non-Orthodox movements in Israel does massive damage to the image of Israel as a state for all Jews.”
Seth Farber, director of the ITIM religious rights group and an Orthodox rabbi, told The Jerusalem Post that the State of Israel finds itself at a crossroads in this regard and that as the relationship with the Diaspora matures “some very difficult decisions lie ahead.”
“A lot of work still needs to be done to make Jews of all denominations feel comfortable in Israel,” he said. “There isn’t enough strategic thinking going on to think about how Israel can be a homeland for all Jews. The state wasn’t founded to be insular and indifferent to Jewish people and so there needs to begin a sincere dialogue with Diaspora communities to tackle these issues.”