The past two weeks have been very hard for anyone who believes in Jewish pluralism in Israel. There was progress under the last government. There were inroads made in the recognition of non-Orthodox rabbis, conversion reform, civil marriage and marriage reform, and other issues that affect hundreds of thousands of Israelis.
Many Israelis who view religion as the Orthodox synagogue they don’t go to, joined with the liberal branches, to condemn the cancellation of the b’not mitzvah for special needs children that was canceled by Rachamim Malul, the Haredi mayor of Rehovot because the venue was a Masorti synagogue.
The Masorti movement in Israel has run this national program for disabled children (the only one in Israel) for 25 years. They work with 40 special education schools in Israel and have enabled over 3,000 Israel children and their families to celebrate this Jewish life cycle event. Malul refused to meet with the families, the teachers, or the people who run the program. He showed no concern for the autistic children who had prepared for this b’not mitzvah and whose lives would be devastated by the loss of something they valued so much.
In a statement released by the Masorti movement, Yizhar Hess, the executive director and CEO, said: "To slam a door on a Jewish teen at the moment they are about to enter the fellowship of the Jewish People is terrible; to do so to a young person with disabilities is unforgivable. The insult to the dignity of these teens and their parents is egregious. Together with all those who believe that a tolerant and diverse Israeli society is the key to its survival, we are shocked and dismayed by this decision. The Masorti movement has helped to create strong Israelis who are unfettered by the handicaps and challenges they face. Mayor Malul should be ashamed of himself."
But this is just shades of what is to come with the religious ministry going back to Shas control and with the promises to return to the previous “status quo” that was the price of the religious parties entrance into the new coalition.
According to an Ynet report published on May 4, on what UTJ received in the coalition includes: the removal of criminal sanctions for yeshiva students who do not serve in the IDF, the reinstatement of the previous levels of the child allotment stipends and up to a billion Shekels going to Haredi education. It is important to note that Haredi education does not teach enough of the core curriculum subjects to allow graduates to go to university or to enter the workforce.
The reforms to Israel’s conversion laws that were enacted by the previous government will be reversed and the position of the rabbinical courts over marriage and divorce will be completely protected. Ben Gurion’s status quo agreement will sadly remain even though the country has changed.
The cost of these coalition concessions is much more than financial hit of the billions of shekels. The cost is ten times that to Israel’s soul. Are we going to be a regressive, restricted society or a society where the diversity of our citizens are allowed to flourish?
MK Michal Oren, in a statement about Masorti Judaism, said, “If Israel does not work to make itself the nation–state of all the Jewish people, and be truly pluralistic and open … then we risk losing those people.”
If diaspora Jews see that their Judaism is not welcomed in Israel, then aliyah from liberal movements will stop, tourism will stop and we face a future of the division of Judaism due to the intransigence of 10 percent of Israel’s population because of their ability to be coalition members. Is that a future we want? I know I don’t.