First state-funded Reform synagogue to go up in Modi'in

State will now build synagogues that will serve non-Orthodox congregations.

woman rabbi 63 (photo credit: )
woman rabbi 63
(photo credit: )
For the first time in its 60-year history, the State of Israel is funding the building of synagogues that will serve non-Orthodox congregations. Until now, the Orthodox establishment, under an unofficial status quo arrangement, has enjoyed a total monopoly over state funds earmarked for the building of houses of prayer. In Israel, where there is no separation of religion and state, all public religious services are provided through a network of neighborhood and city rabbis who are chosen by the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate. Non-Orthodox streams of Judaism in Israel are not officially recognized by the rabbinate. The soon-to-be built synagogue belongs to Modi'in's Yozma Reform Congregation. A special ground-breaking ceremony will be held on Monday. Kinneret Shiryon, Yozma's female rabbi, said the announcement, on the eve of Israel's 60th anniversary, was particularly satisfying. "It feels enormously rewarding to see that our perseverance has finally paid off," said Shiryon, a US immigrant. "I have seen progressively that the State of Israel's pluralistic Jewish expression has grown during my 26 years here. People have not just stayed with the Orthodox status quo; rather, they are looking for and finding different options." A total of six prefab synagogues will be provided to both Reform and Conservative congregations in Modi'in, Tivon, Zichron Ya'acov, and Tzur Hadassah. Rabbi David Lau, one of three state-salaried Orthodox rabbis in Modi'in, refused to comment. Shiryon said none of Modi'in's rabbis have ever openly recognized Yozma, which runs six preschools, an elementary school and various volunteer and social activities in addition to the synagogue. About 240 families belong to the community, and a total of 550 families receive various services from Yozma, she said. State recognition and funding of the synagogue is the result of a legal battle that began several years ago, waged by the Reform Movement's legal arm, the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), and Yozma. IRAC and Yozma petitioned the High Court against what they called the discriminatory methods of state money allocations for religious institutions adopted by the Construction and Housing Ministry and Modi'in's municipality. As a result of the legal action, IRAC and Yozma entered negotiations with then-construction and housing minister Isaac Herzog (Labor). A compromise was reached in which the Reform Movement dropped its petition while the ministry's religious institutions development unit agreed to provide the Yozma community with a 200-square-meter prefab building. Attorney Rabbi Gilad Kariv, a senior member of IRAC, said Sunday that although municipalities had allocated city land for the building of non-Orthodox synagogues in the past, this was the first time the actual building was being funded by the state. Kariv explained that IRAC had taken advantage of two developments that facilitated the acquisition of state funding. "First, there was the dismantling of the Religious Affairs Ministry and the parceling-out of its various functions," Kariv said. "Jurisdiction over the building of synagogues was transferred to the Construction and Housing Ministry. Secondly, Isaac Herzog, who is sensitive to liberal Judaism's needs, was appointed as construction and housing minister." Recently, power over the building of synagogues was restored to the reinstituted Religious Affairs Ministry, headed by Shas MK Yitzhak Cohen. Kariv said he fears that additional synagogues for about eight Reform congregations in Netanya, Kiryat Ono, Nahariya, Karmiel and Rosh Ha'ayin, among other places, will be long in coming.