It’s not every day a non-Orthodox rabbi in Israel gets paid by the government. In fact, it’s never happened before.
“This is a very big step, it’s breaking through a barrier,” Gold, whose father was from Pittsburgh, told the Chronicle in an exclusive interview. “The fact that the government is willing to acknowledge rabbis who are not Orthodox is huge; I think a lot of people are justly optimistic that this could lead to more change.”
Gold is a Reform rabbi practicing in Israel. She is the spiritual leader of Kehilat Birkat Shalom, a regional Reform synagogue based at Kibbutz Gezer.
In 2005, Gold petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court, demanding recognition as the rabbi of Gezer, and a salary on par with the 16 Orthodox rabbis in the Gezer Regional Council. Last week, the Israeli attorney general decided that the Ministry of Culture and Sports will pay salaries to rabbis of non-Orthodox councils and rural communities — a groundbreaking move in the fight for religious pluralism in Israel.
The Israel Religious Action Center, which helped Gold bring the suit, called this a “precedent-setting declaration.”
For years, the state has financed the salaries of thousands of rabbis throughout the country, the IRAC noted. These rabbis serve as municipal rabbis, communal rabbis, regional rabbis and neighborhood rabbis. But those rabbis have all been Orthodox men — until now.
While the news is a breakthrough for Israel’s Reform and Conservative (called Masorti) Jews, it is by no means the end of the fight.
The A.G.’s decision, which affects both the Reform and Conservative movements, applies only to a handful of rabbis working in rural and regional councils. A similar suit, which would affect rabbis working in neighborhoods and other urban areas, is still pending, according to Gold.
Also, for political reasons, the non-Orthodox rabbis will not be paid out of the Religious Affairs Ministry, like the Orthodox rabbis are.
Finally, the big prizes — recognition of marriages and conversions performed by non-Orthodox rabbis — remain to be achieved.
Rabbi Gerald Skolnik, the new president of the Rabbinical Assembly, which represents the Conservative rabbinate, was pleased with the achievement, but cautioned that much more work remains to be done.
“There is still going to be tremendous organized opposition on the ground by entrenched religious forces,” Skolnik told the Chronicle. “The struggle isn’t over, but think of the Civil Rights struggle [in America]; it wasn’t won overnight, it was won by slogging it out over a period of years.”
Gold is nonetheless buoyed by the decision, and she believes many Israelis are as well.
“I believe in the power of numbers,” she said. “If more people have good experiences in a liberal [synagogue] setting, the more they will be supportive.”
We believe in the power of numbers, too, especially the power that the many American Jews have to affect change in Israel if they make their voices heard.
In a few weeks, Pittsburgh will send its largest federation mission ever to Israel — 290 participants. It’s a clear sign of this community’s love and support for the Jewish state.
In the spirit of that love and support, we hope many participants on the “Mega Mission” will use this experience to communicate their support for equal rights for all streams of Judaism in Israel. For Jews who express their faith in a non-Orthodox fashion, and to see that faith given such little respect in the Holy Land is, and ought to be, unacceptable.