It’s not that the unemployment ticked up and the economy may be stalling again (ugh!). Nor is it that the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, in Boston, ruled unanimously Thursday that the federal law declaring marriage to be a union solely between a man and a woman discriminates against married same-sex couples (hooray!).
No, the big news for us as Reform Jews is that this Monday the attorney general of the State of Israel released his consent to recognize Rabbi Miri Gold as the first rabbi of a non-Orthodox congregation in the history the state. This decision paves the way for dozens of other Reform and Conservative Rabbis in Israel to receive a salary from the government for their work in the same way that about 4000 Orthodox rabbis currently do. And the first non-Orthodox rabbi to receive such a salary is a woman, to boot!
As Americans we may find it surprising and improper that the Israeli government pays the salaries of rabbis at all. Indeed, the lack of “separation between synagogue and state” is a very significant problem in Israel. It has led to the establishment of Orthodox Judaism as the religion of the state. That is why this decision of the attorney general is so crucial. For the first time the State of Israel is recognizing the legitimacy of Reform and Conservative rabbis. It is a major step on the path towards religious equality for our Movement and religious pluralism in Israel.
To be clear, while this is an important step, there is still a long, long way to go before our Movement and the Conservative Movement are on equal footing with Orthodoxy. The Orthodox rabbinate still has full control over marriage, divorce and other critical personal legal matters. The non-Orthodox rabbis will not have any say over matters of religion and Jewish law. Orthodox rabbis and institutions receive $400 million to $600 million in state financing each year, while Reform and Conservative institutions combined get less than $200,000. Moreover, the non-Orthodox rabbis will be paid by the Ministry of Culture and Sport not the Ministry of Religious Services.
But, rather than be insulted by that slight, we should celebrate. And I do mean “WE”. This victory came after a seven year battle in the courts waged by the Israeli Religious Action Center (IRAC), an arm of the Israeli Reform Movement. IRAC’s bills are paid by ARZA, the Association of Reform Zionists of American. ARZA gets its funding entirely from YOU. Specifically, those of you who include the $36 payment for ARZA dues in your Temple dues statement can take credit for this important change in Israeli society.
So, on behalf of my Israeli colleagues and our fellow Reform Jews in Israel: Thank you for supporting ARZA. You really make a difference. For those who have not yet become members of ARZA, all you have to do is include ARZA dues on your Temple dues statement when it comes in the summer. Or, better yet email firstname.lastname@example.org and let Hilary know that you want to be a member of ARZA and to include ARZA dues in your next bill statement.
P.S. Tonight at Temple my father will be reading Torah and will receive a special blessing in honor of the 50 th anniversary of his ordination from the Reform seminary, Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion. As it happens, back in the late 1950s my father was among the very first group of Reform rabbinical students to study in Israel. This was before HUC-JIR even had a program for rabbinical students to study in Jerusalem, and long before there were any Israeli Reform Rabbis. My Dad was a pioneer in building the relationship between the Reform Movement and Israel. Mazal Tov, Rabbi Ronald Millstein, on the 50 th anniversary of your ordination. May you go from strength to strength!