Liberal Judaism in Israel

Different streams of Judaism in the Jewish state.

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Access to Holy Sites

The Masorti and Progressive movements in Israel also struggle for access to the Kotel--the prayer space at the Western Wall of the Temple Mount. When Israel conquered East Jerusalem in 1967, Levi Eshkol, Prime Minister at the time, gave control over the Kotel to the Chief Rabbinate, who soon put up a mehitzah separating spaces for men and women to pray. At the end of the 1990s, the Masorti movement conducted prayer services at the upper end of the Kotel plaza for Shavuot and Tisha B'Av, but some Orthodox Jews were outraged and attacked the worshippers.

The Masorti movement petitioned the Supreme Court, which ruled that egalitarian prayer services could be conducted at Robinson's Arch, an archaeological site further along the Western Wall set apart from the popular plaza. This compromise was an accomplishment for the non-Orthodox movements, but not completely satisfactory for liberal Jews--they only have access to the site for a limited number of hours each day, and they must provide their own prayer books and Torah scrolls. Still, over 20,000 people each year worship and conduct Bar and Bat Mitzvahs in egalitarian services at Robinson's Arch.

Money Talks

In Israel, the government funds religious educational programming, rabbis' salaries, and synagogues, when approved by the official local rabbinate and religious council. This funding, however, has historically been denied the Progressive and Masorti movements. This means that Israeli Jews who want to join a non-Orthodox synagogue must pay taxes supporting Orthodox institutions, and then membership fees supporting their own religious institutions. Membership fees make it more difficult for non-Orthodox synagogues to attract members in a country where people assume they will not have to pay to attend religious services and programs.

In 2006, IRAC petitioned the Supreme Court to provide a salary for Rabbi Miri Gold, a Reform rabbi, but the case is still pending. Rabbi Gold is one of 16 rabbis in the Gezer region. The 15 other rabbis, all Orthodox men, receive a government salary, while Rabbi Gold does not, even though she serves as rabbi for a large number of Gezer residents and is recognized as a rabbi by the Municipal Council in Gezer.

IRAC succeeded, however, in securing state funding for six non-Orthodox synagogues, and the Reform movement dedicated Israel's first government-funded non-Orthodox synagogue in 2008, located in Modiin, a town between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

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Rachael Gelfman Schultz

Rachael Gelfman Schultz holds a B.A. in religion from Harvard University, and completed her M.A. in Jewish Civilization at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is a Jewish educator in Karmiel, Israel.