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Reform, Conservative Leaders Hail Israeli High Court Challenge to Rabbinate on the Rights of Reform

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Leaders of Reform and Conservative Judaism in America hailed the Israeli Supreme Court’s challenge to the Orthodox rabbinate’s exclusive right to officiate at marriages in Israel and expressed confidence over the weekend that the court’s action will result in the extension of equal rights to all branches of Judaism in the Jewish State.

The American rabbis and lay leaders were responding to a “show cause order” issued by Supreme Court Justice Dov Levin in Jerusalem last Thursday giving the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Chief Rabbinate 45 days to explain why Reform rabbis should not be licensed to perform marriages.

The high court acted on a complaint filed by the Israeli affiliate of the World Union for Progressive Judaism after the Chief Rabbinate refused to register marriages performed by two Reform rabbis in Israel — Moshe Zemer and Moshe Rotem.

VIEWED AS MAJOR STEP FORWARD

Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), the association of Reform synagogues, declared that the court order was “a major step forward in the struggle for full and equal religious rights of the Reform movement in Israel.” He added, “The Orthodox monopoly in Israel must be broken for Judaism’s sake and for Israel’s.”

Gerard Daniel, president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, declared: “We are pleased with the result so far, and we are determined to press our efforts until our 13 Reform congregations in Israel and the Reform rabbis who serve them are granted the same measure of support and the same legal status as Orthodox rabbis and Orthodox congregations.”

Rabbi Roland Gittelsohn, president of the Association of Reform Zionists, also expressed gratification. “It has long been our contention that questions of religious rights and liberties (in Israel) are matters of judicial concern, not of parliamentary politicking.”

SAYS IT’S ABOUT TIME

Rabbi Stanley Rabinowitz of Washington, D.C., president of Mercaz, the Conservative Zionist movement, issued a statement from Jerusalem where he is presently meeting with the leaders of Israel’s Conservative movement, Mesorati. “It is time that Israel base its recognition on the procedure followed in marriage and conversion rites, rather than the identity of the persons performing those rites, so long as the rabbi is duly ordained by a recognized religious body,” Rabinowitz said.

He predicted that “Conservative as well as Reform rabbis who now suffer the same rejection, even though their services are performed in accordance with the procedures defined by Halachic traditions, will ultimately benefit from the courageous initiative taken by Israel’s Reform rabbis.”

The Supreme Court’s order was also applauded in a statement issued here by Gerson Cohen, Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and signed by senior officials of the Seminary and the Conservative movement. “This decision reflects the democratic foundations upon which the State of Israel was established and continues to flourish, and is a further extension of the principles of religious pluralism which is a vital safeguard to true religious freedom,” the statement said.

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