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First Non-orthodox Member Elected to Tel Aviv Religious Council

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Bruria Barish, a leading member of the Movement for Progressive Judaism — the Israeli arm of Reform Judaism — was elected to the Tel Aviv Religious Council this week.

This is the first time a representative of the Reform movement has been elected to a municipal religious council in Israel.

Barish’s election was made possible by last year’s High Court decision that said religious councils could not bar Reform and Conservative candidates from serving on the grounds of their religious affiliation.

Since the decision was made, however, no municipal council had approved any such candidate.

Barish was elected after lengthy negotiations between Tel Aviv Mayor Roni Milo and representatives of the religious front on the city’s municipal council, and is seen as a compromise.

Initially, Reform Rabbi Meir Ezri, executive director of Beit Daniel, Tel Aviv’s Reform Synagogue, was elected to the post.

But Ezri drew strong objection from the religious front because he is a Reform rabbi. Barish was then put up as a compromise candidate.

Barish served as chairwoman of the Reform movement in Israel for several years, and is currently president of Beit Daniel. She is very active in the movement, but is not a rabbi, which made her more acceptable to some of the religious members on the city council. Three other women were elected to the religious council together with Barish.

In reaction to Barish’s election, Milo said, “The more-or-less general consensus that has been achieved is an indication of the excellent relations between the secular and the Orthodox in Tel Aviv.”

But several fervently Orthodox leaders vehemently opposed the election. Knesset member Moshe Gafni of Degel HaTorah called for the religious factions in the Tel Aviv municipality to form a separate religious council.

“The position of al the religious parties, as we told Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at a meeting, is that if a Reform representative joins a religious council, we shall leave it,” Gafni said.

Knesset member Rabbi Avraham Schapira of Agudat Yisrael called Barish’s election “a great shame and a disgrace.”

Responding to a statement by Rabbi Chaim David Halevi, Tel Aviv’s Sephardi chief rabbi, saying that he would not approve her nomination, Barish said: “There is the High Court of Justice and the courts. My election was legal, the whole council voted on it.”

“Whoever will try to oppose it will bring about an unpleasant fight, which isn’t what we really want in Tel Aviv,” she said.

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