Hebrew Union College Ordains 2 More Reform Rabbis in Israel

Two Israelis were ordained as Reform rabbis at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion here this week as the movement renewed its call for religious pluralism in Israel.

Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, HUC president, warned of an alienation of the Diaspora if Reform and Conservative streams of Judaism are not recognized in Israel.

“We are not just talking about less political and financial support, which are also likely to happen,” he said on Army Radio. “We are talking about Jewish unity.”

Religious parties, which won 23 seats in the 120-member Parliament in the May national election, hold several ministerial posts in the new government of Benjamin Netanyahu.

The increased strength of the religious parties has raised concern that they will try to push through legislation to close down shops and businesses on the Sabbath and holidays, and take other measures that would cut into the lifestyle of secular Israelis.

Other proposed measures, endorsed by the government’s policy guidelines, such as barring recognition of any non-Orthodox conversions in Israel, have set off alarms among activists in the Reform and Conservative movements.

“This can cause deep alienation among the Jewish people,” Zimmerman said.

So far, 16 Israelis have been ordained as Reform rabbis in Israel, including two women.

Reform and Conservative rabbis are not recognized by the chief rabbinate, which is Orthodox, and thus are not authorized by the state to officiate at weddings, carry out conversions or perform other religious roles.

Knesset member Avraham Ravitz, of United Torah Judaism, dismissed Zimmerman’s remarks.

“If they want to come here and live here as Jews, fine,” he told Army Radio. “The Reform can register as a minority religion. But they cannot pass themselves off as Judaism.”

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