Israeli Rabbi Not Optimistic About Her Future on Council

Rabbi Na’amah Kelman has been trying for seven years to be seated on the Jerusalem Religious Council.

But even though Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled Sunday that she, as a Reform rabbi, must be allowed to serve on the Orthodox-controlled body, she does not expect it to happen any time soon.

“When Moshiach comes, I’ll be on the council,” Kelman said, invoking the Messiah, during a visit here this week. “When she comes, she’ll seat me.”

The council would rather be inactive than allow her to participate, said Kelman, who immigrated to Israel in 1976 and was the first woman to be ordained as a rabbi in the Jewish state.

Kelman, who was in New York teaching Torah to a group of New Israel Fund supporters, now works as the director of the department of education for the Israeli Progressive Movement, a counterpart to North America’s Reform movement.

The Jerusalem municipal body has been inactive since she and Ehud Bandel, a Conservative rabbi, were nominated to the local policy body by the left-wing Meretz Party.

The local religious councils, which control the municipal funding for religious causes, including synagogues, ritual baths and kashrut, have historically been composed of only Orthodox members.

When non-Orthodox rabbis were nominated several years ago, the councils in several cities, including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, stopped working in order to avoid including them.

A ruling from the High Court about 18 months ago said the Reform and Conservative representatives had to be seated on the councils. That ruling has been ignored, which led the court to take up the matter again.

This time, the court expressed displeasure with the Jerusalem Religious Council’s procrastination and ordered the city of Jerusalem to pay the costs of the trial.

In Jerusalem, Orthodox rabbis and politicians immediately attacked the ruling.

Jerusalem’s chief rabbi, Yitzhak Kolitz, said it was “inconceivable” that persons who did not abide by halachah, or traditional Jewish law, could become become part of a body whose task was to provide services based on that system.

Bandel of the Masorti movement, Israel’s Conservative counterpart, said in a television interview that he did not intend to function on the council in a confrontational or provocative way.

The task of the religious councils, Bandel said, was to provide religious services to all citizens, regardless of their religious affiliation, belief or practice.

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