New Israeli Rabbinate Law Assailed by Reform and Labor Zionists in U.S.
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New Israeli Rabbinate Law Assailed by Reform and Labor Zionists in U.S.

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The Associa tion of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA) and the Labor Zionist Alliance (LZA) have attacked the new “Chief Rabbinate Law” which was passed by Israel’s Knesset earlier this month. ARZA assailed the legislation as “a deliberate affront to the more than three million Reform and Conservative Jews in Israel and throughout the world.” The LZA expressed its “deep disappointment” that its sister organization in Israel, the Labor Party, “saw fit to support this retrogressive legislation.”

The new law enshrines in the statutes the exclusivity of the Orthodox stream of Judaism in Israel, particularly in rabbinical jurisdiction to perform marriages. Under the new low the Chief Rabbinate will issue marriage licenses. Previously the licenses were issued by the Ministry of Religion.


Rabbi Roland Gittelsohn of Boston, president of ARZA, said the new law “undermines recent attempts by Israeli Reform rabbis to be granted the right to perform marriages by the Ministry of Religious Affairs.” Asserting that “this officially-sanctioned abridgement of religious freedom mars the democratic character of Israel,” Gittelsohn declared:

“Israel, the only Jewish state on the face of the earth, is the only state in which Reform and Conservative rabbis are prevented by law from performing marriages, the only nation in which Jews are barred from being married by the rabbi of their choice.”

The legislation also comes, he said, “at a time when Reform Judaism is intensifying its efforts to promote immigration to Israel — and after the World Zionist Congress overwhelmingly endorsed a resolution calling for ‘equality among all streams of religious Judaism in Israel.”

Gittelsohn also joined Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), in sharply criticizing the Labor Party for “a transparent exercise in political cynicism which will not be forgotten by the Israeli electorate.” The Labor Party invoked party discipline in the Knesset to support the bill, thus assuring passage.

Last December, in an address to UAHC’s biennial convention in Toronto, Shimon Peres, Labor Party leader, read a statement pledging that the Labor Party would “work for legislation to assure the recognition of all streams of religious Judaism, and to oppose all attempts to bring pressure or coercion to interfere with personal or individual ways of life.”

In a telegram to Peres, Gittelsohn and Schindler declared: “By betraying the very principles upon which Labor Zionism was founded — to make Israel a more open society in which the individual Jewish soul may realize its full potential — you have broken faith with those who voted for Labor’s Knesset slate in hopes that the principles could be reflected in Israel’s laws.”


The LZA’s national executive committee criticism of Israel’s Labor Party for voting for the legislation was incorporated in a letter to Peres which stated that in the context of the present situation in Israeli society the new law is “aimed at preserving an anachronism which must be removed if the desires of the majority of the Jews in Israel and of the great majority of the Jews in the U.S. are to be respected. Religious pluralism is an idea whose time has come in Israel, too, and it is, in our view, one of the major goals to be achieved in the near future by any democratically elected regime that is not based on political alliances of doubtful merits.

“The continued linkage of religion and politics as the aforementioned legislation implies, foreshadows continued dissatisfaction with the regulation of personal status of Jews within the State of Israel, and is a deterrent to aliya and normal absorption of Jews from democratic countries where such clerical dictation is unknown.”

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