Mayim Bialik, Michael Douglas join Jewish leaders’ call for religious freedom in Israel


(JTA) — Dozens of rabbis and community leaders across Judaism’s religious spectrum signed a statement calling for sweeping reforms to Israel’s official religious establishment and its policies.

The statement, which was published Friday morning, was written by Reform Rabbi Uri Regev, founder of the Israeli religious pluralism nonprofit Hiddush, and Orthodox Rabbi Marc Angel, the former leader of Congregation Shearith Israel in New York City. It was signed by nearly 50 prominent rabbis and activists in the United States and Israel, including the actors Mayim Bialik and Michael Douglas.

The statement calls for Israel to enact seven reforms Regev has long championed: to establish civil marriage; to officially recognize conversions of all denominations; to abolish local and national chief rabbi positions; to provide equal access to state funding and services for people of all faiths; to privatize the religious court system; to integrate all citizens into the country’s mandatory military and civil service; and to accommodate gender equality at holy sites. It also calls on Israel to continue officially maintaining a Jewish character.

“While appreciating the efforts of Israel to provide religious freedom to all its residents, the goal of providing total religious freedom remains to be achieved,” the statement’s preamble says. “We, who are committed to Israel’s growing strength and vitality, as well as its bonds with world Jewry, hold that this challenge can no longer be left to politics alone, and we will do our utmost, in partnership between Israelis and world Jewry, to address this challenge and help make it a reality.”

The statement comes at the end of a Jewish calendar year that saw Israel’s government freeze a plan to expand an egalitarian space at the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest prayer site, in June. The decision, which came at the behest of haredi Orthodox political parties in the governing coalition, sparked a fierce backlash from American Jewish leaders.

The same week as the Western Wall freeze, the Israeli government also voted to advance a reform to official Jewish conversion policy that American Jewish leaders said would strengthen the haredi Orthodox Chief Rabbinate. Following protest from American Jews, that reform was shelved.

Along with Bialik and Douglas, Regev and Angel’s statement also was signed by a who’s who of American non-Orthodox Jewish officials and some liberal Orthodox leaders, including Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism; Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, CEO of the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly; and Rabbi Asher Lopatin, president of the liberal Orthodox Yeshivat Chovevei Torah rabbinical seminary.

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