Dan Izenberg, The Jerusalem Post
The Reform movement in Israel on Tuesday petitioned the High Court of Justice, demanding that the state appoint a female rabbi as the official spiritual leader of the Reform congregation of Birkat Shalom in Kibbutz Gezer.
If the petition is accepted by the court, it would mark the first time that a Reform rabbi, and a female rabbi, would be appointed as a state-paid official ministering to the spiritual needs of a religious congregation.
The petitioners included Rabbi Miri Gold, whom the movement wants to see appointed to the post.
A spokeswoman for the Reform movement's Israel Religious Action Center told The Jerusalem Post that as a communal rabbi, Gold would not be authorized to marry couples or grant kashruth certificates. She said the movement decided to petition the court because of the practical needs of the Birkat Shalom congregation. It did not demand parity with the Orthodox movement in the country's cities, but did not rule out the possibility that it would do so in the future, when the Reform population in Israel "grows and becomes stronger."
The petitioners, represented by Attorney Orly Erez- Likhovski, wrote that there are hundreds of state-paid rabbis appointed to minister the spiritual needs of the residents of cities, towns, districts in neighborhoods in Israel. "Every last one of them is an Orthodox male," she wrote. "Not a single one belongs to the liberal streams of Reform and Conservative Judaism.
"This situation constitutes gross discrimination aimed at a portion of the public which wants liberal religious Jewish services. It constitutes unacceptable and illegal preferential treatment for the Orthodox stream and against rabbis belonging to the liberal streams as well as against female rabbis who are discriminated against not only because they are not Orthodox but because they are women."
In conducting such discrimination, the state was violating administrative law that calls on the government to treat each citizen equally, not to discriminate on the basis of religious affiliation or sex, to foster pluralism and to take affirmative action on behalf of a group that has been mistreated over the years, wrote Erez-Likhovski.
According to the petition, a Reform congregation was established at Kibbutz Gezer in 1979. Today, it has 180 members, including most of the kibbutz members and many others from the periphery. Since it is the only Reform congregation in the Gezer Regional Council, it provides many religious services such as Friday night, Saturday and holiday services, educational activities, bar- and bat-mitzva celebrations, funerals and mourning rituals and charity projects.
Since 1986, Miri Gold has been an active leader in these activities, wrote Erez-Likhovski. She was ordained as a Reform rabbi in 1999, after completing four years of study at Hebrew Union College, and has served as rabbi of the congregation ever since. Since Gold is not recognized by the state, she receives her salary directly from the congregation.
"The burden of paying the salary of a rabbi, which is not imposed upon congregations that benefit from the services of Orthodox rabbis, is hard on the congregation and hinders development," wrote Lachovsky.
The demand for state recognition of Reform rabbis is a milestone on the way to guaranteeing freedom of religion in Israel and the elimination of the Orthodox monopoly on Judaism," said Anat Hoffman, IRAC executive director.
"Every Israeli Jew must be guaranteed the right to choose whichever religious services he wants, if he wants, and from whom to receive them, without dictating to him who is a Jew and who is a rabbi."