AP NEWS
Related topics

Liberal Judaism Sees Political Win

January 27, 1999

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Two liberal streams of Judaism won a new battle Wednesday when their representatives were allowed to participate on the religious council of a small Israeli town, despite the bitter opposition from Orthodox Jews.

The religious councils are local administrative bodies which disburse government funds to build and maintain synagogues and ritual baths, supervise the supply of kosher food and provide other religious services.

Until recently the councils mirrored the monopoly that Orthodox Judaism has over such services. Reform and Conservative Jews were not represented on the religious councils and their synagogues have so far received no public funds.

In the United States the Reform and Conservative wings are the majority, but in Israel, the majority of religious Jews are Orthodox and the two other streams have been fighting for legitimacy.

Israel’s Supreme Court ruled last year that the exclusion of the non-Orthodox representatives is illegal. Despite the ruling, Orthodox rabbis have tried to keep Reform and Conservative Jews off the councils.

Also Wednesday, the two liberal streams asked their members in the United States not to back Israeli politicians who voted for a bill aimed at keeping them off the councils.

``It’s appropriate to support whoever voted with us,″ said Rabbi Ehud Bandel, leader of the Conservative movement. ``Whoever didn’t support us, it’s not appropriate that he should get our support.″

Israel holds general elections May 17. One Israeli expert has estimated that American Jews will contribute more than $10 million to Israeli politicians in this campaign.

The religious legislation, which passed 50-49 in the 120-member Knesset on Tuesday, requires Reform and Conservative council members to swear allegiance to the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate. Reform and Conservatives representatives have said they would not be deterred and would take the oath as a formality.

Orthodox Jews consider the Bible to be the revealed word of God, and sees the other movements _ which tolerate believers who attribute the bible to human hands _ as heretical.

A Reform and a Conservative representative Wednesday took their places on the new religious council in Kiryat-Tivon in northern Israel.

Four Orthodox members also attended, but refused to elect any officials. Seven other Orthodox councilors boycotted the meeting.

Rabbi Kalil-Shalom Rosenberg, the Conservative councilor, said he was confident the other councilors would give in to change.

``Without electing office-holders they can’t pay salaries to the town rabbi, the kosher food supervisors or any of the employees,″ said Rosenberg, a native of Detroit.

On Thursday, the Reform and Conservative movements will ask the Supreme Court to over-rule Orthodox efforts to keep them out of the religious council in Jerusalem, one of the most important in the country.