Advocates for Religious Pluralism in Israel Buoyed by Election Results

Yesh Atid's Surprising Popularity May Help Bring Changes

Cause for Celebration: Secular Israelis and Reform Jews proclaim ‘Jerusalem is not Tehran’ in a 2010 protest in Jerusalem.
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Cause for Celebration: Secular Israelis and Reform Jews proclaim ‘Jerusalem is not Tehran’ in a 2010 protest in Jerusalem.

By Nathan Jeffay

Published February 03, 2013, issue of February 08, 2013.
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Hoffman said that she is “positive and optimistic” about the cause of civil marriage. And despite her tense relationship with the Haredi community, she described the Yesh Atid’s Haredi lawmaker, Dov Lipman, as “amazing” and “one very rare ultra-Orthodox rabbi.”

Hoffman chairs the Women of the Wall, a feminist group that challenges the male monopoly on communal prayers at the Western Wall, and was arrested last October for reciting part of the morning liturgy there. She is enthusiastic about Lapid’s promise to facilitate female prayer at the Wall.

This past May, Lapid said that “Israel cannot be the only country in the Western world that has no freedom of religion for Jews.”

In practical terms, liberalizing legislation is a numbers game, and 61 is the magic number for any law to pass. Pro-civil marriage parties control exactly this number of seats, and could potentially force a free vote for those inside the government, even if Netanyahu opposes a marriage bill. It’s also possible that they could win over some members of Likud-Beiteinu and Jewish Home, as well as Arab parties.

When it comes to increasing state funding for Reform and Conservative synagogues and religious movements, Yisrael Beiteinu loses interest. Its support for civil marriage stems from the fact that many members of its core constituency of Russian-speaking immigrants are not halachically Jewish and therefore can’t currently get married in Israel, but they are unconcerned about non-Orthodox Judaism.

Netanyahu’s Likud party, however, is expected to approve the money. “This is going to be the easiest bone for Netanyahu to throw,” predicted Uri Regev, president and CEO of Hiddush, an organization that pushes for pluralism.

Regev reasoned that it will please Lapid and the other pro-pluralism parties but prove relatively uncontroversial because the taboo on funding has already been broken as a result of legal proceedings. In the most recent development, a legal case ended in May 2012, with the government agreeing to recognize some Reform and Conservative rabbis and to fund their salaries.

Contact Nathan Jeffay at jeffay@forward.com


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