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Reform Chief Rabbinate, AJC Urges Israel

The American Jewish Committee called on the Israeli government to reform the institution of the Chief Rabbinate.

AJC in a resolution adopted by its Board of Governors urged the Israeli government “to undertake promptly all needed actions” to remove the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly over issues of personal status, including marriage, divorce, burial and conversion to Judaism. The Jewish advocacy organization also said Israel should ensure that its government bodies recognize all American Jewish denominations and accord them equal rights and privileges.

The call, which appeared in a statement Wednesday, comes in the wake of a government decision to recognize non-Orthodox rabbis in Israel as community rabbis and to pay them the same salary as Orthodox rabbis. The Chief Rabbinate has responded to the move with invective.

“In the 21st century, a coercive Chief Rabbinate has become, at best, an anachronism, and, at worst, a force dividing the Jewish people,” the AJC said in its resolution. “The role of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate requires significant modifications so as to bring Israel into greater harmony with contemporary democratic norms, particularly as practiced and understood by Diaspora Jewish communities.”

A “religious status quo” agreement between Israeli religious and secular authorities in 1948 established the Chief Rabbinate as the supreme religious and spiritual authority for the Jewish people in Israel. In recent years, however, the Chief Rabbinate’s actions and pronouncements on personal status issues and the legitimacy of non-Orthodox movements have raised rancor in the American Jewish community, as well as in Israel, AJC said in a statement.

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