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September 3, 2014 | 8th Elul 5774

Fitting In

Galilee Diary #455, September 2, 2009
Marc Rosenstein

tmt-bug.jpgRabbi Abba said in the name of Samuel: for three years the School of Shammai and the School of Hillel were in disagreement, each insisting that the halachah was according to its view. A heavenly voice was heard, saying "Both views are the words of the living God, and the halachah is according to the School of Hillel." But if both are the words of the living God, why did the School of Hillel merit that the halachah followed its view? Because they were soft-spoken and humble, and taught both their view and the view of the School of Shammai - and even mentioned the opinion of the School of Shammai first. -Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Eruvin 13b

A friend recently asked me to officiate at her wedding here on Shorashim. I explained to her that Reform and Conservative rabbis are not considered agents of the state like they are in the US, and therefore, a ceremony performed by me could not be registered as an official marriage. The policy of both movements is to request that couples desiring a Reform or Conservative wedding ceremony travel outside of Israel before or after the religious ceremony, in order to obtain a certificate of civil marriage. Cyprus, for example is only an hour's flight away - and has lovely beaches; there are travel agents offering combination wedding/honeymoon packages for Israelis. Civil marriages in other countries may be registered with the Ministry of Interior, even though there is no mechanism for performing civil marriage within Israel's borders. The bride was uncomfortable with this solution, so I turned to our regional rabbi (Orthodox, employed by the government). He said he would be happy to co-officiate with me. That way I can be responsible for the more personal aspects of the wedding ceremony, while the marriage will be registered as a wedding performed by the government rabbinate.

That story characterizes my experience with this rabbi over the years. His coat is black and his beard is long, but this is not the first time he has shown me honor in public - and in private, has found halachic and bureaucratic solutions helpful to non-Orthodox communities and individuals. He may not be typical, but I also don't think he is alone in his views and behavior. The fact is that the reality of relationships among Jews of different religious "denominations" is quite a bit more complicated and interesting than it sometimes looks from afar. On the one hand Orthodoxy is the "established religion." Only Orthodox rabbis get government salaries and control issues of family status and conversion; only Orthodox synagogues are built at taxpayers' expense. Ultra-Orthodox protesters get extensive media coverage for their often outrageous demands and complaints (against operating a parking lot on Shabbat, most recently). And one still encounters "secular" Israelis who scoff at Reform and Conservative Jews as inauthentic. It is possible for us liberal Jews to see ourselves as embattled and discriminated against, and there is something to this perception.

On the other hand, despite the handicaps, the liberal movements are growing and there are synagogues everywhere, and rabbinical seminaries, and the Leo Baeck school/community center, and summer camps and youth movements, and liberal rabbis teaching and speaking in many settings, active in the community; and there are more and more Israelis who, having been at a Reform wedding or bar mitzvah, "get it" that we are not anti-Zionists, and that most of us don't have German accents. There are many quietly open-minded Orthodox rabbis like the one described above, and pluralistic study groups and social action organizations. Personally, I think that the way forward lies not in demanding that Israel treat us better, but in asking ourselves how we can continue - and expand - our positive impact on Israeli society from within. There are a lot of groups here who see themselves as victims; adding ourselves to the list doesn't seem to me useful. But there are not a lot of groups offering a coherent, inspiring vision of what we want this state to be; that, I think, is the list we should be on.

 

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