Background In Israel, non-Orthodox rabbis are not granted equal status with Orthodox rabbis in the performance of life-cycle events, such as marriage, divorce and conversion. As a result Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and secular Jews in Israel are accorded unequal treatment relative to Orthodox Jews and non-Jews. This restrictive policy has become a substantial impediment to the successful absorption of olim from countries such as Russia and Ethiopia. It has been estimated that there are about 150,000 olim who are not able to marry in Israel because Orthodox rabbis question their being Jewish. It has also been reported that between 4,000 and 10,000 Jews are unable to marry because of some perceived halakhic reason. In one instance, the reason given is that some 2,000 years ago an ancestor of one person seeking to marry was rumored to have violated a religious law. There are thousands of women who cannot remarry because their husbands will not agree to a divorce, and the Orthodox rabbinate will not grant a "get" without their husbands' agreement.
The very character of the State of Israel is affected. By denying to its non-Orthodox Jewish citizens equal treatment under the law, Israel violates its own Declaration of Independence, which guarantees freedom of religion and the fundamental human right to raise a family.
The Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA) has embarked upon a two-year campaign called Operation Equality, designed to end unequal treatment of non-Orthodox Jews in Israel. The centerpiece of Operation Equality is a legislative initiative in the Knesset that will give the option to Israelis of civil marriage or non-Orthodox religious officiation at marriages.
The ARZA campaign has two parts; one in the United States and the other in Israel. In the United States three goals will be pursued. First is an increase in ARZA membership. ARZA is already one of the largest Zionist organizations in the United States. However, it represents no more than 10 percent of the members of the Reform movement. In order to maximize its i nfluence, it must increase its proportion of members of the Reform movement. Second is a campaign to educate the American Jewish community on the failure of Israel to grant equal rights to its non-Orthodox Jewish citizens in the area of religious life-cycle events. ARZA intends to mobilize support in the Jewish community to inform the Government of Israel that it is endangering the very nature of its society by giving a religious monopoly to the Orthodox establishment. The third goal is to raise $2 million over a two-year period to support Operation Equality in both the U.S. and Israel.
In Israel the first goal is an educational campaign, using the media and other techniques, to inform the Israeli public about the existing situation and how it directly affects them. This will be done in coalition with other Israeli organizations. The second goal will be to introduce a bill in the Knesset, supported by intensive lobbying.
The Israel Religious Action Center and the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism have made significant progress in establishing a more democratic, pluralistic society in Israel. They believe that because of past successes, a public campaign in Israel, at this crucial time, will bring about a change in the laws of Israel that would eliminate the coercive monopoly granted to the Orthodox establishment, both religious and political. We agree.
The Central Conference of American Rabbis, ARZA, the Commission on Social Action, and the North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY) have all adopted resolutions in support of Operation Equality.
THEREFORE, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations resolves to support Operation Equality and to urge its member congregations to participate fully in the Operation Equality campaign.