For the nearly sixty years of Israel's existence, Orthodox Judaism, as expressed via the Chief Rabbinate and Ministry of Religious Affairs, has exercised de facto hegemony over all Jews of Israel with regard to vital matters of personal status (conversion, marriage, divorce and burial), regardless of individuals' personal convictions or choice. Following unsuccessful efforts in previous decades, once again an initiative is pending in the Knesset to expand and make de jure these powers. While these efforts are directed at Jewish life in Israel, their potential effects will be seen and felt by non-Orthodox Jews worldwide. As North America is home to the largest Jewish community outside Israel, and as the Reform Movement represents the largest Jewish stream in this hemisphere, we ask that our voice and concerns on this issue be heard. The Reform Movement has adopted resolutions on related issues in the past, including: The Jewishness of the Jewish State (1987), Religious Pluralism in Israel (1993), Operation Equality (1995), Religious Freedom in Israel (1997), Reform Pilgrimage to Israel (1997), and Reaffirming Religious Pluralism in Israel (1997).
The proposed Knesset legislation recently agreed on by Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann and Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar will allow tightly proscribed civil marriage relief for Israeli citizens not recognized as Jews (or Christians or Muslims). Primarily, those citizens are arrivals from the former Soviet Union who are family members of Jews who immigrated under the Law of Return and who otherwise live as secular Israelis participating fully in civic life, speaking Hebrew, paying taxes, and often serving in the Israel Defense Forces. While ostensibly a humanitarian response, the proposal risks permanently alienating the affected individuals and their descendants from the Jewish people. Moreover, the proposed legislation would institutionalize a database (blacklist) of citizens the rabbinate deems barred from marrying under Jewish law (agunot, mamzerim and the children thereof), and for the first time, would provide the Chief Rabbinate with official Knesset recognition as having exclusive authority in matters of personal status.
Acknowledging that Jews outside Israel cannot demand change in Israeli law, we must nonetheless make clear our grave concern for the consequences of the proposed Friedmann-Amar legislation. The division and delegitimization the proposed legislation portends will drive Jews from one another in anger and humiliation and away from the Jewish state. Should the proposed legislation become law, Orthodox premarital inquisitions and particularly the maintenance of multigenerational blacklists will be recognized as affronts to human dignity and respect and to the unity of the Jewish people.
THEREFORE , while continuing to build and uphold the strongest possible affinity between Jews of all streams and the State and people of Israel, and while treasuring Israelas the Jewish homeland, with citizenship under the Law of Return forever attainable by Jews of all streams, the Union for Reform Judaism resolves to:
- Call on members of the Knesset and the Israeli public to disassociate themselves from the Friedmann-Amar agreement, and to defeat it and any similar proposals if introduced.
- Call on members of the Knesset and the government of Israel to grant all citizens full and unqualified rights of choice in matters of personal status and conscience;
- Call on members of the Knesset and the government of Israel to recognize the legitimacy and parity of Progressive Jewish movements in Israel, in parallel with Jewish life and co-existence abroad;
- Call on members of the Knesset and the Government of Israel to remove all legal barriers to non-Orthodox officiating of marriage and to establish civil marriage for those who are unable or unwilling to participate in a Jewish marriage of any description;
- Call on members of the Knesset and the Government of Israel to denounce and forbid the existence of officially sanctioned religious blacklists.