Resolution on Religious Equality in Israel

Approved by the URJ North American Board

July 13, 2017


The Israel governmental preference for the ultra-orthodox at the expense of the vast majority of Israelis is not new. But the depth and breadth of attacks on religious equality have increased tremendously in recent years.

This dynamic is manifest in the increased encroachment of the coercive ultra-orthodox monopoly on all aspects of Israeli life from cradle to chuppah to grave.   It is evident in matters of personal status (conversion, marriage), education, and the governmental rules prescribing what business can and cannot be conducted on Shabbat.  Though many Israelis do not feel much attachment to the Kotel, they are increasingly incensed at the ways in which their lives are negatively impacted by the ultra-orthodox religious-political establishment.

This summer, attention has focused on the questions of access to pluralistic prayer at the Kotel (Western Wall) in Jerusalem and legislation that would enshrine all matters of conversion in the hands of the ultra-orthodox chief rabbinate. The Israeli Prime Minister walked away from a painstakingly- negotiated agreement concerning not only physical access to the Kotel, but, critically, changes in the way the entire Kotel area is managed. After 18 months of promising to implement the agreement, the government turned its back on the agreement and, in doing so, on World Jewry.

More than that, the decision to abandon the Kotel agreement, especially when viewed in conjunction with support for the new conversion bill, presents a strategic threat to Israel.  As David Makovsky and Dov S. Zakheim, two leading Middle East analysists who are Modern Orthodox, wrote recently:

Israel cannot afford the loss of American Jewish support, which constitutes a critical hedge against the weakening of US-Israeli ties and a consequent lessening of American support in the face of future threats that it might confront. Respect for non-Orthodox forms of religious practice constitutes a national security strategic issue for Israel, one that cannot be minimized, ignored or wished away.[*]

We approach this discussion not as supplicants, but as long-time leaders in building the North American/Israel relationship.  A Reform rabbi from Cleveland sat alongside Abba Eban at the United Nations as they argued for Israel’s creation in 1947.  A Reform rabbi from New York was the first president of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.  A Reform rabbi from Rochester, New York was among the founders of AIPAC.  A Reform rabbi from Milwaukee built the UJA into one of the most effective fundraising organizations in the world.  Reform Judaism was the first non-Orthodox religious community to create a Zionist organization through which its members could sit with counterparts representing other streams of Jewish life in Israel and the Diaspora discussing issues vital to the Jewish future.   Reform Jews have served as volunteer and professional leaders of numerous organizations that have made, and continue to make, indispensable contributions to Israel’s economic and political well-being. 

Therefore, the Union for Reform Judaism Resolves to:

  • Provide leadership for a large-scale campaign to end the ultra-Orthodox monopoly in Israel;
  • Commend the senior professionals of our Movement -- especially Rabbis Rick Jacobs, Gilad Kariv, Noa Sattah and Joshua Weinberg, and the remarkable Anat Hoffman – for their wise and courageous leadership;
  • Acknowledge the unprecedented support we have received from across the North American Jewish community in recent weeks;
  • Use this crucial moment to redouble our efforts to end the ultra-Orthodox religious monopoly in Israel, including
  • Advocating directly to Israeli officials, including Israel’s Consuls General, to ensure that the Government of Israel is aware of the priority we place on these issues;
    • Encouraging all Reform-affiliated missions to Israel to not only visit the Kotel, but to participate in egalitarian worship services in the upper plaza to demonstrate that we will not be silent or sequestered at the far less accessible and virtually invisible Robinson’s Arch;
    • Continuing to build and strengthen the coalition relationships in North America with ARZA and our Movement partners, and with the Conservative Movement, Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), the American Jewish Committee, AIPAC, ADL and dozens of others;
    • Supporting the Israeli Movement for Progressive Judaism and our other partners to significantly expand the number of Reform synagogues and other religiously progressive institutions in Israel, to broaden their reach and to strengthen their work;
    • Working directly with leading funders to provide the resources necessary for this vital work;
    • Developing marketing campaigns in North America and Israel to ensure that our objectives resonate with both North American and Israeli Jews;
    • Encouraging our congregations in North America to become educated about and involved in this campaign, with involvement ranging from participation in specific events to financial support for boots-on-the-ground organizations in Israel that work on these issues;
    • Working with the World Union for Progressive Judaism to use the North America/ Israel partnership as a model of collaboration for Reform/Progressive communities in other countries around the world; and
    • Exploring the most effective ways to ensure that our voice is heard loudly and clearly by the Israeli government, including the best approaches to North American financial support for Israel and Israeli organizations.
  • Authorize appropriate funding for calendar year 2017 to implement this resolution.