Photo Credit: The Knessset
MK Gilad Kariv's maiden speech at the Knesset plenum, May 5, 2021.

What would the state of religious Jewish life in Israel be should Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid succeed in becoming the next prime minister with the aid of the Labor party? MK Gilad Kariv gave us a taste of it in his maiden Knesset speech on Wednesday.

Kariv, who received a master’s degree in Jewish studies at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem in 2003, is the Executive Director of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism (IMPJ). Needless to say, his speech covered all the points in the worst nightmare of Israeli Orthodox Jews.


Kariv told the Knesset plenum that like any other ideological and social movement, “pluralist Jewish renewal paves its way step by step, between quite a few potholes and obstacles, the biggest being, unsurprisingly, the monopoly that has been given to one stream and one institution over Israeli Judaism, in a blatant violation of the basic values reflected in the Declaration of Independence.”

This is odd. The second paragraph in the Declaration of Independence reads: “After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom.”

However, historical Reform theology conceived of Judaism as the universal religion of the prophets, and in 1845 passed a resolution at the Frankfurt Conference that removed references to Palestine and a “Jewish State” from prayers on the grounds that nationalism and statehood were not compatible with Reform theology. Similar resolutions in 1869, 1885, and 1897 rejected the idea of “restoration of the Jewish State”. As early as 1890, the Central Conference of American Rabbis had publicly opposed Zionist ideology (Cohen, Naomi Wiener. “The Reaction of Reform Judaism in America to Political Zionism (1897-1922)”).

Underlying the anti-Zionist views of many American Reform rabbis in the 20th century was their acceptance of Americanization. Zionism was, to them, an ideology of foreign origins that was associated with newly arrived Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. Isaac Wise, founder of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations said the Zionist movement in America was sponsored by refugees who had been persecuted in Europe. These views were echoed in Jewish newspapers like The American Israelite.

The Pittsburgh Platform of 1885 rejected Jewish nationalism: “We consider ourselves no longer a nation but a religious community, and therefore expect neither a return to Palestine,…nor the restoration of any laws concerning a Jewish state.” This position did not change until the Columbus Platform of 1937 which affirmed the “obligation of all Jewry” to build a “Jewish homeland” in Palestine and to make it “not only a haven of refuge for the oppressed but also a center of Jewish culture and spiritual life.” In the San Francisco Centenary Perspective of 1976 the State of Israel is described as the land to which Reform Jews have “innumerable religious and ethnic ties.”

But check out the current Positions of the Reform Movement on Israel, posted on the movement’s website. They are more interested in the two-state solution than they are in religious dialogue inside Israel’s Jewish society.

The Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) issued this as their “positions on Israel”:
At the 2009 URJ Biennial in Toronto, the URJ passed a resolution reaffirming its support of Israel and its commitment to a two-state solution. Earlier in the year, the Union Executive Board passed a resolution calling on the governments of the United States and Canada “to help foster successful negotiations, to expand and deepen support for Israeli-Palestinian peace among Israel’s Muslim and Arab neighbors, in order to foster simultaneous progress toward Israeli-Palestinian and a broader regional peace.”
A shouting match between MK Itamar Ben Gvir and MK Gilad Kariv (L), April 27, 2021. / Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Back to MK Kariv, in light of the above, his grudges truly represent what could become the policy of a Lapid-Labor government on religion:

“This grim reality of a monopoly, coercion, and discrimination in the name of Judaism infringes upon the basic rights of millions of Israeli citizens – women, hundreds of thousands of immigrants and their children, [members of the LGBTQ community], members of the liberal communities as well as Jewish renewal organizations, Israeli citizens of other religious affiliations and many others,” MK Kariv told the Plenum. “This violation undermines the values of the State of Israel as a democratic state that is committed to equality and freedom of religion and conscience.”

MK Kariv further noted the “harsh ramifications of religion-state relations in Israel, which deepen the sense of alienation.” The general public, he argued, “views the religious institutions as a source of corruption rather than inspiration, and as centers of belligerence rather than [centers of] a beneficial and unifying moral and social force.”

Considering that a 2017 survey showed 7% of Israelis consider themselves Reform, allowing a reform clergy a position of power in government would be the start of a worrisome slippery slide. On the other hand, the survey, which was published by Yedioth Aharonot, relied on 700 respondents. Which could mean that the old adage still holds about the Israelis who don’t go to synagogue, but the synagogue they don’t go to is Orthodox.

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