It is with great disappointment that the Israeli government
and courts continue to give more and more legitimacy to
Reform and Conservative and I write this chapter in my series
of articles on attempts of various groups and individuals to
allow the Reform and Conservative to infiltrate into Israeli
In my last article I explained that the success of the Reform
and Conservative in receiving recognition in Israel -- though
they are not more than a handful of people here -- is in two
1. Government registration and recognition, where the civil
court forced the various governmental bodies to accept Reform
and Conservative converts for civil purposes as Jews;
2. Halachic matters, such as setting up the joint conversion
institute, which interferes in the actual conversion
Last week another serious decision was rendered by the High
Court which is another step in the continued deterioration of
the religious status quo, and it can even be called non-
religious coercion since it interferes with an individual's
personal freedom to follow a religious lifestyle.
The court ordered the chairman of the Jerusalem Religious
Council, Rabbi Yitzchok Ralbag, to call a meeting of the
council including Reform and Conservative members in spite of
the fact that the Chief Rabbis ruled that this is
halachically prohibited and that he was in a legal
position that did not allow him to resign.
Until now the Rabbinate was allowed to make all decisions
with regard to conversions and other questions of personal
status. Previous decisions of the court, as serious as they
may be, affected only official government offices, mainly the
Ministry of the Interior. They ordered government agencies to
recognize Reform and Conservative acts as valid for
government purposes, such as the population registry, the
identity card and Israeli citizenship.
However, in its latest act the High Court is attempting to
force a G-d fearing Jew to act against his conscience and
Both of the Israeli Chief Rabbis signed a long letter to the
president of the High Court of Justice expressing their clear
opinion that the decision of the court in this case was a
The following section of their 6 page letter clearly
describes the latest stage in the ongoing battle against the
Reform and Conservative.
"Until now when the court ruled for example to recognize
Reform conversions, it was only a general matter. There was
no obligation upon anyone to convert in that manner. And so
it was with civil marriage: there is no ruling to obligate
anyone to marry civilly, and the same with secular burial and
opening business on Shabbos.
"In all these cases the High Court expressed its world view --
which is not accepted by religious Jewry who feel it damages
the image of the Jewish state. However, all these stopped
short of obligating any particular observant Jew to actively
follow these decisions. Therefore we, the Chief Rabbis of
Israel, felt that there was no need for us to turn to the
president of the High Court. However, this latest decision
personally obligates a religious Jew to act in defiance of
the ruling of the Chief Rabbinate, against his
hashkofo and outlook."
It is interesting to quote from an article which appears in
the February '99 issue of Commentary written by Jack
Wertheimer, a history professor at the Conservative Jewish
Theological Seminary in New York City. He writes:
"Out of the 5.5 million Jews in the United States, then, the
total number of the Orthodox is in the range of 400,000. Yet
their actual impact is far greater than that number suggests,
and for a simple reason: they show very high rates of
participation in organized Jewish life. There once was a
category of "residual Orthodox" -- i.e., Jews who would pray
only in an Orthodox synagogue but in fact would rarely
attend; today, virtually all Orthodox males can be counted on
to worship in synagogues at least once a week, and virtually
all Orthodox Jews observe many if not most of the central
precepts of traditional Judaism. They are vital to the
maintenance of the community's religious infrastructure,
including ritual baths and kosher butcher stores,
bakeries and restaurants. Orthodox Jews also constitute a
significant proportion of those who give to Jewish
philanthropies or volunteer their time for Jewish causes, and
are vastly overrepresented in the ranks of professionals
staffing Jewish social, educational, and religious
institutions in local communities and national agencies."
Regardless of whether the actual numbers given are correct,
it is clear, even in the eyes of this Conservative writer,
that only the Orthodox really care about their Jewishness and
that is what makes us involved in every phase of Jewish life.
The Reform and Conservative consider their religion as
something secondary. Other things are far more important to
them than practicing and being actively involved in Judaism.
That is why the situation is that the Reform and Conservative
have only a few well financed activists who are trying to
change the makeup of the Jewish state -- against the will of
the masses who really care. In spite of this, so far they
have been quite successful in making progress in their goal
of recognition in Israel.
I would like to conclude with some refreshing news. Last
week, as reported in Yated, the Knesset passed a law
obligating all members of the religious councils to declare
that the Chief Rabbinate and local rabbinate have the final
decision in all matters pertaining to the religious council.
This law was designed to obligate the heretic members of
religious councils to commit themselves to Orthodox
halacha when acting as religious council members.
This decision in itself is a small victory in the ongoing
battle against recognition of the Reform and Conservative.
The decision has much declarative value as it publicly
obligates the Reform and Conservative council members to
publicly agree that only the Orthodox Rabbinate is
authoritative in matters pertaining to the religious
Still, even if the Reform and Conservative sign the
declaration -- which seems to be what will happen -- this
will not allow us to freely sit with them on the religious
councils nor in any other forum. I personally heard from
maranan verabonon that this is only the first step in
our uncompromising demand that the Reform and Conservative
should have no recognition in Israel. We are not allowed to
sit with them in any way and kol shekein that they are
not allowed to take part in any type of religious function in
The key point is that their ideology is not part of Judaism.
The people are Jews but the ideology they subscribe to is not
Judaism. Judaism implies acceptance of the Torah, and they
all reject the Torah.
We must work further to ensure that Reform and Conservative
are pushed out of the religious councils. There are proposals
to reduce the number of members of these councils that could
effectively bar them from being elected in most places.
The key to success is our continued battle, under the
direction of maranan verabonon, without any
compromise. We must learn from the bitter Jewish experience
in Western society that it is our tolerance of heresy and our
compromise with the heretic movements that have allowed them
to continue their destructive ways. If we stand firm against
them, they will wither away.
It is a difficult struggle, but it is for the future of the