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5 Tishrei 5760 - September 15, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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The Reform Movement's Invasion of Eretz Yisroel

by Moshe Schapiro

Yated Ne'eman has tracked every major development in the battle of wits currently being waged in Eretz Yisroel between the Orthodox community and American-based heterodox movements, yet further research by our Israeli-based correspondents proves conclusively that there are many more elements to this war than meet the eye. Ironically, the silent skirmishes that are being fought in silence, far away from the footlights, are precisely those that will ultimately determine the spiritual character of Eretz Yisroel. Unlike the showcase battles, which are predominantly over matters of principle, the side conflicts are about planting facts on the ground.

The Torah community's relatively complacent response to the Reform movement's current offensive is an indicator that many of us remain unaware of the deep inroads that our spiritual enemies have made in recent years. Well, the time has come to snap out of our fantasy. If we wait any longer, Eretz Yisroel may soon change beyond recognition.

Who are the invaders? And how are they attempting to undermine the authority of Torah-true Judaism in Eretz Yisroel?

The Reform movement's current all-out offensive is being choreographed, directed and funded by the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA). This organization's policies are implemented by its Israeli subsidiary, Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), which is headed by Uri Regev.

These are the main components of its plan:

Political Lobbying and Legal Activism

The Supreme Court is the Reform movement's closest ally and most effective weapon. A case in point is the Israeli Supreme Court's ruling last spring concerning the inclusion of Reform and Conservative members to local religious councils. Local religious councils wield a great deal of authority, including the right to allocate funds for the construction and maintenance of public religious facilities such as synagogues, mikvo'os and cultural centers, and hiring or firing neighborhood rabbis. It does not take a great deal of imagination to visualize the negative impact that a Reform takeover of local religious councils could have on Israeli society. In such an eventuality, neighborhood rabbis would be replaced immediately with Reform puppets, funds for the maintenance of synagogues and mikvo'os would be frozen or redirected, and temples would sprout up throughout the country like mushrooms after the rain.

Besides its own numerous appeals to the Supreme Court, IRAC underwrites the expenses of similar hearings forwarded by overtly anti-religious parties such as Meretz and Shinui, or, for that matter, anyone else who has an ax to grind against the Orthodox. IRAC openly admits this in its information bulletins. By doing so the organization achieves two important goals: to activate home grown Israeli mouthpieces to trumpet its distinctively foreign call for "religious pluralism"; and to ingratiate itself with influential politicians by providing them with the financial means to initiate Supreme Court hearings and enjoy free media coverage.

The Reform movement also procures goodwill in the most time- honored method of all -- bribery. There have been several reports in the religious press that certain members of the Knesset receive bribes from the Reform movement in exchange for their votes on crucial bills. Likud's Reuven Rivlin publicly voiced these accusations in the Knesset on January 26, 1999. United Torah Judaism Knesset member Rabbi Avrohom Ravitz demanded an immediate investigation to determine the identities of the persons involved.

Parties such as Meretz and Shinui reciprocate IRAC's kindness by nominating IRAC's Reform candidates to local religious councils as their representatives, supporting pro-Reform legislation, and forming governmental committees to investigate the refusal of religious council members to comply with the Supreme Court's rulings. IRAC openly chortles about these "fruitful relationships" in its newsletters and publications. One hand washes the other, and everybody is happy.

IRAC's lobbying campaign led to the Supreme Court's precedent- setting ruling in 1994 to uphold the organization's petition against the Jerusalem and Tel Aviv municipalities, which had routinely disqualified Reform candidates from their religious councils. Similar petitions were then launched against religious councils in Haifa, Netanya, Rishon' leTsion and Kiryat Tivon. That is how IRAC sparked the current religious council crisis -- through crafty lobbying, and a liberal application of money all around.

Public Relations

IRAC's primary means of reaching the Israeli public is through media exposure. By its own admission the organization "floods the country's major newspapers with hundreds of eloquently written articles" that espouse its policies and malign the Torah community. It also "maintains a unique data base of published articles and documents pertaining to the issues of Religion and State, and makes them available to policy makers, journalists, academics and others seeking access to information not readily available from other sources."

Extensive coverage by radio and television keep IRAC squarely in the public eye, where they malign the Torah community at every opportunity. Much of the anti-religious propaganda being disseminated by the media today is a direct result of IRAC's public relations work. Uri Regev, IRAC's director, is quite pleased with this achievement: "Our place at the forefront of the challenge to the coercive powers of the Orthodox Rabbinic authorities in Israel," Regev explains, "makes us an important source for information for the media. We are directly featured in their portrayal of the struggle for religious equality and civil rights."

Several religious newspapers in Israel have accused the organization of buying up key media officials by the dozen to ensure that every Supreme Court hearing and anti-Orthodox statement receives maximum, prime time media exposure. IRAC achieves this by showering editors and reporters with extravagant gifts and all-expenses-paid vacations in exotic locations of their choice. Accusations against IRAC's wholesale bribery of secular media officials have been lodged on several occasions by religious representatives, yet these accusations never seem to make headlines in the secular media. One cannot help but wonder why.

In stark contrast to the Reform movement's well-oiled media mechanism, the Israeli Torah community lacks a centralized public relations scheme to counteract the character assassination being inflicted against it by IRAC.

Gaining Equal Funding for Non-Orthodox Institutions

Last year IRAC launched a legal and legislative campaign to gain governmental support for non-Orthodox institutions. The Attorney General accepted the petition and instructed the Ministry of Religious Affairs to amend its criteria for the allocation of funds. Now, for the first time in Israel's history, Reform centers will compete on an equal footing with regular yeshivos for governmental funding, despite the fact that they represent a minuscule number of Israeli citizens.

In addition to funding, IRAC has demanded also equal allocation of public land for the construction of Reform temples and community centers. In yet another appeal to the Supreme Court, the organization accused the Ramat Hasharon municipality of refusing to comply with the Attorney General's decision to allocate public land for a Reform community center. Following this motion the Ramat Hasharon municipality capitulated and allocated a plot for this purpose. A similar suit was lodged against the municipality of Ra'anana, with the same result -- a plot was allocated, and building plans were swiftly approved. The next targets on the list are Modi'in and Mevasseret Tzion.

On January 22, 1999 the media joyfully announced a decision by the municipality of Tel Aviv to issue construction permits for a new Reform facility in the impoverished area of Jaffa. The planned $9,000,000 complex will include a temple, a luxurious community center, and a 300-bed guest house. It will offer the poverty-stricken residents of the area preschool child care, barmitzvah classes, conversion courses in three languages, adult courses and a dizzying range of cultural activities -- all free of charge.

The Jaffa project is significant because until now the Reform movement has stayed away from the lower strata of Israeli society, focusing instead on the ritzy estates in North Tel Aviv. Now it appears that the Reform movement has decided to expand its influence to the general populace. This unexpected development calls for a swift reanalysis of the situation, and perhaps, for a reformulation of the Torah community's response to the Reform movement's threat.

Legislating Marriage and Divorce Laws

Israel's civil law grants exclusive authority governing all matters of marriage and divorce to the Orthodox Rabbinate. The law does not provide for civil marriage or divorce, and marriages performed by Reform or Conservative "rabbis" are not legally valid.

IRAC is in the process of drafting a new bill which, if passed, will grant legal validity to marriages performed by non-Orthodox "rabbis," and also to mixed marriages. ARZA is raising resources and support in North America for the Israeli marriage-reform bill through a major fundraising drive called Operation Equality.

IRAC has also launched a petition before the Rabbinic Court of Appeal concerning a wedding conducted between a Cohen and a divorcee, which the rabbinic court of Netanya recently declared null and void. If the Rabbinic Court of Appeal rejects the motion, then IRAC will take the case to the Supreme Court, and will argue that the marriage be registered in spite of the Rabbinic Court's opposition. This is a classic case of the Reform movement's one-two punch strategy - - instigate a controversy at the local level, and then initiate a Supreme Court hearing on the issue. So far, the formula has achieved excellent results.

Encouraging Israelis to Circumvent Existing Marriage Laws

In addition to fighting for a legislative marriage-reform bill in the Knesset, IRAC offers Israelis free advice on how to circumvent existing laws. The organization calls this program the Alternative Marriage Package. It involves a non- Orthodox wedding ceremony (which is not recognized by Israeli law), assistance in planning a civil marriage overseas and subsequently registering it in Israel's Population Registry.

Another legal loophole dug up by IRAC's legal advisors is called Consular Marriages. According to one interpretation of the law, people in possession of dual citizenship (e.g., American and Israeli citizenship) may demand to have their marriage registered by the Interior Ministry. Once again, IRAC petitioned the Supreme Court to force the Interior Ministry to register these marriages, and as expected, the Supreme Court rubber-stamped the request.

This law is of major significance to hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish Russian immigrants who flooded the country in recent years. Many of these unwanted non-Jews left Israel of their own accord as a result of the strictly enforced marriage laws. Now, however, due to IRAC's intervention, these non-Jewish Russians no longer have an incentive to leave Israel. They can simply drive to the Russian Consulate in Tel Aviv, show proof of Russian citizenship, undergo a brief civil marriage ceremony, and presto! -- the mixed marriage gets entered into the Interior Ministry registry, no questions asked.

The religious parties scored a minor victory when they brought considerable pressure to bear on governmental officials to put an end to this ruse. As a result, a joint committee of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Interior Ministry and the Ministry of Justice approached foreign consulates and requested of them to ignore the above mentioned Supreme Court ruling and cease to perform consular marriages. The Russian Consulate, for one, has so far complied with the request, but ultimately everything depends on which side will exert more pressure -- the Reform movement, or the Torah community.

Importing Reform Rabbis into Israel From America

Despite the huge sums of money the Reform movement has poured into this land, it has failed to strike roots in the holy soil of Eretz Yisroel. This dearth of a solid grassroots infrastructure and home grown "rabbinical" talent is the greatest single obstacle in the movement's path. Imported "rabbis" from North America who deliver sermons with a thick gringo accent undermine the Reform movement's attempt to become a firmly entrenched element of Israeli society. However, having no other choice, the Reform movement continues to import dozens of "rabbis" annually into Israel.

Consider the disturbing implications of this advertisement posted by a branch of the Reform movement:

"As you know, the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ) is currently undergoing a significant process of development and expansion in Israel. We are now in the fortunate position of needing more rabbis -- Hebrew-speaking rabbis -- who are willing to make aliya to build and be built in the Israeli Reform Movement's frameworks. Positions at this initial stage for community rabbis are available in the following Kehilot areas:

Nahariya, Kiryat Tivon, Rishon Lezion, Be'er Sheva, Ramat Gan and Arad. Rabbis interested in further details and wishing to propose their candidacy for one or more of the posts are requested to send their resume and relevant information to . . .

This is how the Reform movement is keeping its Israeli facilities staffed, and herein lies its greatest weakness.

Who is a Jew?

Contrary to popular opinion, the "Who is a Jew?" issue is far from resolved. The Law of Return admits to Israel not only halachic Jews, but also spouses and descendants of Jewish families. Moreover, as a result of a Supreme Court petition by IRAC in 1989, non-Orthodox converts from abroad are granted citizenship and registered as Jews in Israel's Population Registry.

A subsequent 1995 IRAC petition resulted in a Supreme Court decision that Reform and Conservative conversions conducted within Israel must be recognized in the same way as those performed abroad -- i.e., the Interior Ministry must register them as Jews. Orthodox Knesset members blocked the drafting of a proposed bill to implement the Court's radical ruling, and later, the ill-fated Ne'eman Committee was established to try to find a solution to the problem. (No acceptable solution was found, and the committee has since been disbanded.)

In an attempt to break the stalemate, IRAC is in the process of organizing a powerful coalition of non-Orthodox organizations to force the government to implement the Supreme Court's ruling to grant legal Jewish status to those who undergo Reform and Conservative conversions in Israel. As Yigal Bibi (Deputy Minister of Religious Affairs) puts it, "If this law goes through, for fifty dollars and five minutes anyone will be able to get a Reform conversion and obtain Jewish status."

The list goes on and on: Public education, freedom of worship, burial, adoption -- IRAC is intent on uprooting every vestige of Torah law from Israeli society, and barring a miracle, it has the financial and organizational means to accomplish its aim. Clearly the time has come for the Torah community to formulate an effective, long-range strategy to contain the Reform threat.

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