An open letter to the Jewish Federations of North America

I am sending the following letter to the leadership of my local Federation. I invite you to do the same.

In the past year, we have seen the tension in Israel between Hareidi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews and everybody else go from bad to worse. We have seen Hareidi campaigns to force women to sit at the back of the bus, signs in some neighborhoods restricting women to sidewalks on one side of the street, a campaign to remove images of women from public spaces, male IDF cadets walking out during ceremonies in which female soldiers were singing, and an eight year old girl from a religious family being harassed and spit upon while walking to school, because some Hareidi Jews didn’t think she was dressed modestly enough.

The non-Orthodox movements still do not receive support from the state, because the ministry of religion is controlled entirely by the Orthodox chief rabbinate. The government of Israel spends at least $450 million a year on Orthodox programs and institutions. There are 3000 Orthodox rabbis on the government payroll. Masorti gets, by comparison, less than $50,000 and no Masorti or Reform rabbi gets government funding. No Masorti or Reform rabbi serves as a rabbi in the IDF, though some have served in combat positions.

It is clear to the leadership of the non-Orthodox movements in Israel that the best thing for Israel and for Judaism would be a separation of religion and State, but the Reform and Masorti (and modern Orthodox) movements simply do not have enough power to move Israel in that direction. There were Masorti services for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in 64 locations this year, and there is a network of 30 Reform congregations. It is clear there is an openness and interest in non-Orthodox Judaism, but they are limited by a severe lack of funding.

Money alone will not solve this problem, but an infusion of funds into the non-Orthodox movements will help them grow and will fund their campaigns for greater freedom of religion in Israel. I call upon the Federations of North America to take 5% of the money that they would send to National Federation and send it directly to the Masorti and the Reform movement in Israel, with the goal of strengthening freedom of religion in Israel.

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