Rising Streams: Reform and Conservative Judaism in Israel

  • The unequal status of the non-Orthodox movements in Israel is a constant point of contention between the Israeli government and many Diaspora Jews. Significant elements of the government and the constituencies they represent are strongly opposed to the liberal movements, and even to expressions of religious pluralism. At the same time, while there is wide support for these movements among the public, this support is not afforded high importance or priority by the supporters themselves. Thus, policies favorable to the movements may find favor with the Diaspora but will cause domestic political discord.
  • Continued attempts by the Haredi parties to push legislation that would grant greater control to the Rabbinate and block the non-Orthodox movements (as well as Modern Orthodox groups), is driving many Israelis to bypass the Rabbinate altogether. Some of these bypassing efforts are led by Modern Orthodox groups alongside the Reform and Conservative Movements. This could make the Rabbinate irrelevant to a significant portion of Jewish Israelis if this trend continues (marriage, kashrut supervision, conversion, etc.).
  • On certain issues and among certain segments of Israeli society, despite legal hurdles and public funding discrimination (or perhaps because of these), the Reform and Conservative Movements have succeeded in expanding physically, as far as new communities and to a greater number of Israelis in the past decade. This is certainly influenced by positive (appeal) as well as negative factors (rebellious statement against Rabbinate).
  • At the same time, and on certain issues, when not specifically labelled “Reform” or “Conservative,” or when public attention is not drawn to a given issue, the government has an easier time allowing and supporting some activities and efforts of non-Orthodox Judaism in Israel. The Haredi parties are also often able to be more pragmatic and compromise in such matters. This is most evident in the education system. This leaves the movements with a dilemma, whether and when to push for symbolic and public victories that will draw active pushback, or advance practical and gradual gains, quietly creating facts on the ground.
  • Relatedly, the perceived alignment of the Reform and Conservative Movements with left-wing, liberal politics on a range of political and social issues inhibits a broader appeal to secular and traditionally minded, right wing sectors of the public, who might otherwise be drawn to the religious content the movements offer (but attracts other segments of society). Therefore, perhaps a market-segmentation strategic approach might be appropriate in order to expand to new segments of society.
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