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Rising Streams: Reform and Conservative Judaism in Israel

However, that hundreds of thousands of Israelis are familiar with, exposed to, and even identify as Reform or Conservative has not resulted in the importation of the North American (Western) concept of organized Jewish “streams” into Israel with large-scale membership. Rather, it seems, Israeli society is, at this time, largely non-denominational, perhaps anti-denominational. Israeli Jews who identify with the movements, beyond the few thousand registered hard-core members, hold a generally loose association that is likely as much political statement against the Orthodox and Rabbinate as it is a positive statement about their own identity. At this time, we do not have better data regarding such Israelis.

Conversely, many Jews who identify as Orthodox also likely only do so as it is still to a large extent the normative option, much like being Reform or Conservative is the normative option in the Diaspora.

We see from the other direction, a noticeable trend on the liberal reaches of the Religious Zionist, or Dati group. As Tamar Hermann points out in a 2014 IDI study, a full 12 percent of the Dati group identifies as liberal or Modern Orthodox.49

This is a significant sized group. As JPPI’s Shlomo Fischer points out, there are clear trends of decreased religiosity overall within the religious Zionist community, including a greater openness to pluralistic Jewish expressions, especially as relates to traditional gender roles.50

This includes numerous communities and synagogues exploring and debating various levels of female involvement in religious matters, ranging from “partnership minyans” where women can participate more than in traditional Orthodox settings, to fully egalitarian prayer groups. Outside of Israel, such as in the hyper-denominational United States, such thinking might categorize some of these groups within Conservative Judaism, while the Open Orthodoxy movement has gained steam in recent years.

Anecdotally, when the author asked one group of liberal Orthodox Jews why they were pushing for an egalitarian prayer group, including the option of mixed seating in Orthodox settings, when they could simply attend the Conservative synagogue down the street, they answered almost reflexively, “Because we are Orthodox.” In this sense, Orthodoxy is not only an ideological religious definition for many Israelis but rather a social milieu that encompasses school, community, seminary study, youth groups, and even military service. Branching officially outside this milieu would constitute a social breach more than it would a religious one.