Israeli rabbi sees shift on marriage issues

Israeli rabbi sees shift on marriage issues

Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News

Uri Regev — here delivering a talk in Princeton in March — will discuss marriage equality in Israel at a Shavuot program in Montclair on June 3.
Uri Regev — here delivering a talk in Princeton in March — will discuss marriage equality in Israel at a Shavuot program in Montclair on June 3.

Uri Regev sees major changes coming on marriage issues in Israel, thanks to the engagement of leaders from key American-Jewish organizations.

Regev is particularly focused on the ability of Jews to marry in Israel without needing the blessing of the established Orthodox rabbinate. This means giving non-Orthodox clergy the ability to legally marry a couple, as well as relieving Jews from the requirement of having their religious status pass muster by an increasingly finicky religious authority. 

In a May 23 phone conversation from Los Angeles, the Reform rabbi and activist said there has been “quite a bit of progress” on these issues over the last several months at a number of bodies, including the Jewish Federations of North America’s Global Planning Table and the American Jewish Committee. 

In addition, he cited the announcement just days before of “Jewish and Democratic,” a report of the Jewish Peoplehood Policy Institute suggesting that a majority of both Diaspora and Israeli Jews agree that the country ought to embrace the spectrum of Jewish diversity. Regev said he views this as a major shift in attitudes, “a 180-degree turn” that is “long overdue.”

“These [developments] go to the heart of increasing engagement of some of the leadership of the American-Jewish community who in the past did not want to touch these issues with a 10-foot pole,” he said. Regev is CEO of Hiddush, a new Israeli-Diaspora partnership organization promoting religious pluralism and marriage equality. “Now they understand what kind of impact it has on Jewish peoplehood and am Yisrael as well.” 

Regev, who previously served as president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism and executive director of the Reform movement’s Israel Religious Action Center, will serve as keynote speaker at the Montclair-area community-wide Tikkun Leil Shavuot on the first night of the holiday, Tuesday, June 3, at 7:30 p.m. at Congregation Shomrei Emunah in Montclair. Other participating synagogues are Temple Sholom of West Essex in Cedar Grove, Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield, and Bnai Keshet in Montclair. 

Regev will address the question: Can Israel be both Jewish and democratic? He will also lead a workshop on conversion and the question of Who is a Jew? The free event will also feature a service, a midnight reading of the Ten Commandments, singing and dancing, and workshops.

Regev called the current moment “a historic transformation from non-involvement and a ‘let’s not rock the boat’ attitude to the acknowledgement of a critical, existential need for American leaders to partner with Israelis to bring about one of the core promises of religious freedom.” 

JFNA’s civil society initiative is expected to focus on religious diversity and civil marriage in Israel. “I have every indication that the results of this important process will include a priority focus on the challenge of freedom of marriage in Israel in the larger context of diversity of religious expression,” said Regev. 

Regev related his cause to the Book of Ruth that is read on Shavuot. The decision of Ruth, a Moabite, to become a Jew is a central element of the story. “Had Ruth applied today” — to the rabbinate for entry into the Land of Israel under the Law of Return — “it is quite likely that the rabbinic courts would have excluded her. As we approach Shavuot, it’s a particularly appropriate time to discuss this question.”

Regev urged Diaspora Jews to continue fighting for pluralism in Israel. “If the majority of Americans engage actively in partnership with Israeli Jews, we will see a far brighter future for Israelis and Americans,” he said.

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