Miri Gold, spiritual leader of the Gezer Regional Council in Israel, told a gathering of Reform leaders that more and more Israelis are accepting liberal rabbis — but only after years of struggle.
She is the first non-Orthodox rabbi to be paid by the Israeli government, an achievement that did not come without a fight. For seven years, her case — filed by the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism — wound its way through Israel’s court system. Filed in 2005, it ended in May 2012 with the agreement that Gold and up to 15 other non-Orthodox rabbis serving regional and farm councils around Israel would be paid — but with stipulations. Remuneration would come not from the Ministry of Religion, as is the case with Orthodox rabbis, but from the Culture and Sport Ministry. Further, as non-Orthodox rabbis, they would have no voice in halachic matters.
On Oct. 14 at the Renaissance Newark Airport Hotel, Gold spoke about her role in pursuing that lawsuit before members of the board of ARZA, the Reform movement’s Zionist arm. Describing her decision to take part in the legal proceedings, she said that after being asked, “I did not think about it for more than 10 seconds,” before saying yes.
Gold, a Detroit native who grew up in a Conservative congregation and made aliya to Kibbutz Gezer in 1977, also pointed out how far Israeli society has come since the suit started.
“At one time, people were perplexed about what we were trying to do,” she said. “Part of our challenge is to turn around those people who are indifferent to the issue of religious pluralism, to getting people more and more engaged — but that is happening naturally.”
Often, she said, Israelis who need a religious leader to officiate at a life-cycle event go to an Orthodox rabbi, even though they don’t follow Orthodox practice, because they think that is “the only legitimate option.” Now, she added, more and more Israelis accept that rabbis of the liberal streams should be available to officiate as such rituals as well, and agree that “as long as there is funding for the Orthodox, we should be funded too.”
One of the biggest problems, she said, is that it is not just that the ultra-Orthodox regard liberal rabbis as having “the wrong hashkafa,” or personal Jewish philosophy. “According to the ultra-Orthodox, anyone not trained and deemed kosher by them is not a rabbi. They are accusing me of doing the same thing as if I put up a shingle as a physician — Dr. Miri Gold — without any training. For them, JTS and HUC do not exist,” she said, referring to the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary and the Reform Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, from which she received ordination.
Gold came to the United States for a speaking tour organized by ARZA to publicize both her own case and the work ARZA is doing to grow the Reform movement in Israel. During her time here, she is presenting programs mostly at Reform synagogues in nine states, including Temple B’nai Or in Morristown, where she spoke on Oct. 15.