Non-Orthodox Jews in Israel Struggle for Rights

Article excerpt

Anat Hoffman, a Jewish member of the Jerusalem City Council, is prohibited from wearing a prayer shawl or carrying a sacred scroll at the Western Wall, Judaism's most revered site.

Uri Regev, a rabbi, cannot legally officiate at a wedding in Israel, the Jewish state.

Regev and Hoffman have come up against Israel's powerful Orthodox Jewish establishment, which dominates religious affairs and matters of personal status in Israel.

Regev, 42, is from Judaism's Reform movement, and only Orthodox rabbis are allowed to officiate at weddings.

Hoffman, 39, is barred from wearing prayer shawls and carrying Torah scrolls because Orthodox Jews set the rules at the Wall - and rigidly enforce Jewish traditions against both activities by women.

Recently, the religious establishment suffered a setback in two cases Regev and Hoffman brought before Israel's highest court.

In one decision, the court opened the way for Israelis from Judaism's Reform and Conservative movements to serve on municipal religious councils. Those movements see Jewish law and tradition as adaptable to modern times, and they reject the binding authority of ancient laws the Orthodox seek to enforce.

In the second case, the court called for a committee to study the complaints of the women praying at the Wall, although the judges were so divided that they stopped short of ordering a solution.

Both cases have drawn fresh attention to the tension in Israeli society between religious authorities and those who feel alienated by their strict application of Jewish law to everyday affairs.

In Israel religious authorities have powers that cover every Israeli, such as the procedures for marriage, divorce and burial, as well as whether Coke or Pepsi will be rewarded with a certificate saying it meets kosher dietary standards.

Israel's network of urban and interurban bus service comes to a complete halt each Friday afternoon before the Sabbath and does not start again until after sundown Saturday.

The state heavily subsidizes Orthodox schools but has refused to aid the Reform movement's rabbinical seminary. And many Orthodox young men are given deferments from compulsory military service. …