This week, the city of Jerusalem approved funding for an array of non-Orthodox Jewish educational institutions, fracturing the traditional Orthodox monopoly on state religious funding. Of the 500,000 shekels allocated to institutions that offer Jewish studies instruction, 40,000 NIS ($10,500) was provided to the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College, pluralistic programs including the Shalom Hartman Institute, Kolot, and Gesher, and secular Jewish learning institutes such as Elul and the Jerusalem Secular Yeshiva.
The move marks the latest in a series of governmental funding decisions that have included liberal streams of Judaism for the first time. Back in May 2013, the Ministry of Religious Affairs under Jewish Home party head Naftali Bennett announced that it would enable non-Orthodox rabbis appointed by their local communities to receive state funding. In June 2014, Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid called for Israel to officially recognize non-Orthodox forms of Judaism, and to fund their institutions equally.
These developments reflect an increasing Israeli openness to supporting non-Orthodox approaches to Judaism, as well as the increasing popularity of secular Jewish learning initiatives across Israeli society. As Haaretz noted, “In the past, the pluralistic institutions never requested funding because they fell below the threshold for weekly hours of classes. But this year, about a dozen such institutions pooled their hours and submitted a joint funding application.”
As the critical mass of Israelis seeking to express their Judaism in non-Orthodox ways grows, expect their political clout to grow as well.