Last weekend, Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid delivered a speech that drew little attention in Israel, but which dealt with a subject of pressing concern to American Jews: the recognition of non-Orthodox movements in Israel. In an impassioned address at the 50th anniversary celebration of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, Lapid, the leader of the Yesh Atid party, recommitted himself to fighting for “equality between the different streams of Judaism in conversion, in marriage, in divorce, in budgetary subsidies, [and] in access to holy places.” After all, he added, “in practice, most Israelis are Reform and Conservative, and just don’t know it.”
“No one can claim ownership over the Jewish God,” he told the assembled activists and dignitaries, which included Rabbi Gilad Kariv, the executive director of the Movement for Progressive Judaism. “An old and petty politics cannot circumscribe something that is eternal like the Jewish identity,” Lapid continued. “This is simply wrong and it must be stopped.”
“Judaism is a balance between tradition and morality, between the past and renewal, between love of God and love of man,” he said. “The struggle that we are leading for equality of Jewish denominations is an expression of this worldview, and a recognition that it is not right that Israel be the one country in the Western world without religious freedom for Jews.” Lapid also specifically criticized the settler movement, condemning “those who privilege the mitzvot not between man and God [la-Makom], but between man and places [mekomot] in Judea and Samaria, which is in my eyes clearly a distortion of the essence of Judaism and Jewish values.”
Under the current coalition, significant if incremental strides have been made towards Lapid’s stated goal of religious equality. At the initiative of Bayit Yehudi head Naftali Bennett, the state began funding non-Orthodox rabbis for the first time in its history. And through compromises brokered by Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky with the activist group Women of the Wall, progress was made towards egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall. But there are still significant hurdles to overcome for Lapid’s vision to become a reality, including the establishment of civil marriage outside the authority of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, something Yesh Atid has thus far attempted but failed to implement.
Watch the highlights of Lapid’s speech, with English subtitles, below (click ‘CC’ if not enabled):