A speech by Yesh Atid MK Aliza Lavie at a Conservative Movement convention in Texas last week drew sharp reactions from leading rabbis in the movement, who warned that by crawling too slowly toward religious pluralism, Israel risked alienating its greatest supporters — Diaspora Jews.
Lavie spoke at the 2014 convention of the Conservative Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly in Dallas, Texas (watch here), and came under fire from Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, a leading figure in the Conservative movement and the American Jewish community, who criticized her for promoting policies that divide the Jewish people rather than unite them.
Lavie, an Orthodox Jew, is the author of legislation, along with MK Ruth Calderon, which would introduce civil partnership in Israel on a nationwide scale.
Lavie told the audience that the legislation seeks to introduce civil partnership, rather than civil marriage, as the term “marriage” has religious connotations.
“I hope that in the coming months we will put it on the table,” Lavie said of the new legislation, which would be submitted to the Knesset in cooperation with Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman and Hatnua head Tzipi Livni.
She warned that it was likely to face opposition from other political parties, particularly the Jewish Home party headed by Naftali Bennett, but said that several opposition parties — most likely Labor and Meretz — were expected to support it.
But Schonfeld said that she feared Israel’s policy on non-Orthodox streams of Judaism, such as the Conservative and Reform movements and unaffiliated Jews, would eventually divide the Jewish people and alienate Diaspora Jews to the point that they simply stop supporting Israel.
“World Jewry is becoming so profoundly alienated from Israel… that Israel will stand alone before a nuclear Iran, Israel will stand alone before a world that blames it unilaterally for its very existence,” Schonberg lamented.
Israel already has a legal framework for civil partnerships. However, the framework only covers Israeli citizens who have no religious affiliation and cannot be married by the religious authorities.
However, Schonfeld said the millions of Conservative, Reform and unaffiliated Jews in the Diaspora “cannot make sense” of the policies of a state they consider their spiritual homeland but that won’t recognize many of them as Jewish.
“They have said in so many words that this is another religion,” Schonberg said of Israel’s policy toward progressive Jewish movements. “If Yesh Atid as a party does not step in to stop this … there will not be a Jewish people left to talk about and there will not be a world Jewry left to defend israel,” she warned.
“By the time when the missiles are flying, they are so alienated you can’t bring them back, it’s too late,” she continued.
Others at the conference also criticized Lavie’s and Yesh Atid’s stance.
California Rabbi Menachem Creditor said that while the MK’s book had brought the Jewish tradition “to an incredible clarity,” her remarks at the assembly made her “sound like a politician.”
Calling Israel’s foremost religious authority, the Rabbinate, a “horrible, horrible, corrupt place,” Creditor said he was “patient, but only to a degree” with Israel’s slow crawl toward greater religious pluralism.
“I don’t want a parallel, not-religious marriage,” he said. “I want kiddushin (religious marriage) that our rabbis, who are men and women, are empowered by our home (Israel) to create.”
In response to the rabbis’ reactions to Lavie’s speech, Israeli Masorti Movement CEO Yizhar Hess said Wednesday that the “emotional debate” at the assembly was a reflection of the “mounting frustration” caused by Israel’s “continued humiliation” of non-Orthodox movements.
“From the [Jewish] Federation[s of North America] to AIPAC, Conservative Judaism stands at the head of all the Jewish institutions on which Israel relies in the United States,” Hess said.
“But here [in Israel], the keys have been given to the Orthodox Rabbinate, an institution that never existed in Jewish history, through which the [Israeli] state spits in the face of world Jewry time and time again,” he continued.
“How is it possible that the Jewish state is the only state in the Western world that does not grant Jews religious freedom?”
As of Wednesday afternoon, Lavie could not be reached for comment.