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Diaspora minister urges ‘formal acknowledgement’ of liberal Jewish streams

Meeting US Reform leaders, Omer Yankelevich calls for Israel to give greater recognition to non-Orthodox denominations

Leaders of the Reform and Conservative movements at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, November 2, 2016. (Courtesy Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism)
Leaders of the Reform and Conservative movements at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, November 2, 2016. (Courtesy Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism)

Meeting with American Reform Jewish leaders, Diaspora Affairs Minister Omer Yankelevitch on Thursday called for Israel to formally acknowledge liberal Jewish streams.

“In their meeting, Minister Yankelevitch called for increased recognition and investment by Israel in the Reform movement and other progressive Jewish streams,” a Diaspora Affairs Ministry statement said.

Yankelevitch, who is set to step down as minister soon if the potential “change government” is sworn in, met in Jerusalem with Union for Reform Judaism president Rabbi Rick Jacobs and other Reform leaders visiting Israel.

“As I conclude my position and look ahead, the path forward is clear. Israel must build on the mutual dialogue that we have fostered with world Jewry, formally acknowledge liberal Jewish practice and interests, and work directly with relevant stakeholders as partners,” the minister was quoted as saying.

“Israel must invest in world Jewry. This investment must include all parts of the Jewish people, including the Reform movement. As a Haredi minister focused on bringing all voices to the table, I understand the importance of investing in the Reform community. This work must only continue and expand with the next government.”

From left to right: Yair Lotstein, Diaspora Affairs Minister Omer Yankelevitch, Jennifer Brodkey Kaufman, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, and Rabbi Josh Weinberg at the Knesset in Jerusalem on June 3, 2021. (Diaspora Affairs Ministry)

Yankelevich, who became Israel’s first-ever female ultra-Orthodox minister last year, announced ahead of the March 23 elections that she was leaving Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party and quitting politics. The Diaspora Affairs Ministry is slated to go to a Labor lawmaker if the emerging government that will potentially oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is approved by the Knesset, with the center-left party’s MK Gilad Kariv, a Reform rabbi, a candidate for the post.

Her comments Thursday came after a High Court of Justice in March legitimized Reform and Conservative conversions in Israel for the purpose of citizenship.

The bombshell decision shattered the longstanding Orthodox monopoly on officially recognized conversions in Israel.

Jacobs, the US Reform leader, at the time said the ruling “was years in the making and reflects the diversity and vibrancy of Jewish life in Israel and around the world,” while expressing hope it would lead to further recognition of the Reform and Conservative movements.

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