A Rabbi’s Controversial Investigation into Israel’s Religious Pluralism


JERUSALEM — When Israeli rabbi Gilad Carib heads to one of the holiest places in Judaism, the Wailing Wall, he often carries a Torah scroll that he wishes to give to a particular group of worshipers.

It’s harder than you think.

Worshipers are women, so Orthodox Jewish authorities forbade taking the Torah to the wall.

As a member of parliament with parliamentary immunity, Rabbi Carib can keep the Torah under police protection. However, dozens of ultra-Orthodox opponents generally stand in his way to prevent the transition. They shout abusive language and sometimes try to tear the scroll out of his hand.

The monthly effort highlights the disparity between men’s and women’s prayer rights hung on the wall and brings to the fore the race for who can define Jewish practices in Jewish countries.

As Rabbi Kariv said in a recent interview, “It fully reflects the concept that there are many ways to celebrate your Judaism.” “We are here to crush the myth that Israeli Judaism is right,” he added.

The 48-year-old Rabbi Carib is at the heart of this battle. Elected to Parliament in March, he became the first Israeli member of a more progressive reform rabbi. Its position gave him greater importance in Israeli public life, creating a more visible alternative to the Orthodox authority that had dominated Jewish life in Israel since its inception in 1948.

He campaigned to allow civil weddings and divorces, ending a system that required Israeli Jews to begin and end marriages only under the auspices of the Orthodox Church, which had legal authority over religious matters.

He also seeks equal access to government funds for synagogues of all synagogues, and says that these funds are currently flowing disproportionately to Orthodox churches. He wants to dramatically expand public transport on the Jewish Sabbath. This service is not available in most countries. And he has been fighting for a long time for the government to secure a place for men and women to pray together by the Wailing Wall.

This desire has contributed to creating tensions within Israel’s fragile coalition. The coalition has struggled in part with a cause promoted by Rabbi Caribbean and has not secured a parliamentary majority since Idit Silman, a right-wing member of the coalition, resigned last month.

Mr. Silman said such measures would contribute to “wiping out Israel’s Jewish identity.”

However, Rabbi Carib says he is trying to do the opposite in order to preserve Israel’s Jewish character by promoting a more pluralistic and inclusive vision of Judaism.

“His target is not the Orthodox Church, but the secular people of Israel.” Schlomit Ravitzky TurpasJewish pluralism expert at the Israel Democracy Institute, a Jerusalem-based research group.

“People who fight him think his reforms will change the country’s Jewish identity,” she added. “He said, ‘No, I’m targeting secular people. It’s to bring more Judaism to their lives,’ she says.”

Rabbi Carib’s path exemplifies the journey he hopes to inspire others. He was born in Tel Aviv to a secular family who did not attend the synagogue regularly.

His father was an economist and his mother was a housewife. Rabbi Carib said they expressed their unity through efforts to revive the Hebrew language and to build a new Jewish state instead of religious customs.

“The first generation of non-orthodox Israelis felt little need for a liberal expression of Judaism because it had a national expression,” he said.

In contrast, Rabbi Caribbean came of age in the 1980s. Israel faced many challenges, but it no longer seemed so fragile. In search of another layer of Jewish identity, he began worshiping regularly in a local synagogue as a teenager.

Basically, it was authentic.

Unlike the United States, where the Reform movement is the most popular Jewish denomination, the Orthodox Church is the dominant force in Israel. Orthodox institutions have been granted de facto monopoly over Israel’s religious affairs since the founding of the state. Partly as a concession to join the Zionist project, partly because Judaism was so managed in the Ottoman Empire and England.

Rabbi Kariv said the reform movement was “not part of the vocabulary.”

Rabbi Carib discovered a different form of Judaism at the age of 15 on a trip to Memphis, Tennessee, organized by the Israeli Boys and Girls Scouts.

While attending the Reformed synagogue there, he was impressed by the fact that men and women could pray side by side, unlike the gender-segregated Orthodox synagogues. And when his first intifada (the Palestinian Uprising) returned home, he was relieved to find a congregation that seemed closer to his centre-left view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“This synagogue reflects my values ​​more deeply,” he remembered.

Returning to Israel, he began attending the new Reformed Synagogue in Tel Aviv. After completing his military service in the intelligence service, he said, he felt a calling to pursue a career in public service.

He began training simultaneously as a lawyer and a rabbi. He passed the bar exam in 2002 and was ordained a year later. He became a rabbi at Beit Daniel, a Reformed synagogue in Tel Aviv, and helped lead an advocacy group promoting religious pluralism.

He hoped to lead and expand Israel’s reform movement over the next 12 years. On his first day as secretary-general in 2009, he hung a map of Israel on the wall of his office and said he marked the city without the Reformed Synagogue. By the time he leaves the position in 2021, the number of Reformed churches has more than doubled.

Although his activism has always had a political edge, he realized he needed to get into electoral politics to achieve his goal of a more pluralistic society.

He ran for Parliament under the banner of Labor, a center-left party that once dominated Israeli politics but has dwindled in support in recent years. Having failed to win a seat in four elections, he won his fifth attempt and entered the National Assembly last year.

Reform movements are still minor in Israel. Less than 10% of Israeli Jews identify as reformers. However vote According to a report published in 2018, that number has more than doubled since 2018. In 2013. The movement now has more than 50 synagogues across the country.

As a rider of that change, Rabbi Carib has been subjected to considerable abuse. During a recent visit to the Wailing Wall, ultra-Orthodox opponents mimicked the decapitation of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated in 1995 and shouted “I am looking for a friend.”

Religion and right-wing lawmakers have long described Rabbi Carib as a heretic, one accusing him of wearing a kipa and eating pork, and some saying they would not pray with him in the synagogues.

Gedalia Guttentag, news editor for Haredi magazine Mishpacha, said the hostility was not personal, but rather what the reform movement represented. “Judaism is a tent, but a position to deny the divine origin of the Torah puts him theologically outside the tent,” he said.

In reality, however, the Rabbi Caribbean had little room to push for new legislation that would overthrow the religious right. The ruling coalition is a fragile alliance of eight parties with little in common. To avoid collapse, each party was usually forced to compromise on its biggest goals.

Rabbi Carib was unable to persuade his colleagues to change the laws on marriage and divorce or implement a frozen government plan for the time being to expand the mixed prayer area adjacent to the Wailing Wall. He also canceled plans to bring the Torah to the wall this month. To avoid undue swaying of the coalition at such a sensitive time.

He said being in government is enough, at least for now. This prevents ultra-orthodox parties from seizing power, creating further obstacles to religious pluralism. He feared that if the religious right comes back to power, it could try to overturn a recent Supreme Court ruling that allowed Israeli converts to Reformed Judaism to claim Israeli citizenship.

In his synagogue in Tel Aviv this month, about 20 believers were completing their conversion to Reformed Judaism after a year-long process. Some were Israelis of former Soviet descent who were eligible for citizenship through Jewish ancestry, but were not considered Jews by Orthodox authorities.

Rabbi Carib smiled brightly as the new converts sang and prayed together, and their relatives showered with sweets.

“This is why I am in Congress,” he said. “We must protect Israeli society and their ability to become members of the Jewish community of Israel.”

Gabby Sobelman Rehovot, Israel and Myra Noveck in Jerusalem.

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