Non-Orthodox Judaism

Israel Table of Contents

The American denominations of Conservative Jews and Reform Jews, although they have enrolled between them the vast majority of affiliated American Jews, have achieved a very modest presence in Israel. Neither Reform nor Conservative rabbinical ordination is recognized by the Israeli chief rabbinate; thus, these rabbis are generally forbidden to perform weddings or authorize divorces. (In the mid-1980s a few Conservative rabbis were granted the right, on an ad hoc basis, to perform weddings.) In the early 1980s, there were twelve Reform congregations in Israel and about 900 members--almost 90 percent of whom were born outside the country. During the same period there were more than twenty Conservative congregations with more than 1,500 members; only about 14 percent were native-born Israelis (and, as in the case of Reform, the great majority of these were of Ashkenazi descent).

Although both Reform and Conservative movements dated their presence in Israel to the 1930s, they experienced real growth, the Conservative movement in particular, only in the late 1960s to mid-1970s. During this period, relatively large numbers of American Jews immigrated--more than 36,000 between 1968 and 1975. Nevertheless, the opposition of the Israeli Orthodox establishment to recognizing Conservative and (particularly) Reform Judaism as legitimate was strong, and it continued to be unwilling to share power and patronage with these movements. Neither of the newer movements has attracted native-born Israelis in significant numbers. The importance of the non-Orthodox movements in Israel in the late 1980s mainly reflects the influence they have wielded in the American and West European Diaspora.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress