Israel’s “poster girl” in the fight to recognise non-Orthodox rabbis warned British Jews this week that religious pluralism in Israel was under threat from Benjamin Netanyahu’s new right-wing government.
Miri Gold, 65, the first progressive rabbi to be given state funding, raised the alarm alongside Anat Hoffman, president of Women of the Wall, in front of 300 people at a Liberal Judaism conference in St John’s Wood on Sunday.
Gold, who made aliyah 40 years ago, had been an ordained rabbi for six years when, in 2005, she petitioned the courts. In 2012, she finally won the legal right to state funding for non-Orthodox rabbis in Israel, after another high-profile ruling approving state funds for the building of liberal synagogues.
Speaking to the Jewish News ahead of the conference, she said: “This new Israeli government is worrisome. I’m concerned they might try to backpedal and undo the decisions made.”
She said: “There were rumblings in the last Knesset, people tried to overturn it but didn’t manage. I’m more worried now, though, because the ultra-Orthodox are in the coalition. It’s not an enlightened government.”
After last-minute wrangling, Netanyahu last month managed to cobble together a slim majority comprising religious nationalists from the right-wing Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) as well as the centrist Kulanu and two ultra-Orthodox parties, United Torah Judaism and Shas.
Gold’s concerns include religious pluralism, or “freedom from the stronghold of the Orthodox establishment,” and human and civil rights.
“There’s a trend around the world towards religious fanaticism, it doesn’t matter what religion it is, and Israel is no different,” she said. “Look at the women who want to pray at the wall, and the troubles they’re having. The wall is essentially a big Orthodox synagogue.”
Gold, who made aliyah 40 years ago, recognised that progress had been made, but cautioned against religious intolerance in Israel.
“It’s a democratic country where we all pay taxes,” she said. “You have to separate the government as a democratic body, and the Orthodox rabbinic establishment, and our ability to go to court is essential.”
“If the Supreme Court stays strong, it will be OK,” she said. “But there are even attempts to curb its powers. I hope we keep going in the right direction.”
During Gold’s brief UK visit, she urged British Jews to engage in Israel’s future. “The Diaspora has an obligation to be involved, to express its opinion about what happens in Israel,” she said.
“We need strong connections, going in two directions. Just as Hatikva is the anthem for the Jewish people, so in many ways the Jewish state represents Jews around the world, and people are entitled to have different views about how that state is run.”