Minister Yakov Margi (Shas) recently made the following declaration: “If the Reform and Conservative Jews in Israel want synagogues or mikvehs, they should build them with their own money. They won’t get a penny from the State.”
Let’s not get into ideology and talk numbers instead. Most Jews in the world are Reform and Conservative. The Orthodox are a minority, even in Israel (Only 20% of the Israeli public defines itself as Orthodox.) North American Jewry, whose relationship with us is a strategic asset, comprises these denominations almost entirely.
At this time already, among other reasons because of this systematic discrimination, American Jews are slowly losing interest in the State of Israel. Because if Israel rejects their Jewishness, why should they feel any sympathy for or attachment to it?
In this respect, Shas’ Minister of religious affairs is a strategic threat to the State of Israel; no less.
In democratic terms, Margi’s chutzpah is simply outrageous. The Religious Affairs Ministry is being managed like the last remnant of the 1950s, with the minister enjoying budgetary freedom that no other minister enjoys. Under such circumstances, it is difficult to blame Shas for doing almost anything to secure this perk-rich ministry.
In 2008, during the previous government’s term in office, when Shas’ Yitzhak Cohen headed the ministry, its budget rose to NIS 430 million. Cohen covered the debts of religious councils, renovated 300 mikvehs, and built 37 new ones as well as 79 new synagogues. Overall, he established or renovated nearly 500 religious sites. Not even one of them was Reform or Conservative.
No freedom of worship
However, this does not sum up the wealth of the Orthodoxy in Israel. The Religious Affairs Ministry’s budget
Margi outdid himself by referring to Mikvehs of all things. We, members of the Conservative Movement, have no need for our own Mikvehs. We’ll be happy to use the public ones – some of them truly luxurious – built and renovated by the State. However, Jews who are not Orthodox are banned from entering them. Yes, it’s as terrible as it sounds.
When a bride is interested in going to the mikveh ahead of her wedding, and it turns out that the rabbi at the ceremony is Conservative, she is thrown out in a humiliating fashion. And you don’t want to hear how many times Conservative converts were humiliated to the point of tears or blows.
Israel is the only democracy in the Western world that doesn’t offer freedom of worship to Jews. This absurd must be brought to an end.
Attorney Yizhar Hess is the director of the Conservative Movement in Israel. This op-ed does not necessarily reflect the Movement’s views.