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Associated Press
Modin, Israel – Israel’s Reform Jews have dedicated the first non-Orthodox synagogue to receive state funding, after a long court battle that highlighted the rift among the country’s different streams of Judaism.
The Reform Yozma congregation dedicated the synagogue on Monday after fighting for the better part of a decade for state funding equivalent to what Orthodox congregations receive. After arguing their case twice before Israel’s Supreme Court, they got what they wanted: a prefabricated, two-room building worth about $200,000 on a plot of government land in the center of Modiin, a new town between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
“This is a substantial step in recognizing different streams of Judaism in the state of Israel,” said Rabbi Kinneret Shiryon, who leads the 240-family congregation.
The Israeli government has long funded Orthodox synagogues, even paying rabbis’ salaries.
The Orthodox establishment dominates Jewish life in Israel and hotly opposes recognition or assistance to the more liberal streams – Reform and Conservative Judaism.
Compared with the United States, where more than a third of Jewish adults consider themselves Reform, Israel’s 25 Reform congregations are struggling for recognition.
Religion in Israel “has traditionally been an either-or proposition,” said Rabbi Uri Regev, president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism. Most Israelis consider themselves religious or secular and don’t accept the liberal streams.
Groups like Regev’s want to change that. “There’s more than one way to be Jewish,” he said.
But some reject the move away from Orthodox practice, including allowing women and homosexuals to become rabbis. Avraham Ravitz, a lawmaker in the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, said liberal Jews are trying to force Israel to recognize a movement that many do not consider true Judaism.
“As a democrat I would say everyone has his right to whatever they wish,” Ravitz said. “But on the other side I don’t think people should peel away what is holy to me.”
The power of religious political parties in the Israeli government may be one factor keeping funds and recognition away from Reform and Conservative synagogues, Shiryon said. She said many Israelis believe Orthodox Jews are the only ones who “keep the coals of Jewish identity burning.”
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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