A rabbi who served as plaintiff in a precedent-setting case for religious freedom in Israel visited the Seattle area on March 11.
The case, brought before the court in 2005 by Rabbi Miri Gold and backed by IRAC, the Reform movement’s political and advocacy center in Israel, challenged the status quo in a seven-year effort to gain official recognition for non-Orthodox rabbis.
Rabbis in Israel receive state salaries, but only Orthodox rabbis have been recognized and salaried by the government.
“There is no separation between religion and state,” Gold said.
Though victorious in winning the decision in May 2012, Gold said she will believe it when she “gets her first check.” She expects to be back at the Israeli Supreme Court.
The Detroit native who made aliyah in 1977 traveled back to the U.S. this month to meet with Jewish communities around the country. Accompanied by Barbara Kavadias, acting executive director of the Association of Reform Zionists of America, Gold stopped in Seattle for a day-long visit. The two women spoke with JTNews before a presentation at Temple B’nai Torah in Bellevue.
Gold and Kavadias shared the story of the legal case and also pitched for funds for a new synagogue building in Kibbutz Gezer, in central Israel near Rehovot.
Gold — small in stature and bespectacled — seems unassuming. But when she speaks, it is with the confidence of belief and the earnestness of experience, frequently sprinkling the conversation with Hebrew phrases and biblical references.
Gold shared her story of coming from a Conservative household and moving to Israel. After arriving there, she found something amiss.
“[I] didn’t fit into the Orthodox or the secular [mainstream],” she said. “Our kibbutz Haggadah focused on spring; the synagogue doubled as a weight room.”
She needed more than the requisite “kibbutz kosher kitchen and celebrating Jewish holidays,” she said.
When she saw that the boys would study with Orthodox rabbis but the girls had to travel to Jerusalem to learn, it lit a spark.
She took on a “para-rabbinic role leading services” and prepared students to become B’nai Mitzvah. Studying for the rabbinate followed soon after. “At age 44, with three kids, encouraged by my husband as well as two rabbis, including the first woman ordained as a rabbi,” she said, she was ordained in 1999. She was the third woman ordained as a Reform rabbi in Israel.
Gold agreed to become the test case to challenge the court in 2005; in May 2012, the attorney general of Israel announced that rabbis of non-Orthodox communities were eligible for salaries — but through the Ministry of Culture and Sport.
Still, she said, “I have a full-time contract now.”
Speaking in measured tones about the necessity of the court battle, she added, “We can’t yet dialogue with the Orthodox; the ultra-Orthodox simply do not recognize us. In their eyes, we are imposters. [And] my focus is on the bigger, broader Israeli population. Look what we have to offer.”
In the seven years since the suit was filed, Reform preschools have been established and B’nai Mitzvah are taking place, Gold noted.
“More and more Israelis are comfortable with us,” she said.
Gold told Ha’aretz’s Bradley Burston that she was “just the poster girl” of the battle to recognize non-Orthodox rabbis.
Temple B’nai Torah’s Rabbi James Mirel lauded Rabbi Gold’s efforts to present a vibrant, accessible Judaism.
“Rabbi Miri Gold is the self-described Rosa Parks of Reform Judaism in Israel,” he said. “As an American Jew who made aliyah to her kibbutz over 30 years ago, she has demonstrated her commitment to Israel and its ideals. She is petitioning for recognition and status as a community rabbi. That is a just path. She is a brave pioneer and I wish her success.”