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February 03, 1989 - Image 34

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-02-03

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Reform Can't Seem To
Get A Foothold In Israel


Israel Correspondent


abbi Kinneret Shiryon
doesn't think she will
be put out of business
if the Knesset passes the
Who Is A Jew law.
"In a practical way it won't
affect us because we aren't
legitimate in the eyes of the
authorities anyway," she said.
Rabbi Shiryon, a native
American, leads Kehillat
Ramat Aviv, one of 22
Synagogues of the Pro-
gressive movement, as the
Reform movement is called in
Israel. The congregation's
small building near the
University of 'Thl Aviv is
home to some 100 member
families. Most are native
The Who Is A Jew legisla-
tion, proposed by Israel's Or-
thodox parties, would dis-
qualify non-Orthodox con-
verts from automatic Israeli
citizenship under the Law of
While a change in the Law
of Return would not affect
Rabbi Shiryon and her Israeli
colleagues, it would "bring
delegitimization across the
seas" to Reform communities
in the Diaspora, she said.
Unlike Orthodox syna-
gogues and yeshivot, Pro-
gressive institutions in Israel
receive no government funds.
Members pay for their syna-
gogues' operation.
In addition, "Our rabbis
have no authority to conduct
weddings, bury our dead or
perform conversions," Rabbi
Shiryon said.
Nevertheless, some 50 per-
sons are converted each year
under Progressive auspices.
Rabbi Shiryon said she pre-
pares about six persons an-
nually in preparation for con-
version. The Progressive Bet
Din, or law court, of which
Rabbi Shiryon is a member,
performs the conversion,
which includes mikveh (ritual
immersion) for women and
brit milah (circumcision) for
men when necessary.
Some of the non-Jews who
approach Rabbi Shiryon are
tourists who have met an
Israeli and wish to remain in
the country. Others come to
Judaism through what the
rabbi calls an inner con-
"We converted a woman
from Sweden. She was a folk
dancer and had been here
many times. Her ties to the
Jewish people were strong.
Her family had hidden Jews
during the Holocaust.
"We tell them the conver-
sion won't be recognized by

Rabbi Kinneret Shiryon

the authorities," she con-
tinued. "It's not an easy deci-
sion. These people have done
a lot of thinking about it."
Despite strong motivation,
about half of those who begin
the conversion process drop
out, Rabbi Shiryon said.
Most succumb to family
"They don't want to create
problems for their children,"
she noted. Offspring of a
woman who received a non-
Orthodox conversion will not
be considered Jewish by Or-
thodox authorities who are
responsible for Jewish rites of
passage in Israel. "Their
children will have problems
getting married here," she
Often, Rabbi Shiryon will
send the convert abroad for a
Reform conversion certificate
that will be accepted in Israel.
Passage of Who Is A Jew
would close that door for con-
verts, the rabbi said.
Natalie Simon, a native of
Scotland, studied with Rabbi
Shiryon before converting
last summer. Her husband's
work brought the couple to
Israel. She said she was told
by friends that an Orthodox
conversion would save her
problems. She refused be-
cause she didn't believe in the
strictures of Orthodox
"I would have cheated on
myself," she said. "I would
have converted for the total-
ly wrong reasons.
"Reform can't seem to get
a foothold in this country."
she continued. "They can't
seem to get the message out
to secular Jews."
Rabbi Shiryon agreed.
"Israelis believe that authen-
tic Judaism is Orthodoxy."
Israel's secular majority
has given the Orthodox a
disproportionate share of
power because Judaism isn't
a priority for the average

Israeli, she said. "They aren't
willing to fight for it."
The goal of the Progressive
movement is to bring Ju-
daism into the mainstream of
Israeli society, she said.
"Right now Judaism is on the
fringe. Think of Judaism here
and you think of black hats,
draft dodgers and ex-
lb achieve its aim, Rabbi
Shiryon's congregation has
established the Center for the
Development of the Jewish
Family. Similar to programs
begun in the United States, it
attempts to make Judaism a
family project rather than
just prayers for adults and
religion lessons for children.
Rabbi Shiryon, born in New
York and raised in California,
received her ordination in
1981 from the Reform He-
brew Union College-Jewish
Institute of Religion.
She would like to see
Judaism in Israel follow the
American model where Or-
thodox, Conservative and
Reform rabbis work together

"Our rabbis have
no authority to
conduct weddings,
bury our dead or

when they can agree to dis-
agree the rest of the time.
This detente could be extend-
ed to conversions, she said.
"I would like to see a stan-
dard for conversions. There's
a lot of ground where we can
agree, but it's so easy to ex-
aggerate the differences.
What it means is that all of
us would have to com-
Rabbi Shiryon moved to
Israel with her Israeli-born
husband six years ago. She
came to Kehillat Ramat Aviv
in 1984. At that time she was
Israel's only woman rabbi.
The Progressive movement
differs from its American
counterpart in a number of
ways, she said. No mixed
marriages are performed in
Israel. Also, Israeli Pro-
gressives have rejected the
idea that Judaism may be
determined by the father. The
American Reform move-
ment's adoption of patrilineal
descent has been denounced
by the Conservative and Or-
thodox movements as a
threat to Klal Yisrael, the uni-
ty of the Jewish people.
"The idea of Klal Yisrael
has a stronger pull in Israel
than in the United States,"
she said. 0

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