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June 24, 1994 - Image 59

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1994-06-24

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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mains as schizophrenic, and
byzantine, as ever. On the one
\-11.and, the Religious Affairs Min-
istry — as an agency of Israel's
"civil" government — must bow
to the rulings of the High Court
of Justice. But control over Jew-
ish religious law (Halachah) —
by which all Israeli Jews, prac-
ticing or otherwise, are bound in
matters of marriage, divorce, bur-
ial, and conversion — lies solely
in the hands of the rabbinate.
And the rabbinate not only
remains the exclusive province of
Orthodox forces, it's questionable
whether the High Court can
intervene in its decisions.
Earlier this year, for example,
in a sensational ruling that
rocked Israel's religious estab-
lishment, the High Court decreed
that Israel's rabbinical courts
\ (which deal with the spheres
mentioned above) must give
precedence to civil law, over Ha-
lachah, in dictating the financial
terms of divorce settlements. But
since this decision has yet to be
tested, the fundamental question
of who has the final word in the
matter (which has long been
'strictly a rabbinical prerogative)
remains moot.
And equally unclear is what
sanctions the High Court can
bring to bear on the rabbis if they
defy its ruling.
Complications abound on other
levels, too.
Despite the headway made by
the "alternate streams" in the
courts, they still face an uphill
battle against the establishment's
most effective weapon — pro-
` r:rastination. In a discrimination
( suit initiated five years ago, the
High Court decreed that Con-
servative and Reform represen-
tatives must be appointed to the
country's Religious Councils —
which, notwithstanding their
name, are actually "civil" organs
that oversee certain religious
services provided by municipal
governments (such as the upkeep
of ritual baths).
That ruling was published last
January. To date, however, it has
yet to be implemented because of
sheer foot-dragging by the city
councils in Jerusalem and Haifa.
"The issue is a real hot potato,"
said Amir Shaham of the Reform
movement's Religious Action
Center, "and only now are we
beginning
to see some response
_,
/-to our incessant pressure to act
on it."
And so, far from resting on
their laurels, the leaders of the
Conservative and Reform move-
) ments have little choice but to
continue their fight for recogni-
tion and equality. They have
made more progress in the past
two years, during the tenure the
Labor government, than for
decades before it.
But in their efforts to make "re-
ligious pluralism" a basic tenet of
Israeli life, they still have a long,
hard way to go. ❑

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