Dr. Nachman Shai currently serves as Israel’s Minister for Diaspora Affairs (Photo: The MirYam Institute).
Progressive Jews around the world are probably breathing a sigh of relief, because regardless of their political persuasion there seems to be the chance of a more moderate government in Israel, which may recognise the desire for Israel to be a more tolerant, pluralistic State giving equal status to all streams of Judaism.
In a sense this is the Progressive/ Reform dream, even if it does take time. For the first time since 2015 the controlling ultra-Orthodox parties are not part of the ruling coalition.
Additionally, it is the first time a Reform/Progressive Rabbi, (Gilad Kariv), joins the Knesset in the ruling Coalition government and has been appointed Chair of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. All legislative changes, including to Basic Laws or status of the judicial system pass through this committee. So this is a very significant position for him to occupy giving him a say in the democratic structure of Israel.
What gives us the greatest degree of hope is that Israel’s new Diaspora Affairs Minister “Vows to Fight for Equal Status for All Jews”.
Minister Nachman Shai who is a Labor colleague of Rabbi Gilad Kariv and will be working with him, has pledged to work for equality and mend the rift with Diaspora Jewry over Israeli religious policies “in these efforts to bring everyone into this big tent of ours”. “It can include, and should include everyone”. Haaretz 17/6
The kind of equality Minister Shai talks about is between men and women, between the centre and periphery of Israel, between Jews and Arabs and greater equality for all Jews of all denominations and communities. He recognizes that Israel’s religious policies such as prayer space at the Kotel and conversion, have alienated many non-orthodox Jews and communities around the world, some of whom have distanced themselves from Israel.
Civil marriage, the power of the Orthodox Rabbinate, gay rights and buses running on Shabbat may not see change any time soon, but with the head of the secularist party, Avigdor Lieberman becoming head of Israel’s Finance Ministry we may see an end to the preferential budgetary treatment of the ultra-orthodox giving special government funding to allow male adults to study rather than work and other preferential funding.
We all pray for Israel to move forward providing peace and equality to all.
Helen Shardey OAM
ARZA Australia President
UPJ Vice President