My husband & I talk about it from time to time, usually in the context of "If the U.S. starts turning seriously antisemitic..." Until there is real freedom of religion for Jews in Israel, I can't see any sizable number of moving there for any reason. It's not "easier to be a " there unless by that you mean haredi or identified-but-secular. And don't get me started about the "who is a Jew" madness... (my italics)Let's see if we can unravel this a bit.
Laura is referring to the limitations on Reform and Conservative Judaism in Israel, of course. Yet what are they, in reality, why are they there, and what might be done about it?
There are no limitations on religious behavior, of course. It's a free country and people can believe in whatever they wish. Moreover, they can organize to believe in the public sphere, too. Within short walking distance of where I sit right now there is a Reform synagogue, two or three Conservative ones, and a handful of experimental ones which play on the edges of Conservative and Modern Orthodox, if you're using American terminology. There are also a couple of Haredi yeshivas, three churches, and if you're willing to walk twenty minutes there are lots of mosques, of course. There are dozens of orthodox synagogues of all hues and colors, a convent - and of course, lots of secular folks who never visit any of these institutions. There's an Arab family who recently moved into our building, but that's a different subject.
As I write I can hear the bells of a church: it's Sunday morning, mind.
All in all, it's as free and open a place as any.
The issues Laura is referring to exist, of course, but they're limited to the legal status of rabbis. For reasons I'm not going to get into this morning, marriages in Israel must be religious (Jewish Muslim Druze or Christian), though civil marriages performed elsewhere are recognized, and civil unions have legal standing as marriages for just about all purposes. The implications are that only orthodox rabbis may officiate at weddings, and people with no Jewish grandparents who wish to move to Israel under the Law of Return must have been converted by an orthodox rabbi. (Or use a loophole, of which there are a number). (Or come in on the refuge track, or as cheap labor and then have children and stay...)
So to be clear the real question isn't who's a Jew, but who's a rabbi. On that one the honest answer is that Orthodox rabbis of all hues are recognized, and the others: not. Or mostly not. I recently celebrated at a wedding officiated at by an American-trained Conservative rabbi. I didn't ask which loophole he used.
Why is this so? Because of democracy. There used to be a very large majority of Israeli Jews who instinctively defined a rabbi by the orthodox terms, even though many of them were secular. Secular Israeli Jews accepted the orthodox definitions; as the joke went: the synagogue they didn't go to was always orthodox. Back in the days when the rules were legislated, there was next to no constituency in Israel for Reform or Conservative Judaism.
Over time this has been slowly changing. There's a chain of schools - Tali, it's called - which is pretty recognizably Conservative. Rabbi Ehud Bender, the top Conservative rabbi, is a public figure whom the media, at least, treats as a rabbi. Non-orthodox representatives sit on the municipal panels that deal with matters such as Kashrut. Yet it's slow going, for the simple reason that the orthodox rabbis are entrenched in the institutions, and dislodging them or even simply adding others alongside them takes political action. In a democracy, political action succeeds when enough people want it to. If the orthodox don't want change, and the secular are fine with the orthodox rabbis so long as they don't interfere in their own lives, who's going to force through change? It will have to be newcomers.
The Russians wish to change some things, which is an important motivation to vote for Lieberman's Yisrael Beitainu party - but he's got only 12% of the vote, which is far from a majority. Meretz used to be in favor of such changes, but their insistence on disconnecting from reality on more important matters has eroded their representation down to almost nothing.
The bottom line, Laura, is that you've got it backwards. Were 500,000 Reform or Conservative Jews to move to Israel, learn the ropes, and set out to change the way Israel does these things, they'd be joined by a reasonable number of people who are already here, and they'd have their change or at least a compromise that everyone could live with- and Israel would be a stronger place for their being here. Sitting far away and kvetching about things from the sidelines isn't going to help.
The neighborhood I live in is proof: it has an unusually high concentration of former Americans - and look at all the options on offer.
A final comment: I have gone to services at the nearby Reform synagogue three or four times in recent years. Each time I go I'm struck anew by the degree to which they aren't that different from the other synagogues all around them, but they are different from Reform or Conservative places I've gone to in the US. The difference is because of Hebrew. The moment the service is in Hebrew, and therefore it's point of departure is the traditional service and prayerbook, it fits onto the continuum of what Orthodox synagogues do. Perhaps it's just off the edge of the continuum, but recognizably so. This, compared to services I've seen in some American places which I was hard put to recognize.
PS. The wrong rabbis are taking control of the Western Wall. This is a real problem - but it's the result of the fact that all the rest of us let it happen.
Update: Barry corrects me. The Conservative rabbi is Ehud Bendel, not Bender, but he has moved elsewhere. I expect the most obvious person who now occupies the same social-political position is Uri Regev, a Reform rabbi.