Full disclosure: Rabbi Gilad Kariv is a friend. I like him. I admire him. I have watched him for years skillfully fight the good fight on behalf of Israel’s Reform movement and the causes of religious pluralism and freedom, women’s rights, racial tolerance, LGBTQ rights, immigrant rights, human rights, and democracy in the Jewish state.
After having run for the Knesset three times over the past ten years, Rabbi Kariv will become in his fourth run a Knesset Member in the center-left Labor Party in the up-coming election. Current national polls show that Labor will earn at least six mandates. Gilad (#4 on the list) will become the first non-Orthodox rabbi ever to serve in the Knesset.
After Gilad secured his spot, the ultra-Orthodox political parties went ballistic against him. Shalom Yerushalmi, political analyst for Z’man Yisrael, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew current affairs website, wrote that representatives from the right-wing religious parties Shas, United Torah Judaism, and the Religious Zionist Party threatened to boycott Gilad and the Labor Party, refuse to include him in a Knesset minyan, and called the Reform movement a “dangerous cult” that seeks to destroy the foundations of Judaism. They charged that Israeli Reform “represents distorted religion,” that “to come near him [i.e. Gilad] is a danger,” that he is “an idol in the sanctuary.” Israeli social media writers called Reform Jews “scum of the earth, scoundrels,” and that we “should all go to hell.”
Gilad’s candidacy has struck a raw nerve among the ultra-Orthodox because Israeli Reform Judaism increasingly represents the liberal values and inclusive attitudes of an ever-growing number of Israelis who want to celebrate egalitarian non-Orthodox Judaism. Recent surveys show that 13% of all Israeli Jews (800,000) identify as Reform whether or not they are formally members of synagogue communities. This is roughly the same percentage of Israeli Jews who identify as ultra-Orthodox.
Gilad provokes the ultra-Orthodox community’s wrath, hatred, and fear because they do not accept the voice of the “other.” Though we are of the same people, the ultra-Orthodox regard Reform Jews as “strangers.” We are outsiders even as we live enriched Jewish lives. Theirs is a hatred of difference, of dislike of the unlike, and that hatred drives them to autocratically suppress all other Jewish religious streams in Israel outside the ultra-Orthodox world.
Gilad has worn many hats in his public life, career, and devotion to Israel’s security, democracy, religious pluralism, and Jewish character (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilad_Kariv). He was in the IDF Intelligence Corps. He is an attorney with expertise in constitutional law who appeared many times before Israel’s High Court of Justice as Director of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), the Israeli Reform movement’s social justice arm. He is an Israeli ordained Reform rabbi who for more than a decade served as the Executive Director of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism (IMPJ) and helped grow the Israeli Reform movement. He helped lead the effort to establish an egalitarian prayer platform at the Kotel (Western Wall) culminating with the government officially recognizing egalitarian prayer there.
For the past decade, Gilad has overseen the development of the Israeli Reform synagogue movement of more than 50 congregations, a Young Adult Leadership Forum, a pre-military young adult study and leadership training program, a youth movement and summer camps, early childhood education centers, teacher training programs, progressive Jewish curricula in public schools, and an active social justice movement.
Gilad’s election to the Knesset shines a light on the cultural, religious, and political battle for the heart and soul of the State of Israel between the ultra-Orthodox and non-Orthodox. That battle is emblematic of contrasting visions within Israeli society as a whole, between religious oligarchy and religious freedom, totalitarian religious extremism and religious liberalism and diversity, the political right and political left, tyranny and democracy, an exclusive society and an inclusive one, the rigid pull of the past and an unfurled thrust into the future, ghettoized isolation and expansive hope. Gilad has been at the center of that struggle for years.
I hope that more Israelis will decide to vote for the Labor Party ticket on March 23 not only because Gilad is a prominent member of the ticket, but to restore the center-left to its historic place in Israeli politics and to be in a position to advocate for and legislate on behalf of liberal Jewish and democratic values.
I am thrilled that Rabbi Gilad Kariv will be a Member of the next Knesset, and I wish him every success.