|The Establishment of Reform Judaism in Israel|
Synagogues and Kibbutzim An initial attempt to establish a non-Orthodox form of Judaism in Israel was made by Rabbi Max Elk, an immigrant from Germany. In 1935 he founded a liberal congregation, Beth El, in Haifa, where he also established the Leo Baeck School in 1939.4 The school still maintains close ties with Reform Judaism (it came under the formal auspices of the Reform World Union for Progressive Judaism in 1971) and was later headed by Reform rabbi Robert Samuels, an American oleh.
Beth El retained its liberal orientation for only a few years--it later became an Orthodox congregation. A liberal congregation was established in Jerusalem by Rabbi Kurt Wilhelm at about the same time as Rabbi Elks congregation in Haifa. It later affiliated with the Conservative movement. An attempt by Rabbi Manfred Rosenberg to establish a liberal congregation in Tel Aviv in 1937 was also short-lived. (All Progressive synagogues built with money raised by the World Union for Progressive Judaism are now nominally owned by the World Union or under contract to it, in order to prevent the World Union from losing its facilities if the congregation decides to affiliate with a different denomination, as has happened in the past to the Conservative movement.)
Reform leader Alfred Gottschalk contends that the early congregations did not succeed because they were handicapped by economic hardship as well as by political pressures exerted by the Orthodox.5 These impediments made it difficult for the congregations to obtain facilities in which to worship. Without belittling these difficulties, they alone do not account for the failure. It appears that there was simply little market for liberal religion in Palestine at that time. Immigration from Germany ceased, while the generally anti-Zion attitude of early Reform Judaism inhibited even liberal German Jews, the "natural" membership of the early liberal synagogues, from attending Reform services.6 The majority of the Jews resident in Palestine at that time considered the Progressive service to be immigrant-oriented and alien to their own tradition. Sermons were often rendered in German, a language that would not easily resonate with the native population or be tolerated by immigrants from other countries. The nature of the religious needs of the Jewish population in Palestine led to a break in formal liberal Jewish activities that lasted until well after statehood. A pamphlet describing the Reform movement in Israel written by a member of the movement does not even mention its prestate history.7
The Reform movement in Israel had its "modern" beginnings in 1958, with the founding of the Harel synagogue in Jerusalem. Subsequent congregations were established in Upper Nazareth (1960), Ramat Gan and Kfar Shmaryahu (1962), Nahariya (1963), and Haifa (1964). These congregations called themselves chugim (groups) for Progressive Judaism in Israel. The driving force behind the creation of many of the Reform congregations has been someone, usually a rabbi, from the movements national office. The early congregations, for example, were founded by Rabbi Robert Samuels and Rabbi Moshe Zemer, who were in Israel as representatives of the World Union for Progressive Judaism.
According to Harari, the turning point for the creation of a Progressive movement came in 1965, when a public conference was held for those interested in a religious alternative to Ortho-doxy..8 Following the conference, the six basically independent Progressive congregations that were in existence at that time strengthened their contacts with one another. They even began to designate the conference that had already been held as the first conference of the movement for Progressive Judaism in Israel. The movement incorporated under Israeli law in 1971.
The name Progressive Judaism, rather than Reform Judaism, indicated an ideological orientation toward religion as developing in accordance with contemporary thought. It symbolized a shared identity with the American Reform movement while indicating some distance from that movement, as well as from classical Reform Judaism, because of the negative connotations that those associations had for the Israeli population.
The Reform movement in Israel is better characterized as a federation of synagogues than as satellite congregations of a united organization. The movement now has about twenty congregations and as many as 5,000 members. Five congregations have full-time rabbis and six have part-time rabbis. Six rabbis work in the movement but not in congregations. The national board of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism is composed of representatives of all congregations, as well as such affiliate bodies as the youth movement, Leo Baeck School, Hebrew Union College -- Jewish Institute of Religion, and the Council of Progressive Rabbis in Israel (moetzet ha-rabbanim ha-mitkadmim, or MARAM), founded in 1964. The National Board makes the movements major policy decisions. An executive director administers the movements activities on a day-to-day basis. In the past, the movement published a newsletter, Telem (1976-80), which was replaced by Kolot (1985-95), and a bulletin, Shalhevet (1969-87), that served as a forum for discussing the movement and religious issues. These are all defunct, and there is now no national publication or, indeed, no central mailing to members.
There are also two kibbutz settlements (Yahel and Lotan) affiliated with the movement, as well as a communal settlement, Har Halutz. The establishment of these settlements enabled the movement to buttress the claim that Reform Judaism is indigenous to Israel. Rabbi Alexander Schindler, then president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, stated at the groundbreaking ceremony of Yahel in 1976: "We demonstrate Reforms full flowering in its return to Israel--the people and the land." Rabbi Richard Hirsch, who besides serving as executive vice president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism was also involved in the establishment of the settlements, explained: "We have come to Israel to build and be rebuilt." Reform Jews seek to "root ourselves in the soil and the soul of the Jewish people. If we are not in the soil, then we are not in the soul." Indeed, the brochure issued at the time stated that "With the establishment of the new Reform kibbutz this winter, Israel Reform Judaism becomes, literally, rooted in the soil . . . . Israeli Reform Judaism is not only in the land. It is of the land . . . ."
The kibbutz settlements, both located in the southern Negev, host visitors and conduct educational activities for Reform Jews from various countries. They also host the summer camp of the Reform movement in Israel. In addition, the religious developments and practices of the members and of the settlements are interesting in themselves (viz., the charitable work done in recognition of the requirement of the biblical tithe). Nevertheless, the settlements have had little impact on Reform Judaism in Israel on a macro level. The chair of the executive of the Israel movement, Yonatan Livni, claims that the relationship between Har Halutz and the movement is tenuous at best. Data received from Har Halutz indicate that only about twenty of the sixty-five families living there in 1997 were committed to Reform Judaism. Mr. Livni also maintains that the kibbutz settlements are also somewhat marginal to the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism. He sees the kibbutz settlements as just two more Reform communities (kehillot) like the urban congregations. In fact, the status and impact of kibbutz settlements in Israel have considerably waned over the years, and with them the significance of having such settlements in the Reform movement. Part of the problem that the settlements faced is that they did not limit their membership to committed Reform Jews. Yahel, for example, accepted Conservative as well as nonreligious members. There are not enough committed Reform Jews who want to live on a specifically Reform kibbutz. Yahel, in 1997, had forty-three voting members and another forty-two residents and employees. It also had a garin (military settlement group) with eleven members. Lotan had about 100 families who are committed to the movement. In no small part, Lotans stronger commitment to Reform Judaism is attributable to the hard work of several dedicated Reform members who live on the kibbutz.
A national youth movement, Telem Noar (the youth of the Movement for Progressive Judaism), that had once been affiliated with the Israeli Scouts movement, has failed and is being "re-organized." Responsibility for the youth groups is now assigned to the affiliate congregations, but only three congregations have functioning youth groups. The movement is having a difficult time attracting and retaining members offspring.
The first rabbis in the movement (in the state era) were all immigrants, but Israeli students were early recruited for the rabbinical program. The program began in 1974, and the first student was ordained in 1980. Twenty students (including immigrants) have completed the program thus far. Half of these are currently working in the movement in Israel. The program is conducted at the Hebrew Union College campus in Jerusalem. The original intention had been to require the students to spend some time studying in the United States, but this plan was not carried out. The rabbinical students are also required to obtain a masters degree in a field of Jewish studies at Hebrew University or in another approved university. In 1997, eleven students were registered in the rabbinical program. The movement actively advertises the program, and local rabbis at times identify congregants who they think might be suitable as rabbis and try to recruit them to the program. The program is subsidized by the Reform movement, Hebrew Union College, and a private foundation. In addition to a tuition scholarship for their studies at the college, students receive a living stipend and reimbursement for half of the tuition fee for their university Judaics masters program. The Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism has almost no impact on the educational content of the program.
The rabbinical arm of the movement is represented by MARAM, the Council of Progressive Rabbis. The council is composed of most of the Reform rabbis in Israel, including retired, nonpracticing rabbis as well as those who are teachers or otherwise employed, and rabbinical students. About fifteen members regularly attend the meetings, held every six weeks.
Activities of the council in the past included the preparation of a new Israeli Progressive siddur, Ha-avodah Shebalev (Service of the Heart, 1982; revised printing, 1991),9 and a machzor for the High Holidays, Kavanat Halev (Meditations of the Heart, 1987). It is now preparing a new Haggadah for Passover and material for bar and bat mitzvah services and for burial and mourning practices.
The prayer book came under criticism by the younger generation in the movement soon after its publication. Some claimed that a printed version of the prayer service arrests its further development. (The term "Reformodox" has been used to characterize the fixed nature of the reform.) This criticism demonstrates the problem of institutionalization of a movement dedicated to ongoing accommodation to contemporary life. Some congregations distribute prayer sheets with additional or alternative prayers at the weekly services. (A significant change in the revised 1991 printing of the prayer book and in the machzor is the gender-neutral language used to describe God and the egalitarian wording in Hebrew to include the matriarchs with the patriarchs.)
The prayer book was written only in Hebrew, as would be expected in Israel. Congregation Harel in Jerusalem published a supplement to the prayer book in 1992, A Companion to Haavodah Shebalev, that included an English translation of some of the prayers for the benefit of visitors and for those "whose fluency in Hebrew is limited."
Other publications issued under the supervision of MARAM include three readers regarding Jewish prayer, halakhah and mitzvot, and holidays in the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism,10 and a volume by the former head of MARAM on Reform halakhah.11
The head of the Rabbinical Council is an ex officio member of the board of the American-based Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR). Israel is the only country to have such representation in the CCAR. The CCAR covers the expenses of the Israeli member to attend its board meetings, held twice a year in the United States. It also covers the cost of the participation of a representative from MARAM at its annual convention.
The council is rarely called upon by Israeli members to rule on religious questions and there is no specific responsa committee. However, the head of the council says that he is asked for the councils opinion by the CCAR on issues that can have an impact on Israeli religious life, and those questions are raised for discussion by the entire committee.
There is some tension between the rabbis and the lay leadership of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism. Some rabbis feel that the Rabbinic Council should have the decisive voice on religious issues in Israeli society. The position of the lay leadership is that religious issues have political implications and that the rabbis and the movement are interdependent. At times, this necessitates joint discussions and a mutually accepted decision. For example, the issue of the marriage of a same-sex couple was not only debated by the rabbis in 1997 but also by the executive of the movement in a joint session that the executive requested with the rabbis. In principle, the rabbis recognize the particular political situation of the movement and seek a decision that is mutually acceptable to the movement and themselves. However, lacking such an agreement, they might nevertheless adopt a decision that is at odds with what the movements board might have preferred. In general, there is not much coordination between the movement executive and MARAM.
MARAM is also somewhat independent of the movement financially. Members of MARAM pay annual membership dues, but the budget of the organization is mainly covered by an annual allocation from the CCAR and from donations from different regions and individuals in the movement in the United States as well as from the fees for conversions. Converts pay about $100 for their conversions.
The Israel movement used to pay the congregation rabbis directly, but a relatively recent decision by the executive is to have the rabbis salaries paid by the congregations that employ them. The new procedure is somewhat difficult for the rabbis. It is unpleasant to submit monetary requests to the congregations because of the financially difficult situation in which almost all the congregations find themselves. Membership fees are insufficient to meet the financial needs of the congregations and all of the congregations are still subsidized by the movement. The funds for this are collected mainly outside of Israel, with the bulk of the money coming from the United States.
A general problem of clergy being employed by their congregations is that the congregations can ask, or demand, that the clergy perform religious duties that are unacceptable to them. This is not relevant in Israel because MARAM members decided to adopt uniform decisions on religious issues and to impose discipline on their members as a condition of continued membership. It is thus unlikely that an Israeli Reform rabbi in one congregation would agree to perform a wedding that would not be acceptable to a rabbi in another congregation. Some MARAM members note with pride that the discipline of the rabbis council in Israel is a significant feature distinguishing it from the Reform movement in the United States, where rabbis, in effect, do whatever they want.
A major topic of ongoing concern in MARAM is conversion. This issue is important both ideologically, given the central role of the state in determining which rabbis and movements can be involved in this act, and pragmatically, given the large number of non-Jewish or questionably Jewish migrants to Israel (as many as 200,000, or 25 percent of the migrants) from the former Soviet Union since 1989. (The movement is much less involved in issues relating to migrants from Ethiopia.)
The Reform movement has a bet din (religious court) that converts about 120 persons a year. Persons holding Israeli citizenship complete their conversion process in Israel. Foreign citizens who seek conversion by the bet din are told that a conversion procedure undertaken in Israel may not enable them to be registered as Jews under Israeli civil law. These persons are prepared for the conversion in Israel, but they later undergo the actual Reform conversion procedure abroad (usually in London). The foreign conversion used to be recognized by the civil authorities in Israel. The head of MARAM says that the Ministry of the Interior stopped registering such conversions in 1997. The Reform bet din abroad generally recognizes the conversion preparations of its Israeli counterpart, and the process is therefore mostly symbolic.
The movements position in Israel regarding conversion is more traditional than that of the American movement. While the American Reform movement recognizes patrilineal as well as matrilineal descent for the transmission of Jewish identity, the movement in Israel (like the Reform movement in Europe and in other countries outside of the United States) retains the traditional Jewish view of recognizing only matrilineal descent. The expressed reason for the Israeli decision was that recognition of patrilineal descent would be too far removed from what is acceptable to klal yisrael. In fact, more traditional practices relating to personal status were called for, because if we affirm that we are an integral part of the Jewish people, we cannot limit our horizons to the Reform Movement in North America alone. The adoption of a CCAR resolution has ramifications for the entire Jewish people. Whether we so intend or not, the term "Jewish status" is inseparable from the term "legal status" and goes far beyond "private commitment." Even though the motivation is to resolve a pressing problem for our American movement, in effect we legislate for the entire Jewish people . . . . This is a price we should be willing to pay for the privilege of belonging to the Jewish people and for maintaining unity wherever possible both within the Reform family and within Kelal Yisrael.12
The principle of klal yisrael is accepted as long as it does not impinge on the conscience of the rabbis. The rabbis do not accept the Orthodox limitations placed on the marrying of mamzerim (children born of certain prohibited unions) or on the marrying of a kohen with a divorcee.
An early study of the membership of the Israel Reform movement found about 750 family units registered in the movements synagogues.13 Movement leaders estimated the number of members in 1997 at about 5,000, but there is no central membership list. Congregational mailing lists include members and nonmembers. Families required to enroll in a congregation in order to celebrate a bar or bat mitzvah, for example, can continue to receive mail even though their membership has lapsed. At most, a few thousand persons attend synagogue services on a regular basis, and while more persons attend a combination of services (especially on the High Holidays) and/or lecture series or other congregation-based activities, the current Reform population is small. This is a problem for the movement because individuals who should join a movement but do not symbolize the apparent dubiousness of its values and services.14 The movement views the 80 percent of Jewish Israelis who say they are traditional or nonreligious as the potential followers of Liberal Judaism. Even including members of the Conservative movement, organized Jewish liberal religious movements in Israel attract no more than 1 percent of the Jewish population. The nature of the Reform movement in Israel would be radically different, and the relations between the movement and the state would be drastically altered, if the movement were large, or even had a critical mass of members that required that its members and their needs be taken into account by state authorities in Israel.
Who does belong? The 1983 report indicated that 30 percent of the members were married with children under nineteen years of age in the household, and a substantial percentage were elderly with no immediate family members in the household. These data vary by congregation. There is now a congregation in Jerusalem composed of many American (and other Western) immigrants as well as native Israelis that includes many young families with children. The rabbi of that congregation himself immigrated from the United States. Some other Reform congregations also have a heavy concentration of immigrants from Western countries, but the Reform movement generally has a smaller percentage of Americans than does the Conservative movement in Israel. Probably no more than 30 percent of the members of the movement are native-born Israelis, but some congregations, such as that in Mevasseret Zion, outside of Jerusalem, are distinctively Israeli. Some Anglo-Saxon immigrants married to native-born Israelis influenced their spouses to join the movement. Some Israeli members came into contact with non-Orthodox Judaism while on visits or extended stays abroad.
The percentage of Israeli natives in individual synagogues seems to be rising. This is partly attributable to the rise in the number of non-Orthodox youth who celebrate their bar or bat mitzvah at a Reform synagogue. This is very significant for the movement. Most non-Orthodox boys in Israel who celebrate their bar mitzvah do so in Orthodox synagogues. Some Israelis who might consider a Reform celebration, including a bat mitzvah for a girl, nevertheless refrain from such a service because of the fear that family members and guests might look askance at a non-Orthodox ceremony. The increase in the number of families who do seek out a Reform ceremony indicates the decline of such fears and the rising legitimacy of Reform. Even if many of these families do not keep up the membership requirement beyond the mandatory year, it is through attendance at such celebrations that thousands of non-Orthodox Israelis are exposed to Reform services each year when they attend as guests. Reform leaders hope that at least some of these persons might consider a Reform ceremony for a family life-cycle event of their own one day. Over a quarter of the Israeli-born in the Reform movement in the 1983 study said that attendance at such celebrations (including those of their own children) first led them to attend their current congregations.
While a few of the congregations rarely, or only occasionally, host bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies, others have trouble keeping up with the demand. Beit Daniel in Tel Aviv, constructed with money raised by the World Union for Progressive Judaism, is one of the movements most successful synagogue/ community centers. It has a morning and afternoon bar or bat mitzvah celebration each shabbat. The congregation in Raanana, a city populated by a high percentage of Western immigrants, is much smaller than the Tel Aviv congregation, but it still has forty bar and bat mitzvah celebrations annually.
The percentage of movement members of Asian-African origin (eidot hamizrach) is quite small. The ethnic nature of the movement, regarding both the background of the members and the Western character of the services, means that the Reform movement is quite remote from about half of the Jews in Israeli society, who are of Asian-African background.
An important indicator of the future for Reform is its ability to attract the children of present members. The early study of the movement found that only about half of the grown children of members prefer the denomination of their parents. Only about a quarter of the children of Reform members who no longer lived at home attended synagogues of the same denomination as their parents. Movement leaders say that this continued to be the case in 1997, as far as regular membership went, but that they do not view membership and regular synagogue attendance as indicators of success. Non-Orthodox Israelis simply do not attend synagogue services on a regular basis, and Progressive movement leaders now state that it is impractical and unrealistic to try and change this situation. The Israeli pattern of behavior, they say, is to observe life-cycle events religiously, and they hope that Israelis, including the children of former members, will consider celebrating these events in a Reform synagogue.
Recognizing early on that the movement was not making rapid inroads in Israeli society, movement leaders decided to formulate a platform that would express the goals of the movement in a positive manner and that could serve as the movements "calling card" before the Israeli public. The leaders feared that most Israelis, even some of the movements own members, defined Progressive Judaism in terms of what it does not require religiously:
Go out to the members of the movement and ask them what Progressive Judaism is. Most of the respondents, veteran members as well as new ones, will focus on the importance of shortening the prayers, abolition of the separation between men and women [in the synagogue], musical accompaniment in some of the congregations and the negative attitude toward halakhah. This is a symbol of poverty, not for our members, but for us, the shapers of the movement, the leaders and rabbis.15
According to the platform of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, adopted in 1977, the movement aspires to strengthen the commitment and loyalty of Jews to their Jewish heritage and to shape life in the State of Israel in light of the moral principles for individual and collective behavior prescribed by Judaism. The movement strives to cultivate among Jews in Israel and elsewhere a Jewish way of life that is imbued with love for their people and a creativeness that draws from the wellspring of Judaism.
The way in which these aims will be fulfilled, the platform continues, is by stressing that Judaism should not be confined to matters of ritual and personal status, and that the obligations of the commandments, or mitzvot, should impinge on the relationship of man to his fellow man as well as of man to God. The method of determining which mitzvot to follow is based on: (1) the purpose of a mitzvah and its historical development; (2) the possibility of sanctifying life through its observance; (3) the feasibility of fulfilling it in contemporary conditions; (4) the impact of the mitzvah on klal yisrael; and (5) there being no conflict between the mitzvah and the dictates of conscience.
The stress on the commandments between people (as opposed to the commandments between man and God) is in keeping with the "prophetic" view of Judaism emphasized by Reform Judaism in the past. The platform further identifies a number of social issues in Israel that require the application of these precepts as commandments. They are: the social gap; the integration of the various ethnic groups; the absorption of immigrants; and the existence of a large, non-Jewish minority in the state.
The manner in which the movement defines itself in Israel is influenced both by the social environment and by the personalities of the members. In stating that mitzvot are to be observed, and that they are binding on all individuals, the movement adopted a more traditional approach to Judaism than that of Reform Judaism in the past. The justification for the observance of mitzvot is that "as religious Jews we surely do not want a life style that dictates that "every person may act as he sees fit."16
A guiding principle adopted by the movement in determining which mitzvot are to be followed is that of klal yisrael. Essentially this means that rather than viewing religion as an individualistic enterprise, Judaism is to be viewed from a collective perspective. For example, synagogue and movement functions are kosher, and in the 1970s it was decided to observe kashrut in Bet Shmuel, the World Union of Progressive Judaisms Jerusalem-based cultural center. An impressive facility for netillat yadayim (ritual hand washing before a meal) was installed in Bet Shmuel upon the request of Rabbi Richard Hirsch, executive director of the World Union of Progressive Judaism, in order to demonstrate that Reform Judaism is rooted in tradition. Although the kashrut of the food served in Bet Shmuel is under the supervision of an Orthodox Jew, the state rabbinate will not provide the Reform facility with a kashrut certificate. (Bet Shmuel conducts religious and cultural activities in Jerusalem, but it is independent of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, and decisions regarding its activities are made without consultation with the Israel movement.)
In general, the issue of mitzvot, as well as religious belief, provoked much controversy during the formulation of the Reform platform. Opposition to viewing the mitzvot as obligatory was expressed by the more ideologically committed members, who preferred that all requirements concerning religious practices and belief be left to the discretion of the individual. As one of the movements leaders wrote:
Most of our members . . . negate halakhah as a principle in their lives and actions--and their will is to be honored. We are willing to accept parts of it, as long as this is carried out on a logical basis of moral content or historical significance, and not on the basis of authoritative-rabbinic determination.17
Despite the reservations expressed, the platform, as adopted, did refer to mitzvot and many members felt this to be a significant step forward. As one of the Israeli rabbinical students (who has since become one of the movements leaders) said, "This platform shows that we are not merely Orthodox Judaism minus." This statement demonstrates the sensitivity of many Reform leaders to the way that Orthodox Jews view them or to how they might be perceived by others who use Orthodox standards in judging religion. Similarly, the head of the Rabbinical Council, MARAM, responsible at the time for the formulation of the prayer book, Ha-avodah Shebalev, recommended the inclusion of many prayers so that the siddur would be "thick," like Orthodox prayer books, and thus help refute the accusation of the Israeli public that Reform Judaism is only "Orthodox minus." "People generally treat Progressive Judaism as Ôabridged Judaism. The Orthodox pray from a "thick siddur, while we pray from a shortened, Ôthin one."18 The prayer book, in fact, has been described as a symbol of the acclimatization to Israel of Reform Judaism.19
Another practice of the movement that indicates sensitivity to the social environment is to celebrate Rosh Hashanah as a two-day festival (rather than one day, as some Reform congregations do abroad). The movement in Israel recognizes the two-day holiday in the traditional manner as a yama arichta (one extended day). In this way Reform celebration coincides with the way the holiday is celebrated throughout Israel, when all schools and businesses are closed and public transportation curtailed. (A suggestion was once made by Rabbi Hirsch that the Reform and the Conservative movements in the United States adopt the Israeli calendar of holiday celebrations in recognition of the central role of Israel in Jewish life.)
Younger Israeli-born rabbis tend to be less accommodating to traditional practices. In 1997, for example, Rabbi Uri Regev called for a partial curtailment of religious requirements relating to the Fast of Ninth of Av, citing the fact that all the Orthodox have to do is look out the window to see how inappropriate it is to mourn the complete destruction and desolation of Jerusalem.
In general, the questions of the observance of mitzvot and the nature of religious belief seem to be moot. Once the platform was adopted, the particular articles in it could be ignored by the general membership. Most members do not really care about the platform (and many may not even know that there is an official platform). The platform has had almost no effect inside the movement, and since the Israeli public is ignorant of its provisions, it has also had little effect on the public.
Other Movement Features
Another feature of the Reform movement is a decorous, abbreviated synagogue service. The movement has issued an aesthetic Hebrew prayer book. Congregants are encouraged to join in the prayers, and the services appear to be somewhat more participatory than services in the United States. There is hardly any talking. Men in Reform synagogues almost always wear kippot, which are offered them as they enter the synagogue. Men and women can wear a tallit if they choose; most women do not. Services in most synagogues are quite sedate; many synagogues do not have instrumental accompaniment. One does not encounter many young children running around as one does in Orthodox synagogues. The Jerusalem congregation Kol Hanshama is one exception, exceptional also in its composition of young families and its energetic services, which include much communal participation. The congregation is almost derogatorily described by some Israeli Reform leaders as an American congregation, "with their American rabbi," that is suitable for the specific area of Jerusalem where it is located, but unsuitable for most other areas where "real" Israelis live. There is some jealousy of the success of the congregation embedded in this criticism, but there is also a feeling that the synagogue is "too American" and that it does not help the image of the movement. Indeed, some rabbis claim that rabbis with American accents, and rabbis who do not know the names of Israeli soccer players, make it difficult to have rapport with native Israelis and to present Reform Judaism in Israel as an Israeli movement.20
A potentially attractive feature of Reform synagogues is the egalitarian orientation toward the sexes. Men and women can lead services, serve as rabbis, be called to the Torah, and, of course, sit together in the synagogue service.
Other features of the movement include bar and bat mitzvah services, religious services for couples who wish to marry, and conversion. These will be discussed below. The problem for the movement is that despite its positive features, it has still failed to attract large numbers of native-born Israelis. Decorous, egalitarian services may appeal to members of the movement, and perhaps those who attend on the High Holidays choose a Reform synagogue because of this. These features, however, do not seem to be enough, in themselves, to lead people to a deep-rooted commitment to Reform Judaism.
The movement also maintains educational activities. A yeshiva-bet midrash has been established in Bet Shmuel and sixteen persons were enrolled in 1997. Jewish study classes are held in a number of congregations, and the intention of the movement in 1997 was to develop additional cultural centers in at least eight more locations around the country. This decision recognized that synagogue services alone do not draw Israelis, and no more buildings that serve only as synagogues will be built.
Page 5 of 11