There was a heated debate in Cabinet on Sunday morning as Finance Minister Yair Lapid surprised the Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party with a new demand: Include the Reform and Conservative Jewish movements in a government initiative for “Jewish identity.”
The Jewish Home party, which initiated the Jewish Identity project, opposed the change, but was ultimately overruled.
Lapid succeeded in adding a phrase stating that the project would be “for all parts of Judaism,” a phrase which he explained includes non-orthodox Jewish movements.
Orthodox Judaism believes that the Torah is divine and unchanging, and that proper observance of mitzvoth (commandments) must be determined in accordance with Jewish tradition.
The Reform movement teaches that mitzvoth are optional, while the Conservative movement teaches that mitzvoth are obligatory in theory, but has made changes to Jewish observance that Orthodox leaders view as invalid, such as allowing cars to be driven on the Sabbath, and permitting gay marriage.
The Reform and Conservative movements are popular in the United States and parts of Europe, but are extremely small in Israel, where Orthodox Judaism has been used as the standard for Jewish tradition regarding marriage, burial and other life cycle events.
Lapid has announced that he plans to change that by putting non-Orthodox movements on an equal footing.
The Jewish Identity project will operate as part of the Religious Services Ministry.
The Jewish Home party released a statement following Sunday’s Cabinet debate.
“The Jewish Identity initiative will work with all segments of society, in accordance with the addition made by the government today – meaning with both secular and religious,” the party said.
“It’s a shame that Jewish Identity has become a topic that leads [Justice Minister] Tzipi Livni to object. This just shows the great need for a Jewish Identity program,” it added.
Livni had said that the project should have come under the aegis of the Ministry of Education. As it stands, she said, it is "a political move whose only purpose is to be a tool for troubling religious indoctrination."