A member of Judaism’s Reform movement has won a seat on a local religious council for the first time in Israel, chipping away at Orthodox Jews’ control over much of daily life, from food preparation to marriage.
“It opens up the doors to many things,” Bruria Barish, 60, said Monday of her election a day earlier to the Tel Aviv religious council.
The councils deal with religious practices in their communities, such as issuing kosher certificates to restaurants, running ritual baths and dispensing public funds to synagogues.
Orthodox rabbis sharply criticized Barish’s election, saying Reform Judaism’s liberal interpretation of Jewish law could undermine the faith.
“I can promise you that we will fight this,” said Rabbi Avraham Ravitz, a legislator from the fervently Orthodox United Torah Front Party.
The Reform movement is the most popular stream of Judaism in the United States, where it claims a membership of more than 1.5 million out of about 3 million affiliated Jews. Most of the rest belong to Orthodox and Conservative synagogues, and about half of U.S. Jews are not affiliated with any of the three congregations.
Founded in Germany in the mid-19th century, Reform Judaism sought to modernize religious practice and prayer rituals by rejecting some traditions, such as wearing a skullcap or avoiding travel on the Jewish sabbath.
In Israel, it is still widely viewed as a foreign import and has attracted only several thousand followers, many immigrants who already belonged to the Reform stream in their native countries.
Its growth has been kept in check by Orthodox rabbis who have a state-sanctioned monopoly over marriage, divorce and burials.