International Federation of Reform and Progressive Religious Zionists

Israel’s High Court requires a “good cause” argument why a woman cannot read Torah at the holiest site in Judaism

In a landmark High Court decision Wednesday 11 Jan 2017, the State of Israel was given 30 days to find “good cause” why a woman may not read aloud from a Torah scroll as part of prayer services at the Western Wall.

A year ago the Israeli government coalition made an agreement with a wide range of Jews from around the world that included the Reform and Conservative movements, the North American Jewish Federations, and the Women of the Wall to create an egalitarian prayer space in the Southern Kotel Plaza under Robinson’s Arch that is equal in size and in access to the Northern Kotel Plaza that would be overseen by non-Orthodox Jewry and not the ultra-Orthodox.

This was a landmark decision that affirmed Israel as the great democracy that it is and that Jews around the world ought to have the right and freedom to pray according to their custom at the holiest site in Judaism.

The agreement was led by Prime Minister Netanyahu who had appointed Natan Sharansky, the Director of the Jewish Agency for Israel, to forge a consensus agreement that included the ultra-Orthodox administrator of the Wall and the non-Orthodox liberal streams of Judaism.

It took 3 years to reach a compromise agreement, and once that was done, the ultra-Orthodox members of the Israeli government dug in their heels and aggressively sought to undermine it that would essentially disenfranchise 80% of world Jewry that is non-Orthodox. These Orthodox politicians backed by their Haredi rabbis threatened to bring down Netanyahu’s government if the agreement was implemented.

At last – the Israeli High Court has ruled that egalitarian prayer and the rights of women to read Torah at the Kotel ought to be their democratic right. These reactionary forces have been given 30 days to make their case.

This is a limited victory and not the end of the struggle – stay tuned.

Government given 30 days to show ‘good cause’ why women can’t read from Torah scrolls at the holy site




   “Jerusalem is Broadway and

the United States is off-Broadway.”

Recently, Rabbi Richard (Dick) Hirsch, one of the key Reform Movement leaders of the 20th century, gave a talk summarizing his life and role in building and widening the reach of the Reform Movement in the US, Israel and the world at large.

Rabbi John Rosove, Chair of ARZA – the Association of Reform Zionist of America, gave tribute to Rabbi Hirsch in his December 25th blog:

Rabbi Richard (Dick) Hirsch turned 90 this past year. One would think that at that age Dick’s physical strength, sharp mind, and passion would be diminished.

Though he has his share of aches and pains, there is nothing diminished about Rabbi Dick Hirsch. He remains after more than half a century of activism the vital Zionist and social justice giant of the American and Israeli Reform movements.

Dick is the founding Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC) in Washington, D.C. He is responsible for moving the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) offices from the United States to Jerusalem, raising the money and overseeing the construction of the WUPJ Center and Beit Shmuel that house the central offices of the Israeli Reform movement on King David Street only steps from the King David Hotel. And he is a founder of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), the pre-eminent social justice advocacy organization in the State of Israel.

Dick argued before the leaders of American Reform Judaism in the late 1960s and early 1970s that for the Reform movement to earn its rightful place in Jewish history we would have to build an institutional and broadly-based presence in the State of Israel. This would include building synagogue centers all over the state, progressive Jewish schools, a rabbinic and cantorial seminary for Israeli-born leaders, kibbutzim, a youth movement, and a social justice movement that helps to grow and transform not only Israeli society but the character of world Jewry.

Fifty years ago Dick told the Board of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now the Union for Reform Judaism) that for Jews “Jerusalem is Broadway and the United States is off-Broadway.” He also said to them soon after the ’67 war, that “Without Zionism, there is no Judaism!” The reaction of the then American Reform leadership was strong and negative. But, Dick carried on, at times by himself, and succeeded in igniting and inspiring others to join him in transforming progressive Judaism in the State of Israel.

Dick didn’t just talk the talk. In 1972, he and his wife Bella picked up their four children and moved to Israel. I met him for the first time the following year when I was a first-year rabbinic student at HUC in Jerusalem.

ARZENU is pleased to make this historical video available to our members and followers.


Chanukah sameach!


ARZA Statement on David Friedman's Selection as the Next U.S. Ambassador to Israel 

The Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA) is critically concerned about the appointment by President-Elect Donald Trump of David Friedman as the next United States Ambassador to Israel.

As a progressive Zionist organization, ARZA regards Mr. Friedman’s support for the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, his opposition to a two-state solution, and his open hostility and use of slurs like "kapo" towards other Jews as inappropriate for the American representative to the Jewish State.

Last year, ARZA led the Reform Movement in a campaign for the World Zionist Congress, running on a platform championing the two-state solution as the only viable way to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is a position supported by both the U.S. and Israeli governments, as was recently reiterated this week by Prime Minister Netanyahu on 60 Minutes.

Mr. Friedman’s lack of diplomatic experience and extreme views are cause for great concern. We believe that Mr. Friedman's intemperance and hostile rhetoric are deeply disturbing. The United States-Israel relationship is of critical importance, which is why the Ambassador to Israel must be someone who can garner the most broad support for Israel, not someone who has the potential to alienate a majority of the American Jewish community through their behavior.


Schism over women’s rights in Israel

On May 5, Anat Hoffman, Executive Director of Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), appeared on CNN’s show Amanpour. to talk about her struggle to fight the ultra-Orthodoxs’ increasing influence on both public and religious life  in Israel and to secure equal rights of Israeli women.

Watch Anat Hoffman on CNN here.

Samuel Burke has written an article based on the interview. You can read it below.

Schism over women’s rights in Israel

by Samuel Burke

Israeli feminist Anat Hoffman has just finished a tour in the U.S., campaigning for support over her arrest in the ongoing struggle between secular and Orthodox Jews in Israel.

Hoffman is the Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Center and was arrested at the Western Wall in Jerusalem in 2010 for carrying a Torah at the holy site in Jerusalem. She told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, “I was conducting a religious act that offends the feelings of others – and that’s against the law.” While women carrying a Torah in Reform Judaism is common place, it’s not sanctioned by Orthodox Jews, whose customs have become the norm at the Western Wall. Hoffman was never charged with a crime.

Hoffman said that even though women’s rights are a problem only within a very small group inside Orthodoxy, her arrest and the schisms between religious and secular Jews over women’s rights are indicative of the growing power of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel.

“Secular politicians in Israel make greater and greater concessions to the ultra-Orthodox,” Hoffman said, “because they are a very obedient crowd in a democratic game – they vote in a block, in one way.”

Hoffman is also a member of the so called ‘Freedom Riders,’ reminding Israeli passengers that public buses cannot be involuntary segregated, which the Israeli Supreme court ruled in a case brought by an Israeli woman in 2011.

As a matter of custom, on some Israeli bus lines women sit in the back of the bus, because the ultra-Orthodox avoid mixing of men and women. But in 2011, a woman named Tanya Rosenblit sat in the front of an inter-city bus bound for Jerusalem and was dubbed Israel's 'Rosa Parks' when she refused to give up her seat.

Hoffman and other ‘Freedom Riders’ post sings to remind riders of the Supreme Court’s decision. Hoffman told Amanpour, “We went to court representing a variety of Orthodox women. We won the case  and [the sign] is hanging in every Israeli bus, right behind the driver.” The sign reads, “Passengers may sit in any seat of his or her choosing… harassing a passenger regarding his or her seating choice may constitute a crime.”

When asked how the rise of Orthodoxy and its political impact affect any possibility of a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians, Hoffman said, “I look at Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu – deeply religious people that used religion to mend their country.  When you think of South Africa, you see how religion can actually act not as an obstacle – the peace and reconciliation committees are drenched in religious rhetoric.  You see religion at its very, very best.”


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