Religion: Reform for Israel?

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Jews in Israel have a take-it-or-leave-it choice in religion: be either completely Orthodox or thoroughly secular. Consequently, about one-third observe only the high holidays and another third practice no religion at all. Last week battle lines were being drawn over whether Israelis should have another alternative.

The man who may give it to them is Nelson Glueck, archaeologist and head of Cincinnati's Hebrew Union College, chief training center for U.S. Reform rabbis. Three years ago Dr. Glueck. three times director of the American School of Oriental Research in Jerusalem's Old City, had the idea of setting up a postgraduate archaeological school in Jerusalem linked to Hebrew Union. Naturally, the school would have facilities for worship; naturally, the worship would be according to the relaxed rules of Reform Judaism. The Israeli government leased him a two-acre plot at an annual rent of 40¢, and Nelson Glueck went ahead, carefully including in his contract the right to "pray, preach and practice Judaism" according to his own understanding of it.

Not Marilyn Monroe! The day before he left the U.S. this summer to supervise the start of building operations, Rabbi Glueck had a letter from Israel's Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog, warning him not to "split Jewry" by introducing the Reform movement in Israel. When Glueck arrived in Israel he found obstruction rather than construction well under way.

In the eyes of Orthodox Jews, whose lives are directed in minutest detail by the Shulhan Aruch (a traditional compilation of rabbinic rulings), Reform Jews are "Christians without Christ." Like Christians, they remove their hats for worship, let men sit with women in their synagogues, often use organ music, and even hold their services on Sundays. For them the Psalms and prophets are more important than the Torah. Few of them observe any dietary laws at all, much less the more specialized injunctions against shaving, work on Saturday, etc. And they think almost nothing of intermarriage. Said one Israeli rabbi last week: "Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller were married by a Reform rabbi. Just think−such a thing could happen here if Nelson Glueck gets his way!"

To keep him from getting his way, the powerful Orthodox faction blocked the planned school by postponing meetings of the Jerusalem Municipal Council necessary to grant a construction permit. At last Glueck compromised on some details: services would be held in Hebrew rather than English, hats would be optional, and there would be no organ. But the services would still be unmistakably Reform. Says Glueck: "I am no missionary for American Reform Judaism, but I am interested in seeing that there is freedom of religion in Israel ... I hate ghettos and the ghetto spirit, and the rabbinate is trying to project this spirit into the country. They have developed a petrified ghetto psychology they think is Judaism."

Dangerous Import. When the rabbis refused to give way, Premier Ben-Gurion stepped in, told Jerusalem's Mayor Gershon Agron to see that Glueck's plans were approved immediately. Last week the Orthodox bowed to the inevitable, granted Glueck his building permit.

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