The interpretation and status of the Jewish religion contains paramount importance in a state that defines itself as Jewish-Democratic. Will Judaism in Israel be distorted to stroke inter-ethnic tensions, diminish women and minority groups, and limit individual and communal choice in favor of an entrenched extremist religious establishment or will it instead uphold pluralist and humane norms, while also respecting the dignity of all peoples? For over three decades Shatil and the NIF , together with allied civil society organizations, public influencers and decision makers, have strove to ensure that the answer is the latter.
Although Israel is a democracy, important personal events – marriage, divorce, burial and conversion – are controlled by the Orthodox establishment. Many Israeli Jews find this alienating. Shatil’s Religious Freedom Project was founded to strengthen the capacities of religious-pluralism organizations, communities and coalitions; to promote alternatives to the status quo; to ensure that every woman who wants a Jewish divorce will be able to get one; and to promote a humane Jewish voice through linking Jewish values with social justice.
Through specialized trainings, consulting services and assistance with coalition development, Shatil’s Religious Freedom Project currently:
- Is engaged in a campaign to wrest control from the ultra-Orthodox establishment in matters of marriage, divorce, burial and conversion.
- Helps liberal Orthodox organizations develop and advance the equal status of women in religious communities.
- Assists other movements of Judaism to become meaningful alternatives for the Israeli public.
- Fight against the ongoing exclusion of women from the public sphere so that women can achieve their full potential as full and equal members of society.
- Promotes societal and individual freedom that is limited by attempts at religious coercion.
Providing alternative services to the state religious establishment
Shatil, together with the NIF and partners such as Be Free Israel, is supporting a plethora of initiatives meant to enable Israelis to construct their own religious experiences and rituals, in accordance with their own views and beliefs. These can range from community based pluralist Shabbat events, to personalized wedding ceremonies and community based Kashruth supervision. We aim to translate these values and energy to the political sphere. Israelis who are capable of taking charge of their own religious experience independently of the religious establishment are more likely to support diversity and pluralism in religious services supplied by the state, thus laying the groundwork for broader changes.
Supporting Inclusion for Orthodox Women
Orthodox women are important promoters of women’s rights. Shatil provides intensive consultation to women, organizations and grassroots groups working to advance halachic alternatives to the ultra-Orthodox rabbinate, particularly as concerns issues relating to marriage, divorce, and religious observance.
Shatil created the ADVOT Mikvah group which works to promote justice and pluralism rights around the charged issues of the management of Israel’s ritual religious bath-houses.
It is clear that the state religious establishment cannot become more responsive to women’s needs and priorities without the active leadership of women. Shatil and ADVOT are running joint training programs to promote women within the religious establishment, starting with municipal religious councils.
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