Jewish Religious Equality Coalition Visits Israel for Pluralism Advocacy

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January 9, 2017 - Jerusalem - The Jewish Religious Equality Coalition (J-REC) is visiting Israel to advocate for religious pluralism. Created and led by AJC, J-REC is a broad-based coalition of American Jews and Israelis dedicated to the realization of full religious equality in the Jewish state, and is mobilizing support for the creation of alternatives to the Chief Rabbinate.

The group, led by J-REC Chair Dov Zakheim and Steve Bayme, AJC Director of Contemporary Jewish Life, will meet with Israeli government officials, the Knesset Diaspora Committee, the Chief Rabbinate, and civil society organizations active on promoting religious pluralism.

Since its founding in 2014, J-REC has warned repeatedly that the Chief Rabbinate's monopoly over personal status issues, such as conversion and marriage, poses threats to Israel's democratic nature and ultimately to its national security. Any weakening of the U.S. Jewish attachment to Israel could adversely impact the U.S.-Israel special relationship.

J-REC has held several colloquia on these issues at AJC headquarters in New York, bringing together representatives of the 13 organizations in the U.S. and Israel that comprise the coalition. A J-REC delegation visited Israel in November 2015, a year after the group's founding.

Fundamental questions of Jewish identity and peoplehood transcend geographical borders, and cannot be considered solely an internal Israeli matter,” said Bayme. “Concerns in the U.S. Jewish community about the Chief Rabbinate's extensive influence on personal status issues are palpable, and compel us to speak out and rigorously advocate for change.”

The AJC 2016 Survey of American Jewish Opinion found that 74 percent favor extended legal recognition to non-Orthodox weddings, divorces and conversions. The survey also found that 41 percent consider securing legal recognition of equality for all streams of Judaism the most important change necessary in Israeli Judaism.

“Embracing rather than alienating the American Jewish community is critical for Israel and for Jewish peoplehood,' said Zakheim.

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