After sitting through a lengthy PowerPoint presentation by the Jewish People Policy Institute of its 2017 Pluralism Index in Jerusalem on Thursday, a group of Reform and Conservative leaders complained of once again being left off the charts.
For the purposes of the ongoing project, the JPPI, a not-for-profit think tank tasked with creating strategy to ensure the future of the Jewish people, defines Israeli pluralism as “the condition in which Israelis of different social classes, ideologies, religious streams, levels of beliefs and practices, genders, and ethnic backgrounds have an opportunity to legitimately exercise their differences in the public sphere.”
However, when some 1,000 Israeli Jews surveyed were asked to self-identify with nine possible religious or secular streams (or neither), there was no option for the Reform and Conservative movements. There were five choices for gradations of Orthodox observance — including “hardal” or “Haredi-leumi” which makes up only one percent of the population — but no nod to non-Orthodox Jewish streams, which are some 5-8 percent of Israel’s Jewish population.
Perhaps, joked Rabbi Uri Regev, head of Hiddush: For Religious Freedom and Equality, this exclusion of non-Orthodox Judaism is because there is still no Hebrew word for “pluralism.”
But leader of the Israeli Reform Movement Gilad Kariv called the oversight a “moment for heshbon nefesh” (a term for introspective reckoning used ahead of the Day of Atonement).
“Why does this phenomenon happen? When you are thinking of groups that are only 1% of the population, think of groups that are 8%! I suggest that the institute reexamine the issue of when an Israeli group becomes a player in the game of Israeli identity,” said Kariv.
Ironically, this oversight was strangely in line with the overarching findings of the index.
“Israel is a place where people are happy to live — Jews, ultra-Orthodox, Arabs. They just don’t like living together,” said JPPI president Avinoam Bar-Yosef in opening remarks at the presentation. Bar-Yosef later apologized to Kariv, Conservative movement head Yizhar Hess, and the other leaders of Israel’s non-Orthodox Jewry in attendance for the omission.
“There is no doubt that this was a mistake, and no doubt that it was unintentional. We usually do relate to the Reform and Conservative movements as relevant groups. Some things fell between the cracks,” said Bar-Yosef.
The study was supported by the William Davidson Foundation and statistical analysis and methodological development was led by economist Prof. Steven Popper of the Rand Corporation. Demographer Prof. Uzi Rebhun, sociologist Dr. Shlomo Fischer, Shmuel Rosner, and Institute Fellow Noah Slepkov formed the rest of the index’s team.