At stake is not just competition for the hearts and minds of the Jewish faithful in Israel, but also efforts to shore up US-Israeli ties. The unequal treatment of Jewish denominations could help erode Israel’s relationship with US by spurring alienation among American Jews, many of whom identify with Reform and Conservative denominations, say experts and Jewish groups.
"This is causing strain within the Diaspora," says Yossi Klein Halevi, a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. "The danger is that American Jewry is our most important source of support, and the lack of full religious pluralism could become a security threat to Israel if it undermines our relationship with American Jewish community."
At the same time however, change is almost certain to prompt resistance from the parliament’s influential Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox religious parties, who have threatened to bring down government over issues of religion and state.
Israel’s minister for religious services, Yaacov Margi, threatened to resign before agreeing to pay the salary of clergymen he views as apostates. A colleague from Mr. Margi’s party said the decision “harmed the soul of the Jewish people.”
To be sure, the Reform and Conservative movements are not native to Israel, and they still constitute a small minority of Israeli Jews. Their followers only started immigrating to Israel in the 1960s and 70s, and their liberal version of Judaism was foreign to Israeli Jews, who were either Orthodox or completely secular.
While such non-Orthodox movements worship freely without government intervention, if those denominations want to hold rituals at a holy site like Jerusalem’s Western Wall, they face restrictions by the Orthodox authorities entrusted by the state with managing them.