The results of the elections for the 19th Knesset and the coalition that was created as a result brought great hope for progress on the issue of religion and state in Israel. The religious Zionist camp was very well represented by the growth of the Jewish Home party and representatives in other parties, like Yesh Atid, in the governing coalition. The ultra-Orthodox parties were kept out of the coalition allowing for religion and state issues such as conversion, kashrut, agunot, civil unions, and the appointment process for rabbis and religious judges to quite suddenly be back on the table.

We started off with great success. The first law which I sponsored required that four women be placed on the committee responsible for appointing religious judges. These judges have a direct impact on our lives. They decide with whom we can get married, how couples get divorced, who is a Jew, and other issues that have influence on the lives of all Israelis. The fact that not even one woman sat on this committee was a direct result of haredi control and was simply unacceptable. This law ensured that at least four members of the committee be female. I viewed the appointment of women to this committee as a first step in breaking the discrimination towards women which can be found throughout Israel’s religious court infrastructure. This change will hopefully lead to the appointment of judges who will be more moderate, more open, and better listeners to the needs of women.

I was elated that the law went through the difficult legislative process relatively quickly and became the first law of the 19th Knesset to officially enter Israel’s law books. However, as the law passed in the Knesset plenum I began to realize that my excitement and enthusiasm for change in all the other areas of religion and state may not come so quickly. I was stunned to see some members of the Jewish Home party leave the plenum instead of voting in favor of this law. My assumption that we could work together with them as a fellow coalition partner to make significant improvements in Israeli society was quickly dispelled. Were it not for the 19 votes of Yesh Atid this law would not have passed! I quickly realized that the potential which all of us identified when the coalition was formed was going to remain just potential.

There are laws which I wrote and submitted which are simply sitting on the Knesset table including changing the way Kashrut certification works, reforming the way the burial society acts, requiring representation for women on local regional councils, shifting policy to allow a woman to immerse in the mikva according to her traditions and customs, increasing the size of the women’s section at the Kotel, and more. Many of these laws seek to make dramatic changes and some are more limited and are minor tweaks to make things better for us. To my dismay, there was significant opposition to these laws, mostly from the Jewish Home party, which stood as a wall in front of any change, improvement, or adjustment to the current situation. And, this, specifically, when the coalition afforded us a historic opportunity to make real progress.

At times, despite the laws being stopped, the very submission of the laws did create enough noise to bring about change. For example, the law I sponsored requiring female representation on the local regional councils led to the Religious Affairs Ministry changing its policies and requiring that at least one woman sit on every religious council. It is a policy and not a law and can be easily changed by the next Religious Affairs Minister but at least that minimal chance is in place for now. This is not enough and we will continue to fight for there to be significant female representation on these councils but it is a start and a step in the right direction.

Once it became clear that the Jewish Home would block legislation, I looked to other parliamentary tools to make progress on religion and state issues. I challenged the Religious Affairs Minister in a parliamentary question regarding the high charge for those who wanted a prenuptial agreement and that public question generated enough public pressure to force him to reduce the charge. I challenged the Interior Minister in the same way regarding the inappropriate private questions that were being asked of couples when they came to register for marriage and that public pressure led to him issuing clear orders prohibiting this line of questioning in the marriage registration process.

There are laws which I wrote and submitted which are simply sitting on the Knesset table including changing the way Kashrut certification works, reforming the way the burial society acts, requiring representation for women on local regional councils, shifting policy to allow a woman to immerse in the mikva according to her traditions and customs, increasing the size of the women’s section at the Kotel, and more.  Many of these laws seek to make dramatic changes and some are more limited and are minor tweaks to make things better for us. To my dismay, there was significant opposition to these laws, mostly from the Jewish Home party, which stood as a wall in front of any change, improvement, or adjustment to the current situation. And, this, specifically, when the coalition afforded us a historic opportunity to make real progress.