It took a while, but Rabbi Alona Lisitsa has finally taken her rightful seat on Mevasseret Zion’s religious council. Lisitsa, a 41-year-old, Kiev-born Reform rabbi, was named to the council three years ago, but the Religious Affairs Ministry delayed approving her appointment until Israel’s High Court of Justice ordered it to do so.
Israeli’s 170 religious councils supervise kashrut, and oversee marriage registration, burials, synagogues and mikvehs throughout the country.
In a recent Skype conversation with The Sisterhood from her home in the Jerusalem suburb of Mevasseret, Lisitsa explained that as far back as the 1990s, non-Orthodox individuals had been appointed to religious councils. However, they were never endorsed (by the Orthodox-controlled Religious Affairs Ministry) in time to actually take their places before the next municipal elections came around. “It was a political game they were playing,” Lisitsa said.
According to Rabbi Maya Leibovich, the rabbi of Kehilat Mevasseret Zion, the town’s Reform congregation and the first Israeli-born woman to be ordained, Lisitsa is the first female rabbi to successfully join a religious council, but not the first Reform Jew to do so. Lisitsa is also not the first woman to serve on a religious council. That precedent was set by Leah Shakdiel in 1988, when she joined the Yerucham religious council after a landmark Supreme Court decision in her favor.
Lisitsa said that prior to her appointment, the male chairperson of Kehilat Mevasseret Zion (where Lisitsa is a board member), had been elected to the religious council. He was effectively ostracized by the Orthodox members, as the council chairperson would call meetings — and then when the Reform member would show up, he would find no one else there.