Matan Kahana was an F-16 fighter pilot in the Israeli Air Force, so he’s not one to back down from a difficult mission. When he entered politics and served as Israel’s minister of religious services in Naftali Bennett’s coalition government, Kahana gave himself a politically perilous assignment: to loosen the grip of ultra-Orthodox rabbis on Israeli religious life. He pushed for significant reforms within Israel’s religious institutions and kashrut certifications and appointed women to religious councils. The Israeli press called his actions “revolutionary.” Now a Knesset member for Benny Gantz’s National Unity party, Kahana said he will fight to temper the far right and keep his reforms intact.
In our interview, Kahana talks about his own religious background, why he chose to take on a mission of reform, and how Israelis and the diaspora can find common ground.
You can’t force anyone to believe in God. And you can’t force anyone to be a religious Jew. And I believe that if we do as much as we can to reduce forcing people, they will come by themselves. This is what I tried to do, to reduce religious laws, and hopefully, they will try to be more and more close to Judaism. — Matan Kahana