'Religious councils act as a law unto themselves'
Religious Services Minister says some local religious councils ignore the law when conducting religious services.
Religious Affairs Minister Ya'acov Margi Photo: Ariel Jerozolimski
Religious Services Minister Ya’acov Margi publicly acknowledged that some local
religious councils ignore the law when conducting and arranging religious
services for people in their jurisdiction, during a review in Knesset of the
achievements of the ministry during his time at the helm.
Tuesday, the minister specifically backed the right of women to deliver eulogies
at the funerals of relatives and spoke out against gender separation at
Speaking about the issue, Margi stated that there are some
chief municipal rabbis and burial societies “which are a law unto themselves,”
and said that he was “not ignoring” the problem of segregation at cemeteries –
but added that it was the task of everyone, including Yesh Atid MK Aliza Lavie,
to watch the issue closely so that the public is not harmed.
by Lavie about ongoing attempts by some local religious councils to impose
gender separation at cemeteries, Margi noted that a directive had been issued by
the ministry last year instructing the councils that they must allow the
families of the deceased to decide on the format of the funeral and on who will
Lavie pointed to a specific incident that had come to her
attention in which notices had been placed at a cemetery in Kiryat Gat
instructing women to use different water fountains from men.
“There is no
reason to exclude women from cemeteries,” Margi said.
NGOs frequently report on complaints they receive from the public regarding
negative experiences with religious councils, which are official state
The Reform Movement in Israel has conducted a lengthy legal
campaign to institute disciplinary procedures for religious council employees,
which unlike other state-employed officials, are not subject to such
In the past there have been numerous incidents of burial
societies imposing gender separation at funerals despite the wishes of relatives
of the deceased, and in contravention of the law.
Inter-ministerial Working Group for the Elimination of Discrimination against
Women, chaired by Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat, specifically
addressed the issue. The group was established last year.
addressed a question put to him by another Yesh Atid MK, Rabbi Dov Lipman, in
contravention of the law, reiterating that this practice is
During his review, the minister highlighted several achievements
he said had been attained during his tenure, and that he was leaving behind “a
professionally operated ministry with a dynamic and strong
Specifically, Margi noted that he had reorganized the ministry
and instituted a service agreement between the ministry, the local religious
councils and the public.
He also underlined the establishment of
guidelines for the good management of local religious councils which he said had
been successful, and the creation of a 24-hour helpline for people in need of
advice on religious services.
Margi said that the helpline deals with
1,000 calls a month, mostly relating to marriage and burial.
Farber, director of the independent religious services advice and lobbying group
ITIM, said he was pleased “that the ministry has finally decided to take
seriously the needs of the general public in Israel,” and agreed that progress
has been made in this regard.
“Unfortunately the gulf between the needs
of the Israeli public and the ministry’s perception of those needs remains
immense, and much work remains to be done,” Farber said.