State to pay non-Orthodox rabbis
By JEREMY SHARON
A-G office agrees to pay wages of non-Orthodox rabbis serving their communities, as with Orthodox rabbis.
The Attorney-General’s Office announced on Tuesday that in accordance with a
recommendation from the High Court of Justice, the state has agreed to pay the
wages of non-Orthodox rabbis serving in regional councils, just as it does for
Until now, non-Orthodox religious leaders have not been
recognized as rabbis and their communities have had to pay their salaries
through money raised by membership dues. The wages of Orthodox rabbis are paid
by the Religious Services Ministry.
Anat Hoffman, executive director of
the legal arm of the Reform Movement in Israel, described the decision as “a
historic day” for the state and a “significant step toward bringing pluralism to
Political reaction came quickly, with members of the religious
establishment criticizing the decision while representatives of left-leaning
parties welcomed the announcement.
The office of Religious Services
Minister Ya’acov Margi (Shas) said that if the minister will, in the future, be forced to pay the wages of non-Orthodox rabbis, he will ask Shas
spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef for permission to submit his
MK Uri Ariel (National Union) said in a statement that the
attorney- general and the High Court were “continuing to advance anti- Jewish
policies causing serious injury to the values of Israel.”
that the agreement to equate “modernist rabbis” who “receive rabbinic ordination
in their own eyes” and the leaders of Orthodox Jewry is an embarrassing and
saddening decision that will be “recorded with shame.”
MK Nissim Ze’ev
(Shas) said the attorney-general’s decision was “crass” and “harmful to the soul
of the Jewish people,” and that he was considering proposing legislation in the
Knesset to explicitly define the term “rabbi.” He said that the work of the
Reform and Conservative movements is social and cultural in nature, and has to
be defined as such.
Labor chairwoman and head of the opposition Shelly
Yacimovich welcomed the decision, calling it an important achievement for the
Reform Movement and a step that advances pluralism and strengthens ties between
the State of Israel and world Jewry, particularly in the US.
added that the Labor party “respects Orthodox Judaism but believes that there is
a place for the expression of all streams of Judaism.”
came following a hearing in the High Court earlier this month on a petition
filed in 2005 by Rabbi Miri Gold of Kibbutz Gezer and the Reform Movement in
Israel, among others, demanding that rabbis of non-Orthodox streams of Judaism
who serve as heads of communities be paid by the state.
“This is a very
important step toward achieving religious freedom in Israel for all its
inhabitants,” Gold told The Jerusalem Post.
“There is no patent on how to
be Jewish,” she continued.
“Pluralism has always been a part of Jewish
practice which we see in the Talmud, which always records minority opinions. And
today, the majority of organized Jewry belongs to the progressive movement.
Orthodox[y] is not the majority.”
Gold added that she is not trying to
change the way anyone practices Judaism if it is right for them “but [she]
believe[s] that every stream’s expression of Judaism is legitimate. Citizens of
this country pay taxes for religious services and so the money has to be
distributed according to their differing needs.”
national-religious leader Rabbi Benny Lau also weighed in on the issue and told
the Post that in his opinion, the state should provide funds directly to all
religious congregations in the country without distinction, “be they Ashkenazi,
Sephardi, Orthodox, non-Orthodox, Muslim or Christian.”
He added that the
provision of religious services should be turned over to communities and taken
out of the hands of the Religious Services Ministry and local religious
Communities should have to pass an eligibility test, he
The justices presiding over the case – Elyakim Rubinstein, Hanan
Melcer and Uzi Vogelman – instructed the Attorney-General’s Office to reconsider
its position on the matter, which until now had opposed the idea, resulting in
“This is a big turning point in the history of
the state,” Hoffman told the Post.
“It’s one small step for Miri Gold,
but a giant leap toward the goal of bringing pluralism, tolerance and democratic
values to Israel.”
According to the justices’ request and the
attorney-general’s decision, a non-Orthodox rabbi will be termed “a rabbi of a
non-Orthodox community” and will be entitled to wages equal to those paid to
Regional councils, which are responsible for paying the
salaries of rabbis in their jurisdiction, will now be allowed to employ non-
Orthodox rabbis for any communities that request one, and the money will be
funnelled to the regional councils through the Culture and Sport Ministry, a
compromise agreed upon by the petitioners.
The Reform Movement says that
there are another 14 non- Orthodox rabbis across the country who will now be
able to begin receiving wages from the state.
Hoffman added that the
campaign for state-paid non-Orthodox rabbis had been heavily supported by
Diaspora Jewry and that on this issue, “Israel is too important to be left to
The Diaspora community was “the engine making this happen,”
Both Hoffman and Gold stated that the movement will now turn
its attention to lobbying for non- Orthodox rabbis to be eligible to be employed
as neighborhood and city rabbis of the state.
Hoffman also said that in
her opinion, and “unknown to the Orthodox themselves,” the ruling will be of
benefit to Orthodox Jews in Israel, in that it will create competition for
adherents and will motivate the Orthodox establishment to be flexible and
creative in its approach to Judaism.