Discipline may be coming to a local religious council near you. After five years
of legal wrangling and 49 years of disciplinary discrepancy between local
religious councils and other government bodies, the High Court of Justice
strongly indicated on Wednesday that a framework for disciplinary procedures
would be permanently instituted within three months.
Until now, there has
been no framework for disciplinary procedures against employees in local
religious councils, unlike other state bodies and employees for which
disciplinary procedures have been in place since 1963.
councils are tasked with providing religious services to Jewish residents living
within its municipal jurisdiction, and are under the authority of the Ministry
of Religious Services. They provide administrative services for many religious
matters, such as marriage registration, synagogue construction and maintenance,
burial, kashrut certification and religious slaughter.
In September, a
government decision instituted disciplinary procedures for religious councils
for a temporary trial period of two years.
However, the Israel Religious
Action Center (IRAC), the legal advocacy branch of the Reform movement in
Israel, said during a hearing in the High Court on Wednesday that there was no
reason that the decision be temporary, and added that it was concerned that
after the two-year period expired, the process for instituting disciplinary
proceedings would have to start again.
According to IRAC, the lack of
disciplinary procedures for religious council workers allows council employees
to act with impunity toward the general public and encourages
ITIM, a religious rights advocacy group, has also argued that
the absence of any formal avenue for complaint against religious council
employees prevents the implementation of best practice in the
During Wednesday’s hearing, the High Court warned the state
attorney that this would be the last hearing on the matter and that if a
decision is not made within 90 days to implement permanent disciplinary
procedures it could issue a final ruling on the matter without a further
The director of the Ministry of Religious Services said in the
hearing that as far as the ministry was concerned it was ready to implement the
According to ITIM director Rabbi Shaul Farber, his
organization, which also provides advice for people seeking to navigate the
bureaucracy surrounding religious services, frequently receives complaints about
the behavior of religious council employees.
One common complaint, Farber
said, comes from women seeking to open a file for marriage registration, who are
refused by the registrar on the grounds that the woman was not dressed modestly
Until now, it has been impossible to bring a formal complaint
against such council employees.
“We’d like to see clerks, or rabbis for
that matter, who don’t treat people with basic respect, removed from office,”
“These moments, when people come to religious councils for
their services, represent one of the few encounters the general community has
with organized Jewish life. It is critical that those representing Judaism not
be able to denigrate others in the name of God.
“We’re happy that
finally, religious councils are being dragged into the 1960s,” Farber added.