Israel’s ambulance service Magen David Adom has established a supervisory rabbinic body to provide guidelines regarding appropriate religious practices, in particular the issue of men and women serving in the agency together, it was reported on Monday.

MDA has come under intense pressure from the ultra-Orthodox community in recent years to prevent haredi men serving together with women.

Last year, leading haredi figures Rabbi Aharon Leib Schteinman and Rabbi Haim Kanievsky published a letter forbidding their community from volunteering with the service because of concerns over modesty and mixed gender emergency crews. The rabbis recommended that haredim volunteer for alternative emergency service groups such as Hatzalah and Zaka which have rabbinic oversight.

According to Monday’s report in Haaretz, the MDA’s new “Committee for Judaism and Jewish Law” will be headed by Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, chief rabbi of Safed, along with another senior rabbinical figure. Eliyahu confirmed the report.

In response, Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz heavily criticized MDA for bowing to haredi demands.

“MDA’s surrender is humiliating and unacceptable,” he said. “If MDA has spare funds, it should use them to buy medical equipment and not to provide patronage to haredi politicos for them to issue religious dictates.”

He said he would demand an emergency hearing in the Knesset Finance Committee to fight the decision.

Horowitz added that there already exists “an unacceptable situation today” of gender separate MDA teams in religious communities, and that the attempt to formally regulate this practice and to expand it to other locales needs to be opposed.

The MK also denounced the decision to appoint Eliyahu to the committee, calling him “a dark and racist man,” in light of statements made by the rabbi about the Arab minority in Israel, including a ruling in 2010 he made forbidding Jews to rent or sell property to Arabs in Safed.

Eliyahu has been subject to police investigations over some of his comments, on suspicion of incitement to racial hatred.

Following the publication of the report, a spokesman for MDA issued a statement saying that the committee was established to enable religious Jewish volunteers to continue working within the service.

“The committee was established in order to make it easier for workers and volunteers [to work in the ambulance service], and its task will be to examine and recommend procedures and measures to the management that will enable all observant Jews to work and volunteer in MDA,” the statement read.

Please LIKE our Facebook page - it makes us stronger