A bill to abolish twin Ashkenazi and Sephardi chief rabbi posts in cities and
other municipal districts, and to establish a 10-year term for the single
remaining municipal chief rabbi, was approved by the Ministerial Committee for
Legislation on Sunday.
The legislation, proposed by Hatnua MK Elazar
Stern, would also stipulate that a municipal chief rabbi must be at least 40
years of age and not yet 70 when seeking election, and that anyone who has been
in the post of chief rabbi for more than 10 years must stand for reelection
within two years of the law taking effect.
Bayit Yehudi opposed the bill
in the committee, however, and a party official said that it will prevent
further passage of the proposed law through the Knesset.
for Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben-Dahan (Bayit Yehudi) said that it
was important that all legislation on matters of religion and state be
coordinated with the ministry, and that this had not been done with Stern’s
Sources in Hatnua claimed, however, that there had been a process
of consultation with Ben-Dahan and the ministry, and that Stern had not been
requested to withdraw the bill.
Currently, there are 34 cities and
regional jurisdictions in which both an Ashkenazi and a Sephardi chief rabbi
These positions are state-funded, with the salaries of the rabbis
paid for by the local religious council out of the budget allocated to it by the
local municipal authority and the Religious Services Ministry.
The job of
municipal rabbi is currently a lifetime appointment until age 80, with some
rabbis able to continue serving in their position until they die, due to a quirk
in the law currently governing the status of municipal rabbis.
argues that having two chief rabbis on an ethnic basis is anachronistic as well
as being an unnecessary financial burden on the local religious council which
pays the salaries of the municipal chief rabbis.
Some rabbis in these
positions earn very high salaries, sometimes NIS 500,000 a year and higher,
which create a huge drain on the financial resources of the local religious
council and negatively impact the provision of religious services in the area,
such as for burial, kashrut, mikvaot, marriage registration and the
Stern described the current situation as “a desecration of God’s
name” and a “humiliation for Judaism.”
The MK said that by creating a
10-year term for municipal rabbis, those currently on extremely high salaries
will not be reelected by the electoral committees of the regional jurisdiction
because of the impediment they cause to the provision of religious
Additionally, he stated that by creating a 10-year term for
municipal rabbis, with the possibility of being reelected, the public-service
nature of the role will become more apparent and will help prevent rabbis’
activities from becoming stale and routine.
“Sticking to ethnic
separation is another factor that distances Judaism from the masses of Jews who
need religious services,” said Stern ahead of the vote on the bill in the
“Additionally, [the legislation] will save tens of
millions of shekels every year, money that could be used for the many societal
challenges which could be helped with these funds.”
Should the bill be
passed into law, twin chief municipal rabbis would gradually disappear as their
10-year terms expired.
The proposed law stipulates that in any
jurisdiction where there are both an Ashkenazi and a Sephardi chief rabbi, once
the 10-year term of either of them expires the position will not be
Should the terms of both rabbis expire at the same time, just
one new chief rabbi will be elected.
The vote passed in the Ministerial
Committee with only Bayit Yehudi’s representative voting against it.
explaining the reason for the party’s opposition, Ben- Dahan’s spokeswoman
labeled the bill “unprofessional” and said it had not been thought out
She argued that the election process every 10 years for
municipal rabbis would cost a considerable amount of money, offsetting any
savings, and that the rabbis would be forced into taking care of political
concerns in order to get reelected instead of dealing with the public’s
Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On also expressed opposition to the
bill and reiterated her party’s position that the state rabbinate should be
totally abolished, “to enable freedom of religion for all citizens and to save
huge amounts of public money which finances the nepotistic institution that is
Gal-On said that Stern’s bill “discriminates against
large groups of Israeli citizens, such as those belonging to the Reform and
Conservative communities, LGBTs, women and couples who are not interested or
permitted to marry and divorce in the rabbinate, and people who aren’t Jewish at
“All theses groups are forced to remain on the outside, and they
don’t care if there will be one or two rabbis to force them to marry, divorce,
be buried, according to Jewish law or advance homophobia and discrimination
against women under the cover of the state.”