New bill seeks to scrap local religious councils

Sheetrit: Councils are "corrupt," "politicized," lacking transparency and accountability.

January 16, 2012 19:35
3 minute read.
Meir Sheetrit

Meir Sheetrit. (photo credit: Miiam Alster)

A bill presented by MK Meir Sheetrit (Kadima) on Sunday proposing to scrap all local religious councils was given support on Monday from somewhat surprising quarters.

Rabbi Shimon Biton, chairman of the Petah Tikva Religious Council, said in a radio interview with 103 FM that he “agreed with every word of Sheetrit’s bill,” and supported his idea to transfer the provision of their services to local municipalities.

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“Workers in religious councils are unprofessional,” Biton said. “In the Petah Tikva religious council there are 58 employees, half of whom are not needed.”

Sheetrit’s law proposes to abolish the Law for Jewish Religious Services of 1971 through which local religious councils were established; close all local religious councils; and create religious services departments within local municipalities to provide the same services that the councils currently do.

There are approximately 130 religious councils throughout the country that offer various services, some of which – such as marriage registration, provision of rabbis for wedding services and burial services – are of a religiously sensitive nature.

The religious councils operate under the auspices of the Religious Services Ministry and act on matters of Jewish law in accordance with the rulings of the Chief Rabbinate.

The Minister himself appoints 45 percent of council members, with another 45% elected by local municipalities and 10% by the local chief rabbi.

The ministry had not replied to a Jerusalem Post request for comment by time of press.

Calling religious councils “corrupt” and “politicized,” and accusing them of lacking transparency and accountability, Sheetrit said that municipal authorities could do the job better.

Due to the lack of transparency in their operations, religious council members are able to advance their own personal interests without having to heed any form of supervision or even public opinion, he continued.

The MK says that because local councils are sufficiently transparent and well-supervised, they will be more efficient in the provision of religious services.

“The time has come to put an end to the festival of jobs for cronies, the politicization of the religious councils... and their waste of money,” Sheetrit said in a statement released by his office.

Last week, MK Moshe Gafni of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party threatened to propose his own bill to dismantle the local religious councils, as part of a political struggle currently being waged between factions within the UTJ and Shas parties.

The UTJ was furious when Shas struck a deal with national- religious political factions that will enable a national-religious rabbi to be elected as Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Jerusalem. Gafni expressed anger about this last week, saying that a small group within the Shas movement is “acting against Judaism.”

On the ultra-Orthodox radio station Kol Berama, Gafni said that in light of this, UTJ may consult with leading rabbis in order to advance a bill to “abolish the religious councils and sever the link with Shas.”

In response, Minister for Religious Services Ya’acov Margi said “It troubles me greatly that there are Jews who define themselves as haredi, and are exploiting the wild incitement against the haredi community in order to lead the abolition of the religious councils, which disseminate Torah and purity to the Jewish people.”

UTJ’s proposal would pass the responsibility for religious services to local rabbis and another specially designated authority.

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