70 percent of local religious councils run by political appointee

Local religious councils are responsible for providing Jewish religious services residents of the local municipal area.

February 22, 2016 19:46
2 minute read.
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Some 70 percent of the 132 local religious councils around the country, which are responsible for the provision of religious services in their municipal area, are run by political appointees and not by a full complement of council members as is required.

The lack of fully appointed councils has been heavily criticized of late, with critics arguing that the use of appointed chairmen instead of full councils creates a situation in which the provision of religious services lacks transparency and oversight and causes a disconnect between the service providers and the general public, which use these services.

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Local religious councils are responsible for providing Jewish religious services to residents of the local municipal area. They run the municipal kashrut licensing system on behalf of the Chief Rabbinate, the marriage registration bureau, mikvaot ritual baths and administrative requirements for death and burial.

The councils are funded 60% by the local municipal authority and 40% by the Religious Services Ministry.

Both bodies are supposed to select an equal number of council members but both have a veto over the other’s candidates, leading frequently to a deadlock in the appointment of the council.

If a council has not been appointed a year after the last municipal elections, the religious services minister is entitled to appoint a council chairman who can take all administrative decisions usually made by the council and can serve for an indefinite number of years.

According to the Hiddush religious equality lobbying group, 93 of the 132 local religious councils, are currently run by appointed chairmen, despite the fact that the last municipal elections were held in October 2013.

Before those elections, at least 55 percent of the religious councils had their full complement of council members.

Since current Religious Services Minister David Azoulay (Shas) took office in May 2015, he has appointed 13 chairmen to religious councils where there has been no agreement between the local municipal council and the ministry.

The local religious councils often control large budgets for the provision of religious services. In 2015, the Jerusalem religious council had a budget of NIS 47.9 million.

It has however not had a full religious council for eight years, and an appointed chairman has been running the body ever since.

Similarly, the budget for Netanya’s religious council in 2015 was NIS 12.6m., Rehovot’s was NIS 10.9m. and Kiryat Motzkin’s was NIS 2.3m.

All three have appointed chairmen in charge of the religious council instead of a fully selected council, as do several dozen other religious councils around the country.

There is currently a police investigation into the operations of the appointee-run religious council in Netanya, while the Jerusalem city comptroller is currently examining the conduct of the appointee-run religious council in the capital.

“The severe failure in appointing religious council members is additional proof as to how unnecessary these bodies are and shows that they should be abolished and integrated into the local municipal authority,” said Hiddush director Uri Regev.

“Logic dictates that religious services should be provided by local authorities like any other municipal service.

The only reason to the separate existence of the religious councils and the cumbersome appointments process is that they serve as political playthings, which allows appointments, [granting] of honors and other benefits principally for the religious parties. This expensive nuisance should be abolished, the sooner the better.”

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