David Azoulai (second left) takes office as Religious Services Minister, May 18, 2015..
(photo credit: COURTESY RELIGIOUS SERVICES MINISTRY)
The new minister of religious services, Shas MK David Azoulay, formally took office on Monday in a ceremony at the ministry in Jerusalem. Deputy Minister Eli Ben-Dahan of Bayit Yehudi and Shas chairman and Minister of the Economy MK Arye Deri were also present.
Both Shas and Bayit Yehudi sought control of the ministry during the recent coalition negotiations and the latter objected vehemently to the decision by the Likud and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to give the ministry to Shas.
The ministry is seen by both religious parties as a key arena of for the distribution of patronage through various jobs and plum positions for rabbis and party functionaries.
Many of these positions also have influence on electoral committees for elected public officials, such as municipal and national chief rabbis.
Speaking at the handover ceremony on Monday, Azoulay pledged to make the notoriously bureaucratic and unwelcoming state religious services more accessible and efficient.
“As I take on this office I acknowledge the great responsibility, the expectations and the mission hanging over me,” the new ministers said, emphasizing the importance of improving the religious services provided by the ministry and the affiliate regional religious councils.
“It’s important to note that the ministry provides religious services from before birth...
and at the other end stands the small citizen who has great expectations of us. If we listen to him and understand his heart we have already solved half the problem, something I very much believe in.”
Ben-Dahan, who ran the ministry as deputy minister during the last government, alluded to the tension between Bayit Yehudi and Shas, but insisted that he had always worked to serve all parts of the Jewish public.
“I heard it claimed that we tried to remove Shas people from the ministry, but this never happened. I serve everyone and served everyone and you can ask the head of local religious councils,” Azoulay said.
Deri described Azoulay, an MK since 1996 but never a minister, as one of the most experienced and veteran Shas MKs, “dedicated, responsible and skilled,” and well liked