(photo credit: Ariel Jerozlimski)
Knesset Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) said Wednesday that he will block any attempt to transfer state funds to non-Orthodox institutions involved in preparing converts to Judaism.
"The Reform Movement is not a legitimate form of Judaism," Gafni said in a telephone interview. "The Reform are a bunch of treacherous backstabbers to Judaism. They are jokers who operate without hierarchy and without rules."
Gafni insisted that "MKs are not a bunch of marionettes who will do whatever the Supreme Court tells them to do. I will block any attempts to provide state funds to Reform."
The Finance Committee chairman said that in Tuesday's decision, which ordered the state to fund non-Orthodox conversion institutions along with Orthodox ones, the High Court of Justice had "blatantly interfered in matters that are solely within the jurisdiction of parliamentarians."
"These are issues that go to the very roots of defining who is a Jew and touch on the very foundation of the State of Israel as a Jewish state," Gafni said.
He added that the court's decision to compel the state to fund non-Orthodox conversion institutes was a slippery slope that was liable to undermine the Jewish character of the state.
"The Supreme Court does not care about the future of the Jewish people. They have a specific philosophy that says that everyone is entitled," he said. "Funny that while the court thinks anyone can be a rabbinic judge, it does not think that anyone can be a Supreme Court justice."
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, executive director of the Reform Movement in Israel, said that "Moshe Gafni is one of the prominent examples in Israeli public life of how religious faith becomes a source of hatred and prejudice, instead of a source of love for the other and respect for humankind."
"These violent attacks against Reform Judaism are evidence of who Gafni is and emphasize the embarrassing fact that this man is an elected official in Israel," Kariv said.
He pointed out that Gafni would probably not have a say in the allocation of state funds to Reform and Conservative conversion institutes, since 20 percent of the NIS 1.5 million budget for private conversion institutions had already been set aside.
This sum is in addition to the NIS 21m. provided for the Joint Institute for Judaism, which employs Reform and Conservative teachers along with its majority of Orthodox teachers.
"Gafni should know that he, like all other Israeli citizens, must adhere to the law. He is probably just showing off to his friends and supporters in Brooklyn," Kariv said.
Religious Services Minister Ya'acov Margi (Shas) refused to comment on the High Court's decision, saying that the Prime Minister's Office, and not his own, was responsible for conversions.
However, the court's decision set a precedent for the obligation to fund all religious services in an egalitarian manner, whether they be Orthodox, Reform or Conservative. This precedent could lead to the religious services minister being forced to use some of his budget to pay salaries to non-Orthodox rabbis. He may also have to begin funding the construction of synagogues for Reform and Conservative communities.
There are about 200 neighborhood rabbis who receive a salary of between NIS 4,000 and NIS 10,000 a month. City rabbis can earn as much as NIS 30,000 a month.
Religious councils pay these salaries and provide other religious services. The councils receive their budgets from the Religious Services Ministry (40%) and the local government (60%). The religious councils also receive money from various fees, such as those on marriages, ritual slaughter and burials.
For close to a decade, no new state rabbis have been appointed. Rabbis who have quit or passed away have not been replaced. This is part of a Treasury-led plan to gradually cut state funding of religious services in general.