(photo credit: AP)
You won't have to be religious to be a member of the National Religious Party if Sar-Shalom Gerbi, the party's young secretary-general, has his way.
On Thursday the party's central committee will vote on Gerbi's proposal to open up the modern Orthodox party to Israelis who do not necessary adhere to religious strictures.
The NRP's rule book presently states that it will accept as a member "every Jewish man or woman who keeps the Torah and its commandments."
Gerbi and a panel of about 20 NRP members want to change this to include Jews who "keep Jewish traditions."
However, some of the party's old guard are uncomfortable with the change. Therefore, they are insisting that an additional clause be added stating that new members must also "know and identify with the party's goals and aspirations and sign an affidavit stating that he or she accepts and adheres to the party's constitution."
NRP Chairman Zevulun Orlev, who is a strong supporter of the move, called it "historic."
Orlev, Gerbi and others in the party hope to tap into the large traditional, but not religious sector, primarily Sephardim whose children are educated in the national religious school system but who do not support the NRP at the ballot.
Gerbi, 37, who is Sephardi himself, said he was making a conscious effort to broaden the NRP's ideological platform to include not only the centrality of the Land of Israel, but also socioeconomic issues. He said the party now offered free legal services and aided financially strapped families during Pessah.
Gerbi, who is the NRP's second Sephardi secretary-general after MK Yitzhak Levy, said that he aimed to win over Shas's constituents. Asked if he had consulted rabbis before proposing to open up the party ranks to the non-Orthodox, Gerbi, a resident of Mitzpe Yericho, near Jericho, slated to remain outside the security barrier, said he had, but declined to name them.
"Most our rabbis work with people who are not religious," he said. "We want to bring them closer to the Torah. But obviously, we do not plan to change anything in our party platform."
The central committee will also vote on an affirmative action plan that would guarantee women at least a 20 percent representation in the NRP's institutions.