(photo credit: Knesset )
Religious Services Minister Ya'acov Margi of Shas recommended during a cabinet meeting on Monday that the state fund Chabad Houses around the world, to "strengthen Jewish identity and the connection with the Land of Israel and the State of Israel."
He told Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the other cabinet members that the difficult economic situation worldwide meant many Chabad emissaries were financially strapped.
"Their role is sometimes even more important than the Jewish Agency's in these matters. Therefore, we should consider funding Chabad Houses around the world," Margi said.
A spokesman for the Jewish Agency declined to comment on Margi's comments.
Rabbi Menachem Brod, spokesman for Chabad in Israel, said, "It would be great if minister Margi's request is granted to help fund what Chabad does for the Jewish people around the world."
Brod added that Chabad, like other organizations dependent on charity, had been hurt by the economic downturn.
There has been talk of funding the security needs of Chabad Houses around the world since last November, when terrorists killed nine people, including Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka, in the Chabad House in Mumbai, India. Chabad Houses often cater to Israeli travelers looking for a Jewish center.
Margi's suggestion to fund Chabad abroad comes after a controversial interview published in The Jerusalem Post on August 27 in which he called to deny funding for religious services in Israel to non-Orthodox streams of Judaism. "I recommend to those organizations that do not want to accept [Orthodox] Halacha to build their own mikvaot and their own synagogues according their own Halacha," Margi said.
"According to the Jewish Religious Services Law, the Chief Rabbinate is the sole body responsible for providing religious services. And they do this in accordance with Halacha. Since the Conservative and the Reform do not conform to Halacha, they are not eligible for state funds. Nor do they have the right to use existing mikvaot and synagogues," he said.