Naftali Bennett at cabinet meeting 370.
(photo credit: Alex Kolomoisky/Pool/Yediot Aharonot)
Former IDF chief rabbi Brig.- Gen. Avichai Rontzki has been appointed to head up
the new Directorate for Jewish Identity, which has been created within the
Religious Services Ministry.
The purpose of the new body, whose
establishment was stipulated in the coalition agreement between Likud Beytenu
and Bayit Yehudi, is to imbue Jewish values in Israeli society.
the exact activities and operations of the new department are not yet clear, the
directorate will most likely provide educational NGOs and organizations with
funding for different public programs designed to strengthen Jewish
The news of the new government body and Rontzki’s appointment
was panned, however, by several non- Orthodox groups, which claimed that the
directorate duplicated the role of the Education Ministry and that the rabbi was
not an appropriate figure for the position.
“All activities in the realm
of Jewish identity supported by public funds should represent all streams of
Judaism in an equal and pluralistic fashion,” the Reform Movement in Israel said
in a press statement.
“Taking into consideration processes initiated by
Rabbi Rontzki in the IDF Chief Rabbinate and the tension this caused with the
Education Corps, there is certainly cause for concern that his directorate will
be turned into a tool for the advancement of one particular perspective of
Judaism that negates the legitimacy of different Jewish streams and
denominations,” said Reform Rabbi Gilad Kariv, director of the Reform Movement
While serving as IDF chief rabbi from 2006 to 2010, Rontzki
introduced a similar program for the IDF Chief Rabbinate, which received
considerable criticism for infringing on the role of the army Education
The Reform movement said it would appeal to the Attorney-
General’s Office and to the state comptroller to examine any possible
duplication of roles the new body might create.
In response to the
accusations, Rontzki, who currently serves as dean of a yeshiva in the
settlement of Itamar, said on his Facebook page that the most important issue
facing the Jewish people today was the strengthening of national Jewish
“The proof of this is the repeated attacks of a group of
elitists against people working in this field, especially if they are
national-religious or settlers,” wrote Rontzki.
He said criticism of the
new initiative was emblematic of this group.
The Directorate for Jewish
Identity was the brainchild of Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett along with
party colleague Ayelet Shaked and Rontzki himself, with whom Bennett has a close