Netanyahu at IAF graduation.
(photo credit: Haim Zach / GPO)
For the first time in Israel’s history, non-Orthodox rabbis
will begin receiving salaries from the state, just like their Orthodox
counterparts. State funds will come from the Culture and Sports Ministry’s
budget, not the Religious Service Ministry’s, because the Orthodox functionaries
who run the latter refuse to cooperate. Nevertheless, the move is seen as an
important concession from a state whose secular leaders have historically
allocated all religious authority and state funding to the Orthodox.
long-overdue change in policy is too little, too late. In 2005, the Reform
Movement’s legal arm, the Israel Religious Action Center, filed a petition with
the High Court of Justice arguing it was discriminatory that Rabbi Miri Gold of
Kibbutz Gezer did not receive a state salary while Orthodox rabbis performing
the functions – organizing prayers, preparing boys and girls for bar and bat
mitzvot, visiting the sick, eulogizing the deceased – were remunerated with
In May 2012, after seven years of hearings, delays on
the part of the state and attempts to arbitrate outside court, the state finally
caved in, realizing that if it did not reach a compromise the High Court would
rule in the Reform Movement’s favor.
The Attorney-General’s Office
announced it would begin paying salaries to non-Orthodox rabbis.
government, however, continued to drag its feet.
Last February, the
Israel Religious Action Center petitioned the High Court again. Meanwhile,
Orthodox lawmakers and key people in the state-funded Chief Rabbinate –
including former Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar – made disparaging comments
about non-Orthodox forms of Judaism. Finally this week, over a year and a half
after the attorney-general’s announcement, the government began providing Gold
and several other non-Orthodox rabbis with salaries via the Culture
The move is long overdue. The way it was implemented – with
many delays and via the Culture Ministry – gives the impression here and in the
Diaspora that recognition has been conceded only begrudgingly. Nevertheless it
is a step in the right direction.
For too long the State of Israel has
unfairly alienated American Jews affiliated with Reform and Conservative
communities by refusing to recognize their form of Judaism. And it has committed
an injustice to dozens of non-Orthodox communities across the nation.
America non-Orthodox Jews care passionately about the well-being of the Jewish
state and support Israel in numerous ways, from lobbying the US government to
providing financial support for Israeli institutions and causes.
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has made recognition of Israel as the nation state
of the Jewish people a centerpiece of his negotiations with the Palestinians.
But how can Netanyahu expect such recognition as long as large swathes of the
Jewish people feel the Jewish state is slighting their form of Judaism? To live
up to this definition, Israel must strive to foster expressions of Jewish
identity in the broadest and most inclusive way possible. Israel cannot afford
to restrict Judaism to a narrow, strictly Orthodox conception of religious
Just over two weeks ago, in an attempt to reach out to Reform
Jews, Netanyahu became the first prime minister to address the Union for Reform
Judaism’s biennial US gathering. In a speech via satellite to the event in San
Diego, he said, “Israel is, and it must continue to be, the homeland of the
entire Jewish people, the entire Jewish people.
That’s the place where
all Jews – including Reform Jews – experience nothing less than ‘audacious
hospitality.’” Recognition of non-Orthodox rabbis was a positive, though long
overdue, step toward making Israel a more inclusive society for all Jews.