'Deal to fund non-Orthodox rabbis being ignored'

Reform Movement files petition with court demanding that the state implement a decision to fund non-Orthodox rabbis from state coffers.

Reform Jews pray in Jerusalem [Illustrative]_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Reform Jews pray in Jerusalem [Illustrative]_311
(photo credit: Reuters)
The Reform Movement has filed a petition with the High Court of Justice demanding that the state implement a decision made last year to fund non-Orthodox rabbis from state coffers.
Last May, the Attorney General’s Office agreed that the state would pay the wages of non-Orthodox rabbis serving in regional councils, as it does for Orthodox rabbis, following a recommendation from the High Court which was deliberating on an earlier petition from the Reform movement’s legal advocacy arm the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC).
The Orthodox religious establishment bitterly opposed the agreement, with Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar saying that non-Orthodox movements were “poisoning the well of holiness and taking people to a nethermost pit.”
Until now, non-Orthodox religious leaders have not been recognized as rabbis and their communities have had to pay their salaries through money raised by membership dues. The wages of Orthodox rabbis are paid by the Ministry for Religious Services.
The Reform Movement said on Tuesday however that the state was dragging its feet on the implementation of the agreement. IRAC’s petition also demanded that certain conditions a non-Orthodox rabbi is required to fulfill to receive state funding be changed.
Director of the Reform Movement in Israel Rabbi Gilad Kariv pointed out as an example one condition stipulating that Reform rabbis for small communities numbering a maximum of 250 members are to be funded as part-time employees entitled to half the salary of full-time rabbis.
Orthodox rabbis are considered to be full-time employees and receive a full- time salary regardless of the size of their community.
Kariv said his objection was that the state was asking for the Reform Movement to pay the rabbi of such a community as a full-time employee and only then would the state pay half of his or her salary.
He also noted that there was no definition in the conditions for a “non-Orthodox rabbi,” as the title is called in the agreement, that would ensure that the state funding be directed toward rabbinic activity.
Kariv said that what was equally regrettable was the state’s attitude toward the non-Orthodox movements, and criticized the government for not entering into serious dialogue with them and for trying to hinder the implementation of the agreement.
“We are saddened,” he said “that the government is forcing us to go back to court.
The Reform Movement in Israel insists on reaching a situation in which full equality exists between all Jewish denominations in Israel, and we will work to achieve this through all available public and legal avenues, together with hundreds of thousands of Israelis who participate in our communal, educational and social activities.”