'Reform, Conservative should build shuls with their own money'

Religious affairs minister tells 'Post' since Conservative and Reform don't conform to halacha, they are not eligible for state funds.

Margi 248.88 (photo credit: Knesset )
Margi 248.88
(photo credit: Knesset )
If Reform and Conservative Jews want more synagogues or mikvaot [ritual baths] they should build them themselves with private money and not expect the state to foot the bill, Religious Affairs Minister Ya'acov Margi (Shas) said Wednesday. "I recommend to those organizations that do not want to accept [Orthodox] halacha to build their own mikvaot and their own synagogues according to their own halacha," said Margi during an interview in his office in Jerusalem with The Jerusalem Post. "According to the law for Jewish Religious Services, 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." Margi was responding to the demand by the Reform and Conservative movements to be recognized by the state and to receive state funding to build synagogues and mikvaot. Since the establishment of the state Orthodoxy as represented by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, it has been the only stream of Judaism recognized by the state. Therefore, while Orthodox congregations receive state funds to build synagogues and mikvaot, the Reform and Conservative movements do not. The Reform and Conservative movements are also blocked by religious councils from using mikvaot to immerse converts. Immersion in a mikve is the the final stage of the conversion process. Although the Reform and Conservative streams of Judaism are the two largest in North America, in Israel these movements represent a small minority. Margi lamented the fact that over the years the Reform and Conservative movements have used High Court petitions as a means of pushing religious reforms. "I'm sorry to say that they [the Supreme Court] continue to interpret the law according to its own philosophy and not according to the letter of the law. Time after time the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the Conservative and Reform movements, and this contributes to the crisis in trust between the Supreme Court and the religious establishment. "It cannot be that the Supreme Court is nothing but a tool in the hands of the Reform and Conservative movements. If they want changes they should do it in a democratic way, via the Knesset," he said. "They have a lot of money and lobbyists and power, so they should try to change the law if they do not like the present situation. But it is not democratic to bring about change by petitioning the Supreme Court." The High Court has already ruled that the state must recognize Reform and Conservative conversions for the purpose of immigration under the Law of Return, which provides Jews with automatic Israeli citizenship. It has also ruled that the state must fund Reform and Conservative institutes that prepare potential converts for conversion. Last week Shas's spiritual mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef called the Supreme Court justices "apostates." Margi said he was not concerned that Israel's refusal to recognize the Reform and Conservative forms of Judaism would hurt its relations with the Diaspora. "If we had to worry about pressure from abroad we would have to fold everything up and leave. Because there is international pressure on diplomatic issues and there is international pressure on economic matters, and now I hear that there is also pressure regarding religious matters." Regarding reports that Israel might agree to a US request to freeze building in Judea and Samaria, Margi said that he opposed all building freezes. "I am in favor of a diplomatic solution to the conflict with the Palestinians. But it has to be a process in which both sides compromise. If we freeze building today then we create a situation in which the Palestinians think there is no hurry. The Palestinians need to know that every day that goes by without reaching a peace agreement works against their interests." Margi said that while there was a shortage of synagogues being built all over the nation, it was especially dire in Judea and Samaria. "It's a good thing that [Defense Minister Ehud] Barak can't declare a freeze on natural growth," said Margi.