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Reform Jews pray in Jerusalem [Illustrative]_311.(Photo by: Reuters)
Israel to fund non-Orthodox rabbis in reform victory
In response to High Court petition, Religious Services Ministry to subsidize communal rabbis regardless of denomination.
The Religious Services Ministry has said that it is moving toward a system in which the serving rabbi of any congregation, whether Orthodox or non-Orthodox, will be financially supported by the ministry.

The statement was made on Thursday in response to a High Court petition filed in January against the ministry by the Reform Movement in Israel and the Conservative Movement, arguing that it is illegal discrimination that the 157 state-employed neighborhood rabbis are all Orthodox.

The Jerusalem Post, however, understands that it is doubtful such measures will be implemented because of opposition to them from elements within the ministry.

In its reply to the High Court petition, the ministry wrote that it is currently conducting a widespread reform of religious services, and that Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben-Dahan – who runs the ministry – as well as Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett, support allowing congregations to receive funding for the rabbi of their choice, instead of providing funding for neighborhood rabbis appointed by the state.

“The general intention is to conduct a fundamental change, so that communal rabbis will be granted financial support, who will be employed by the congregations in which they operate, instead of employing neighborhood rabbis through the local religious councils,” the ministry wrote. “The idea is to formulate criteria for [state] support... without reference to the question of which Jewish denomination the congregation in question belongs to.”

Reform Rabbi Gilad Kariv said the implementation of the stated goals would be an important step in bringing about equality in the provision of state-funded religious services.

“We welcome the Religious Services Ministry’s intention to support in an equal manner communal rabbis of all denominations, as well as the recognition that the current reality of appointing neighborhood rabbis does not appropriately serve the Jewish public in Israel in all its forms,” Kariv said in a statement to the press.

He said the Reform Movement had worked for many years to promote a model of government support for Jewish communities on a congregational basis.

“The announcement of the ministry today is an important step in advancing this model,” Kariv said.

Directory of the Conservative Movement in Israel Yizhar Hess welcomed the ministry’s position, saying that it represented “another victory on the path to breaking up the Orthodox monopoly and the path to religious freedom for all citizens and for all denominations in Israel.”

Separately, Bayit Yehudi strongly objected to what it termed legislative vengeance against the party by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni of Hatnua.

Livni informed Ben-Dahan on Thursday that Hatnua, as a member of the coalition, was vetoing the reforms planned in the provision of religious services he announced last week, not including the congregational model for rabbinic funding, until the bill proposed by her party to enlarge the electoral body for the chief rabbis – which was nixed on Wednesday by Bayit Yehudi – was revived as government legislation.

Bayit Yehudi said that it vetoed the enlargement of the chief rabbi electoral committee – termed the “Stern Bill” after its architect Hatnua MK Elazar Stern – because the Likud was seeking to have all 50 new delegates on the committee appointed by the prime minister. Bayit Yehudi and Hatnua, however, had agreed that the appointment of new delegates would be conducted in cooperation between the two parties.

“This is a sad day for the citizens of the state, and it is puzzling that Minister Livni, who continuously elevates liberalism, decides to prevent the revolution in religious services,” Ben-Dahan’s office said on Thursday. “What is certain is that the direct result of Livni’s decision will be the eradication of competition and efficiency in the provision of religious services. We will fight this politicized and unwarranted decision.”

In turn, Hatnua denounced Bayit Yehudi for vetoing the Stern Bill, which it said was an ethical piece of legislation which should be adopted.

“Therefore we vetoed the Bayit Yehudi bill for religious services in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation,” Hatnua said.
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