Seven years after the Reform Movement petitioned Israel’s High Court demanding equal state financing of non-Orthodox and Orthodox religious services, the state has agreed for the first time to recognize non-Orthodox rabbis as rabbis and pay their salaries – sort of.
Israel Recognizes Non-Orthodox Rabbis – Sort Of
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
Seven years after the Reform Movement petitioned Israel’s High Court demanding equal state financing of non-Orthodox and Orthodox religious services, the state has agreed for the first time to recognize non-Orthodox rabbis as rabbis – sort of.
In out of court negotiations, the state offered to recognize the non-Orthodox rabbis but not their rabbinates, calling them “community leaders,” not chief rabbis of their communities, Ha'aretz reported.
But the High Court asked Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to intervene. Weinstein did, offering to call the non-Orthodox rabbinic leaders "rabbi of a non-Orthodox community."
The High Court petition was made in 2005 by the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism in the name of the Reform community at Kibbutz Gezer and Rabbi Miri Gold. The petitioners wanted the regional council to finance the salary of Gold just as hundreds of regional councils, neighborhoods and communities across Israel have traditionally done for Orthodox rabbis they employ as rabbis of neighborhoods, cities or regions.
The ruling by Weinstein covers both Reform and Conservative rabbis.
However, Weinstein’s ruling states that Reform and Conservative rabbis will not be paid by the Orthodox and haredi controlled religious councils or through direct employment by local government.
Instead, the non-Orthodox rabbis will receive “financial assistance” from the state the Culture and Sports Ministry – not the Religious Services Ministry.
The Reform movement agreed to this arrangement, calling it “a precedent setting and historical achievement of the non-Orthodox movements and the wide public they serve, who have until now suffered from financial discrimination by the religious services."
“The state's decision to support the activities of Reform rabbis in regional councils, while clearly acknowledging their roles as rabbis, is an important breakthrough in the efforts to advance freedom of religion in Israel,” Israel Reform Movement leader Rabbi Gilad Kariv told Ha’aretz. “This is the first, but significant, step toward comparing the status of all streams of Judaism in Israel and we hope the state will indeed ensure the court's commitments are fully applied. We expect that the state's agreement to recognize the community activities of Reform rabbis will lead to additional steps that will annul the deep discrimination of non-Orthodox streams in Israel.”
Religious Services Minister Yaakov Margi, who is a member of the Sefardi haredi Shas political party, said that if his ministry is forced to pay the salaries or stipends of the non-Orthodox clergy, he would immediately ask Shas’ spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef for permission to resign immediately and retire.
Weinstein’s ruling is reportedly limited to regional councils and farming communities, but does not cover large cities. Additionally, rabbis of non-Orthodox communities will not have any authority over religious and halakhic matters – meaning they will not be able to change the status quo on conversions to Judaism or issue kosher food certificates.
The State has only committed to paying for 15 non-Orthodox rabbis.
The High Court still has to rule on the Reform Movement’s original 2005 petition. That ruling may also determine if the agreement reached between the Attorney General and the Reform Movement will be allowed to stand.
[Hat Tip: APC.]