The Government of Israel is spending almost $2.2 million to run Orthodox kiruv (outreach) programs meant to make secular Israelis Orthodox. The money is being allocated by the Jewish Identity Administration – a newly created entity that is part of the Ministry of Religious Services which is controlled by the Zionist Orthodox HaBayit HaYehudi Party – and will be matched by privately-funded kiruv groups for a total of $4.4 million.
Economy, Diaspora and Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett
Government Gives Kiruv Groups $2.2 Million To Convert Secular Israelis To Orthodoxy
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
The Government of Israel is spending almost $2.2 million to run Orthodox kiruv (outreach) programs meant to make secular Israelis Orthodox, Ha’aretz reported.
The money is being allocated by the Jewish Identity Administration, a newly created entity that is part of the Ministry of Religious Services which is controlled by the Zionist Orthodox HaBayit HaYehudi Party and Economy, Diaspora and Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett, who also chairs HaBayit HaYehudi.
The Jewish Identity Administration is a pet project of Bennett who personally created it.
The money will go to four Orthodox programs. Each will receive about 1.9 million shekels ($544,000) directly from the government plus the same amount from Ohr Torah Stone – Rabbi Shlomo Riskin’s conglomerate of educational institutions – the Orthodox organization chosen to run the overall project.
Three of the four Orthodox organizations are reportedly affiliated with the Garin Torani movement (young Zionist Orthodox people who move as a group to secular urban areas and run religious, social and educational programs – i.e., kiruv – there).
The four projects to be funded based on notes from the minutes of a Ministry of Religious Services meeting last October:
• A project to appoint community-based “Judaism coordinators” to organize “activities in the field of Jewish identity.” The “Judaism coordinators” will be members of the communities they are meant to serve, so they can “foment the process from within” and not be perceived as outsiders. Projects will be implemented first in communities that already have a Garin Torani so its members can assist the coordinator.
• A project meant to “deepen Jewish identity” among university students. “The thirst for broader horizons, and feelings of deficiency in the area of Jewish identity, are higher among students than among other population groups,” the ministry noted. Study centers will be set up around the country. In exchange for studying at one of these centers for at least 4 1/2 hours each week, the students will get an annual stipend of 4,000 shekels (about $1,150). 800 students will be recruited initially, all with “proven abilities for the State of Israel and Israeli society.” The project will reportedly be run by Laga’at Baruach, which already runs an Orthodox yeshiva and various kiruv programs. Laga’at Baruach was reportedly chosen over 19 other groups, including the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and a college. For the government, one of Laga’at Baruach’s pluses is its perceived financial stability. Laga’at Baruach is supported by the Wolfson Foundation, named for the family of the late American haredi billionaire Zev Wolfson. It already funds dozens of haredi yeshivas, most of which are located intentionally in secular communities. Their students are expected to study Torah with secular locals.
• A project that arranges meetings between Orthodox and secular families to ‘reintroduce’ secular families to “basic characteristics of Jewish life” that they have allegedly lost touch with. The project will find “people capable of being leadership figures” to give “professional advice” on spousal relations, family life and child rearing. Secular families will be given “special kits” as gifts, which are also meant to help entice them and open them up to hearing the message the project is pushing. The hope is to involve 10,000 secular families from 20 different communities. It will reportedly be run by Keren Kehilot, an umbrella organization for 80 of the Garinim Torani’im.
• A project to “increase synagogues’ influence on the community” and create in them “a warm home” for any area resident “who wants to come to pray, say kaddish [the mourner’s prayer] or make a bar mitzvah for his son…We want the average secular family to be familiar with the synagogue on various occasions in the life of the community, to know the people behind the institution and see them as an address in time of need.” Families who don’t usually attend synagogue will be hosted by kiruv workers who will help them with the prayers, give them Torah honors, arrange activities for their kids to take place during the services, and arrange parent-child activities. 25 synagogues around the country will participate. The project will reportedly be run by Hanekuda Hayehudit – which used to be known as the Yeshiva Gevoha of Tel Aviv, which was was founded two decades ago as a kiruv project.
Despite the fact that public funds are being spent, the Religious Services Ministry refused to give Ha’aretz any details on how the organizations picked to run the four projects were were chosen.
The Garin Torani Movement is already allowed to use empty public housing apartments for free by the Ministry of Housing, which is controlled by Housing Minister Uri Ariel of the HaBayit HaYehudi Party. Ariel also convinced the cabinet to establish a special “Garin Administration” with a 60 million shekel ($17.2 million) budget to fund the Orthodox group’s kiruv activities – even though the government itself previously found that the group works to convert secular Jews to Orthodoxy and, in the south of the country, also tried to “Judaize mixed Jewish-Arab towns,” Ha’aretz noted.
In response to Haaretz’s Hebrew report published Sunday, the Masorti (Conservative) Movement wrote Minister of Finance Yair Lapid, demanding that he freeze all funding for the Jewish Identity Administration. It noted that on October 30, Lapid’s office announced that the cabinet had agreed that the Jewish Identity Administration would include non-Orthodox Jewish movements as well as the Orthodox. (First news of that pending decision was published in September.)
But, the Masorti Movement wrote, Ministry of Religious Services just handed an Orthodox group complete responsibility for the “Judaism coordinators” project without even issuing a public tender, and no non-Orthodox groups are involved in any of the projects.
Neither Lapid or the Ministry of Finance have answered that letter.
Bennett is believed to be behind the attempted transfer of the new egalitarian prayer area south of the Kotel (Western Wall) proper to a right wing Zionist Orthodox non-profit that backs nationalistic archaeological digs and has been accused of destroying or concealing non-Jewish artifacts in order skew the public's perception of the Land of Israel's history.