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Israel to Fund Non-Orthodox Rabbis

Naftali Bennett, Israel’s Minister of Religious Affairs, proposes reform to fund community-selected rabbis—including non-Orthodox.

Yair Rosenberg
May 30, 2013

If Naftali Bennett has his way, for the first time in Israel’s history, the Jewish state will begin funding all rabbis—including those from non-Orthodox streams of Judaism. The Ministry of Religious Affairs, which is headed by Bennett, announced today that it will be instituting reforms to abolish the position of state-appointed communal rabbis, replacing the current system with one in which rabbis are appointed by their communities, and then funded by the government. This revamping of the rabbinate would effectively take these positions out of the control of the ultra-Orthodox dominated Chief Rabbinate and place them into the hands of Israel’s citizens, who would be free to choose whichever rabbi they wish. As the Ministry’s brief on the reforms put it, the rabbis would receive state funding “independent of which Jewish denomination the relevant community belongs to.”

Bennett’s move garnered praise from the often embattled non-Orthodox leadership in Israel. “For years, the Reform Movement has sought to advance a community model of religious services, in which these services are supplied by independent communities on a voluntary basis rather than by government agencies,” Rabbi Gilad Kariv, executive director of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, told Haaretz. “The ministry’s announcement is an important step toward advancing this model.” Or, as Sinai Temple’s Rabbi David Wolpe put it on Twitter, “this is huge.”

The plan may have another consequence. If the controversial Bennett continues in his efforts to democratize Judaism in Israel, many Jews in the diaspora could be faced with a difficult conundrum: a key political player in Israel whose domestic policies they support, but whose settlements policies they do not.

Yair Rosenberg is a senior writer at Tablet. Subscribe to his newsletter, listen to his music, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.