Israel to pay salaries of Reform, Masorti rabbis

Non-Orthodox communities in Israel were celebrating a victory this week after a landmark decision requiring the state to provide the same financial assistance to Reform and Masorti religious leaders as it does to Orthodox ones.

The disproportionate privileges enjoyed by the Orthodox religious establishment in Israel have long been a source of resentment, but the attorney general has now announced a change in the rules.

The state will now be expected to recognise rabbis from denominations other than Orthodoxy and pay the salaries of those who serve communities. It will only apply to rabbis serving regional councils and farming communities – at least 15 rabbis so far.

Until now, non-Orthodox rabbis were paid for by membership fees, but the around 4,000 Orthodox rabbis enjoyed state funding. The non-Orthodox rabbis, who will come under the title "community leaders", will not have any influence over matters of halachah.

The change has come about seven years after Reform Rabbi Miri Gold filed a petition in Israel's Supreme Court.

Although the money will come not from the Ministry for Religious Services but from the Culture Ministry, the decision was still welcomed as "an important breakthrough in the efforts to advance freedom of religion in Israel" by the head of Israel's Reform movement, Rabbi Gilad Kariv.

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, of the Conservative Movement Rabbinical Assembly executive, compared the decision to man landing on the moon.

"In the Israeli context - a giant leap for the Jewish people," she told Globes. "This is the beginning of the end of the Orthodox monopoly on Israelis' lives."

"This historic victory is another step in levelling the playing field," said Anat Hoffman, executive director of the Israel Religious Action Centre.

Last updated: 8:05am, June 5 2012