The Israeli government agreed this week to recognise some Reform and Conservative rabbis and fund their salaries. While the state pays the salaries of hundreds of rabbis, until now all of them have been Orthodox.
“This has historic significance,” said Einat Hurvitz, a lawyer who led the fight for the change. “It’s the first time that the state is recognising its duty to provide non-Orthodox services.”
Ms Hurvitz represented Israel’s Reform Movement, which initiated proceedings against the state for the funding seven years ago, together with the Reform community at Kibbutz Gezer, central Israel, and its rabbi, Miri Gold. Orthodox leaders have strongly opposed their demand.
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein agreed that the government would cover the salaries of Reform and Conservative rabbis in villages, kibbutzim and moshavim with sizeable congregations.
Funding will start immediately, for a maximum of 15 non-Orthodox rabbis, with room to increase the number in the future, but there was no change to the Orthodox monopoly in cities.
Progressive leaders around the world are celebrating the announcement. UK-based Danny Rich, chief executive of Liberal Judaism, called it “a watershed moment for pluralism in Israel”. In America, Gerald Skolnik, president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the international body of Conservative rabbis, called it a “dramatic step forward” for religious equality.
The decision comes hot on the heels of a political development that is likely to liberalise wedding procedures in Israel.
A bill that will guarantee Israelis the right to have their wedding officiated by the modern-Orthodox Tzohar movement, rather than their local rabbinate’s appointee, has passed its first Knesset reading.
Tzohar rabbis have a reputation for being moderates and tailoring ceremonies to couple’s wishes, in contrast to the predominantly Charedi rabbis that many local rabbinates allocate.