Israel to Pay Non-Orthodox Rabbis – A Small But Significant Step

Significant history was made today when the Israeli attorney general announced non-Orthodox Rabbis will now be paid by the government at the same compensation as Orthodox Rabbi. While non-Orthodox Rabbis will not have the same religious authority as Orthodox Rabbis, Israel has started down a path from which I believe there is no turning back.

In 2005, female, Reform (the most liberal movement in Judaism) Rabbi Miri Gold filed a petition with the Israeli supreme court asking for equal financing of non-Orthodox religious services. Only recently did the court, led by Attorney General YehudaWeinstein, agree to review the current rules. On Tuesday Weinstein ruled that the state would recognize "a rabbi of a non-Orthodox community" and that they would be entitled to financial assistance equal to the wages paid to Orthodox rabbis.

While this is a major breakthrough for religious equality in Israel, the scope of the ruling is narrow. The ruling only applies to non-Orthodox Rabbis serving on Regional Councils or in farming communities. Non-Orthodox Rabbis in major cities are not included. Additionally, non-Orthodox Rabbis will not have any authority over religious and matters of Halakha (Jewish religious law). This also applies to the right to perform marriage ceremonies. Orthodox Rabbis must still perform marriages.

Another difference, which I believe is more symbolic, non-Orthodox Rabbis will be paid by the Culture and Sports Ministry rather than the Religious Services Ministry.  

Reaction to the ruling was as expected. Rabbi Gilad Kariv, head of the Reform Movement in Israel said the attorney general's decision was "an important breakthrough in the efforts to advance freedom of religion in Israel."  Minister of Religious Affairs Yaakov Margi responded by saying "I opposed in the past and continue to oppose employing non-Orthodox rabbis."

Regardless of the official response, the impact on Jews in Israel and around the world is undeniable. For the first time, the government of Israel has officially recognized the other movements of Judaism.