A Historic Victory


Forty-five years after the start of the June 1967 Six-Day War, when the survival of the nascent Jewish state hung in the balance, Israel continues to face more than its share of political, diplomatic and security challenges.

But one piece of good news emerged this week with regard to an issue that speaks to the character of the Jewish state: the government decision to pay the salaries of non-Orthodox rabbis.

The agreement announced Tuesday comes three weeks after a panel of Supreme Court judges called on the attorney general to intervene in the case of a petition filed more than seven years ago. The petition, brought by the Israel Religious Action Center of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, which is the equivalent of the Reform movement in Israel, called for the state to recognize and pay the salaries of rabbis of all streams of Judaism.

The issue of recognition — or lack thereof — of the non-Orthodox streams has long been a source of friction between Diaspora Jewry and Israel. Israel's chief rabbinate is run by the Orthodox establishment and controls most matters pertaining to religious life and personal status, including marriage and death.

Some 4,000 Orthodox rabbis serve as rabbis of their communities and draw a salary from the government.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said the rabbis would have the moniker "rabbi of a non-Orthodox community." Financing for the positions will come from the Culture and Sports Ministry rather than the Religious Services Ministry.

The Reform and Conservative movements in Israel have long struggled for recognition and funding for their institutions and their rabbis. Although this week's decision pertains only to smaller regional and farming communities, and not to larger municipalities, it is still being hailed as a historic step forward.

"This historic victory is another step in leveling the playing field," Anat Hoffman, executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, said in a letter to supporters.

Rabbi Andrew Sacks, a native Philadelphian who now lives in Israel and serves as the director of the Conservative movement's Rabbinical Assembly in Israel, predicted that this week's decision is likely to have a domino effect. He cited another case pending before Israel's High Court that demands the employment of non-Orthodox rabbis as municipal rabbis. "It would seem unlikely that, in light of this decision that municipalities, too, will not be required to follow suit," he said.

At a time when Jews everywhere, regardless of their affiliation, are thankful for the miracle ending of the Six-Day War and all that Israel has built since then, the government has taken a crucial step forward in making all Jews feel welcome in the Jewish state.


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