Religious Services Minister Yaakov Margi arrives at a Shas party meeting, December 14, 2010.
Religious Services Minister Yaakov Margi arrives at a Shas party meeting, December 14, 2010. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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Religious Services Minister Yaakov Margi said Monday that if he is forced to pay the salaries of non-Orthodox rabbis, he will request permission from Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef to immediately retire from his position.

The Shas MK's declaration followed an announcement that Israel is prepared to recognize Reform and Conservative community leaders as rabbis and fund their salaries. Rabbis belonging to either stream will be classified as "rabbis of non-Orthodox communities."

Financing of non-Orthodox rabbis will be the responsibility of the Culture and Sports Ministry and not the Religious Services Ministry, according to a deal between the State and the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism. In addition, non-Orthodox rabbis will not be employed directly by the local authorities, but will instead receive financial assistance.

At this stage, there will only be 15 listed "rabbis of non-Orthodox communities" that are eligible to receive equal payment of their Orthodox counterpart, and the move will only apply to regional councils and farming communities, without extending to large cities.

In response to MK Yaakov Margi's announcement, President and CEO of Hiddush For Religious Freedom and Equality, Rabbi Uri Regev, that "Only in an Israeli reality, where inside the government and coalition there still exist representatives who refuse to assimilate democracy and the rule of law and are striving for a halakhic state, can the religious services minister announce that he continues to oppose the decree of law and instructions of the attorney general."

Regev added that "It is regretful that it took years for the attorney generals to recognize the state's obligation to act in the spirit of equality."

Opposition leader Shelly Yacimovich, who is also Labor party chairman, responded to Israel's willingness to recognize Reform and Conservative rabbis as an important turning point in the relationship between the State and all streams of Judaism in Israel and around the world.

The move "advances pluralism and tightens the ties between Israel and the Jews of the world, particularly American Jews," said Yacimovich, adding that "The Labor party observes Orthodox Judaism, but is of the opinion that there is room for expression of all streams of Judaism."

MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz), head of the lobby for Civil Equality and Religious Pluralism, praised the attorney general's announcement, calling it a "significant step in the challenge for pluralism and freedom of religion."

Horowitz accused the ultra-Orthodox of hijacking Judaism in Israel and using it as a political tool to create countless jobs. "The time has come to recognize all streams of Judaism and release it from the grip of the haredi politicos," he added.

The head of the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative Movement Rabbi Julie Schonfeld said, “This is a historic day for Israelis and Jews around the world.” Schonfeld added, "In order for Judaism to grow and thrive in Israel, it is necessary that the government recognize its obligation to provide equal funding to various Jewish religious streams and expressions that flower in the Jewish state.”

“The announcement of Israel's Attorney General Weinstein represents a dramatic step forward in the struggle for religious pluralism in Israel”, said Rabbinical Assembly president Gerald Skolnik, who also stated that he hopes the decision would invite new spiritual and Jewish opportunities that “will strengthen Israel, and bring Israelis to a new appreciation of Jewish tradition.”

Habayit Hayehudi Chairman, who is also Science and Technology Minister, Rabbi Daniel Hershkowitz, said that it doesn’t make sense for decisions regarding the Jewish identity of Israel to “be determent by legal advisors and state officials.”

At a political conference in Ra’anana, Hershkowitz continued, saying that “as they cannot decide who is eligible for an academic degree, they cannot determine who is entitled for the title ‘rabbi’.” Hershkowitz stated that he will call a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address “the gravity of the matter.”