rabbis - Moti Kimche - April 14 2011
Revered rabbis at a wedding. Photo by Moti Kimche
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The salaries of newly appointed municipal rabbis will be increased by 250 percent, while the salaries of more veteran rabbis will be held at their current level, Religious Services Minister Yaakov Margi and head of salaries at the Finance Ministry, Ilan Levin, agreed.

Levin told the Knesset Finance Committee yesterday that newly appointed municipal rabbis earn NIS 6,000 - 12,000 a month, depending on the size of the municipality, but their more veteran colleagues earn over NIS 30,000 a month, some of them receiving salaries higher than their mayor.

The new agreement raises the salaries of the new rabbis to between NIS 16,000 - 29,000, equal to 80 percent of the salary of the municipality's director general. The cost of the move is estimated at NIS 2.2 million.

As of today, 109 veteran and seven newly appointed rabbis provide religious services to the Jewish residents of Israel. The salaries of the new rabbis were cut back in 2006. Levin said that there are "tremendous gaps between the salaries of the veteran rabbis and the salaries of the new ones, who make as little as NIS 6,000. The rabbis are banned from holding another job. It's important for their income to be both adequate and exemplary."

The chair of the Finance Committee, MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism ) called upon the acting deputy of the head of budgets at the treasury, Reuven Kogan, to find a way to supply the extra NIS 2.2 million without hurting other essential services at the religious affairs ministry.

The move was slammed by opposition MKs, who questioned the necessity of tripling rabbis salaries. "It's inconceivable that the treasury rejects the demands of the physicians, who are working around the clock, while rabbis in communities of 2,500 people earn NIS 27,000 a month," said MK Shlomo Molla (Kadima ).

MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz ) said that "raising the salaries of the rabbis by hundreds of percents is daylight robbery of the public purse. There's no justification for a rabbi in a tiny community to earn tens of thousands of shekels. It's another example of why the ultra-Orthodox parties insist on holding onto the finance committee - it's a funding channel for a corrupt establishment. The only solution is separating religion from politics."

Shahar Ilan, deputy director of the Hiddush for Religious Freedom and Equality, said that the municipal rabbis positions existed mainly for political appointments by the ultra-Orthodox parties. "It's not clear what exactly it is that they do and get paid for," he said. "Instead of giving them grand salaries we should cancel the position altogether."

Finance committee chairman Gafni, however, said that the rabbis' salaries were unreasonable and did not allow the new rabbis to sustain themselves.