Yuval Steinitz
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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Treasury wages director Ilan Levin announced this week that in accordance with decisions made by the Knesset Finance Committee, which he had been party to, he has reached an agreement with Religious Services Minister Yaakov Margi to raise the salaries of new municipal rabbis by 150 percent.

This was explained by a need to reduce the gap between the salaries of new city and neighborhood rabbis and those of veteran ones.

This was a mistaken decision, based on inaccurate data. The salaries of city and neighborhood rabbis are no lower than those of other professionals in public service. In fact, they are considerably higher.

A rabbi beginning his career in a small community of 2,500 residents gets a starting salary of NIS 6,500 a month. Compare this to the salaries of doctors, teachers, nurses, social workers, psychologists and other welfare, education and health professionals, who also work long hours, often dealing with life-and-death matters.

Given the many labor disputes in the economy, this generous wage hike for the rabbis raises questions. Even more serious is the fact that senior rabbis are earning up to NIS 27,000 a month - and in some cases, even more.

Religious services in Israel, including job descriptions, length of tenures, and the employment terms of city and neighborhood rabbis have little connection to the real needs of the cities, neighborhoods and communities, creating an ongoing distortion.

Under pressure from the religious parties, the Olmert government backed down from its plan to implement a reform in religious services, which had been promised back in 2000, and reopened the Religious Services Ministry, which had been closed in 2003. The Netanyahu government is now aggravating this distortion.

There is a surfeit of city rabbis in Israel (in Tel Aviv alone there are 52 neighborhood rabbis ), some of them earning very high salaries. But instead of doing away with the bloated religious councils, which operate according to clear political formulas, the treasury wages chief capitulated to political pressures from the ultra-Orthodox parties and agreed to the wage hike.

This acquiescence is an example of unwarranted and harmful opportunism. Instead of raising the rabbis' wages, it would be better for the government to implement the recommendations of the Tzadok Committee from the 1970s and streamline the delivery of religious services.