Israel's Education Minister: Having a Rabbi Is Optional for Schools

Spiritual guide can be any person of stature, not necessarily a rabbi, says Shay Piron.

Secular schools will not be required to have a school rabbi if they don’t want one, Education Minister Shay Piron said yesterday. He was responding to an outcry against a pilot project in the Haifa area, which included having a rabbi attached to every school in Kiryat Bialik and Kiryat Haim.

Begun before Piron took office by Rachel Matoki, then head of the ministry’s Haifa region and now head of its pedagogical secretariat, the project sparked immediate protest from Hiddush, an organization that advocates religious freedom and equality. Hiddush argued, among other things, that while teaching Jewish values is important, one needn’t be a rabbi to do so.

In his response to Hiddush, Piron promised that no school would be forced to have a rabbi. Moreover, he said, schools that do want a rabbi won’t be compelled to have an Orthodox one.

“We have currently begun a reevaluation that will enable every school to choose the ‘mediator’ that suits it, with no connection to any particular [Jewish] movement,” he wrote.

The minister later told Haaretz that he considers it important that every school be able to choose someone appropriate to it. “I won’t force schools to choose a spiritual guide, but I’ll see to it that every school principal is able to choose a spiritual figure to guide the school,” he said.

“It’s very important to me that schools deal with the spirit, and it’s important to me that Judaism be part of the schools’ language. I’ll fight for Judaism to belong not only to the religious. But it’s unacceptable for the State of Israel to say a spiritual guide can only be a rabbi ... From my perspective, it can be any person of stature, including an academic or intellectual.”

Michal Fattal