Habayit Hayehudi Clears Path to Put Rabbis on State Payroll

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Naftali BennettCredit: Ilan Assayag

Moments before leaving the Religious Services Ministry, outgoing minister Naftali Bennett paved the way for hundreds of additional rabbis to get salaries from the state.

The new regulations, which were published in the official government gazette Reshumot last Thursday, set criteria for rabbis to receive state funding even if they aren’t neighborhood or municipal rabbis.

Bennett and Deputy Minister Eli Ben Dahan have long sought a way to give state funding to congregational rabbis and rabbinical organizations, especially those affiliated with national Orthodoxy, the movement their Habayit Hayehudi party represents. But the principal beneficiary of the move is liable to be the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, which will replace Habayit Hayehudi at the ministry’s helm in another few days.

Though the regulations ostensibly take effect immediately, there is as yet no budget for them. Haaretz has learned that Habayit Hayehudi proposed financing the additional outlay with 4 million shekels ($1 million) in coalition funding that wasn’t used last year, as a stopgap until the new government can finally pass a budget for 2015. But the Finance Ministry vehemently opposes this.

Under the new regulations, the state will fund congregational rabbis and rabbinical organizations to help them “conduct Torah-related, spiritual and cultural activities” in communities on the bottom half of the state’s socioeconomic scale. To receive the payment, a rabbi will need to have spent at least eight years studying in a recognized yeshiva or pre-army academy, and passed the Chief Rabbinate’s ordination exams in two different fields of Jewish law.

Those two rules mean that only Orthodox rabbis would probably qualify for this funding. But to make doubly sure, the regulations deny eligibility to the chief rabbis of regional councils – the only official positions currently held by Reform and Conservative rabbis.

In addition, the criteria to some extent favor national Orthodox rabbis over ultra-Orthodox ones. For instance, they award higher funding to army veterans or rabbis who lead Ethiopian-Israeli congregations.

Other requirements are that the rabbi must have been chosen by the congregation and live in the town where it is located. Moreover, the congregation in question must have at least 40 families on its membership rolls and attract at least 20 worshippers on weekdays, and 35 on Shabbat.

Funds will also be available to rabbinical organizations like Tzohar, a group of moderate national Orthodox rabbis, to cover the cost of training and assisting congregational rabbis.

Habayit Hayehudi argues that funding congregational rabbis, who are chosen by those they serve, is actually more justified than funding neighborhood or municipal rabbis, who are chosen by the Chief Rabbinate and other state agencies. But the new rules do nothing to eliminate funding for neighborhood and municipal rabbis; they simply add a new group of rabbis to the state’s payroll.

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