Israel Gets Its First non-Orthodox Rabbi in City Government

Rabbi Dov Haiyun, of the Conservative movement, will be deputy mayor of Haifa

Rabbi Dov Haiyun, Haifa's new deputy mayor, in Jerusalem, July 19, 2018.
Emil Salman

The first non-Orthodox rabbi to ever serve as deputy mayor of a city in Israel took office on Tuesday.

Rabbi Dov Haiyun, a Conservative rabbi, was installed as deputy mayor of Haifa, Israel’s third largest city. He will serve under Einat Kalisch Rotem, the first woman to ever serve as mayor of a major Israeli city. Rotem defeated the incumbent, Yonah Yahav, in a landslide victory in last month’s municipal elections.

Haiyun, 56, is a member of Meretz, the left-wing Zionist party, and headed its list in the Haifa election. Under a rotation agreement, he is scheduled to serve as deputy mayor for only half a term. He will be one of five deputy mayors serving the city.

The new city council in Haifa, which is a mixed Jewish-Arab city, will include representatives of parties from across the religious and political spectrum, including ultra-Orthodox parties. Rotem received considerable support from the ultra-Orthodox community in her mayoral bid.

For the past 10 years, Haiyun has served as the spiritual leader of Congregation Moriah, one of the oldest Conservative synagogues in the country. Six months ago, he made headlines after he was detained by police for performing weddings outside the confines of the Chief Rabbinate. Soon after his release, Attorney General Amichai Mendelblit ordered police to suspend the investigation.

Under a law passed several years ago, rabbis who conduct traditional Jewish weddings outside the confines of the Rabbinate could face jail-terms of two years. The first time this law was ever tested was in the case of Haiyun.

Last week, a move to repeal this law and eliminate the sanctions was defeated in the Knesset.

“As someone who knows Rabbi Haiyun personally, I am confident that the residents of Haifa will gain a top-notch public servant who will do all he can for their benefit,” said Yizhar Hess, director of the Conservative movement in Israel. “He is a devoted public servant who has been active for years in connecting people to Judaism, as they wish to practice it, without any coercion.”