Conservative and Reform Movements Petition Israeli Top Court Demanding Equal Pay for Rabbis

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Rabbi Gilad Kariv, executive director of the Reform movement in Israel, left, and Yizhar Hess, executive director of the Conservative-Masorti movement in Israel.
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, executive director of the Reform movement in Israel, left, and Yizhar Hess, executive director of the Conservative-Masorti movement in Israel.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The Conservative and Reform movements in Israel petitioned the High Court of Justice on Sunday, demanding that their rabbis in major Israeli towns and cities receive state-funded salaries and be paid the same as their Orthodox counterparts.

Under existing laws, only Conservative and Reform rabbis serving outlying regional councils are eligible for state-funded salaries. In contrast, Orthodox rabbis in major Israeli towns and cities receive their salaries from the state.

Non-Orthodox rabbis serving regional councils first began receiving salaries in 2014. The state was forced to pay them after a landmark High Court ruling. Currently, about a dozen such rabbis are on the state payroll.

The new petition was filed against both the religious services and culture and sports ministries.

Reform and Conservative institutions in Israel are funded through the Culture and Sports Ministry, while Orthodox institutions are funded through the Religious Services Ministry. The Israel Religious Action Center – the advocacy arm of the Reform movement in Israel – is representing both non-Orthodox movements in the petition.

According to data they provided, the non-Orthodox movements currently oversee 94 congregations in 49 major Israeli towns and cities (37 Reform and 57 Conservative). A total of 55 non-Orthodox rabbis (33 Reform, 22 Conservative) are currently employed as congregational rabbis in Israeli cities, towns and regional councils.

The petition noted that despite numerous promises in recent years to amend the situation, “The state continues to discriminate against the Reform and Conservative communities in Israel, their congregations, their rabbis and the umbrella movements that represent them when it comes to financing the salaries of Reform and Conservative rabbis.”

In 2014, the state announced its intention to create new criteria for funding religious services that would eliminate discrimination against non-Orthodox rabbis. But in practice, the petition noted, the state did not meet the deadline it had set for publishing these criteria.

Meanwhile, the petition added, some 120 Orthodox rabbis employed in big towns and cities continue to benefit from state-funded salaries, unlike their Conservative and Reform counterparts.

“This petition comes to say what is already obvious: That it is time to stop discriminating between one Jew and another,” said Yizhar Hess, executive director of the Conservative-Masorti movement in Israel. “It’s possible to argue about whether or not the state should be funding religious services at all. But if it is, it can’t be giving a monopoly to one denomination and ignore the others,” he added.

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, executive director of the Reform movement in Israel, said the majority of Israelis reject any preferential treatment to Orthodox rabbis.

“It’s high time the government of Israel acted in accordance with the will of the people and stopped succumbing to blackmail by the corrupt rabbinical establishment,” he said. “So long as the State of Israel provides financial support to religious services, it must do so in an equitable and transparent way.”

The petition cited an October 2017 survey commissioned by the Reform movement, which found that 63 percent of secular Israelis prefer attending synagogues where non-Orthodox prayer services are held.

The Religious Services Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

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