Reform and Conservative Movements in Israel Petition High Court for Equal Funding

Petition demands Israel recognize the movements by their official names instead of 'renewed' communities and their leaders as rabbis rather than 'community leaders'

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

The Reform and Conservative movements in Israel petitioned the High Court of Justice on Thursday, demanding budget parity with the Orthodox movement.

Orthodoxy is the only officially recognized Jewish movement in Israel.

The petition notes that some 120 Orthodox rabbis employed in big towns and cities benefit from state-funded salaries, unlike their Conservative and Reform counterparts. According to the petition, these rabbis receive a total of 14 million shekels ($4 million) a year from the state budget, whereas the Conservative and Reform movements receive barely 1 million shekels for their own rabbis.

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Based on the number of Israelis who are affiliated with either the Reform or Conservative movement, the petitioners are demanding that their annual budget allocation be increased to 7 million shekels.

In their petition, the non-Orthodox movements also demand that the state refer to them in its official documentation as “Reform” and “Conservative” communities rather than “renewed” communities. In addition, they demand that the state refer to their ordained spiritual leaders as “rabbis” rather than “community leaders.”

This the third such petition filed recently against the state by the non-Orthodox movements. The previous two were dismissed by the High Court on technical grounds.

Commenting on the petition, Rabbi Gilad Kariv, executive director of the Reform Movement in Israel, said: “Especially now, given the expected composition of the next government coalition, it is important for us to clarify and declare that we will not give up on our demand for recognition for all the Jewish movements and for an end to discrimination against the Reform and Conservative movement.”

Coalition negotiations have only just begun, but it appears that the ultra-Orthodox parties, who do not consider Reform and Conservative Judaism legitimate, will be a powerful force in the next government.

Yizhar Hess, executive director of the Conservative movement in Israel, said: “The discrimination is glaring and must be fixed. The courts have made this clear time and again, and yet, despite all the negotiations that have taken place, the state keeps dragging its feet.”

The petition notes that there are currently 35 Reform and 55 Conservative congregations in Israel. A total of 51 rabbis are currently employed as congregational rabbis in Israeli cities, towns and regional councils.

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.