High Court Gives Israel 3 Weeks to Announce Equal Pay Plan for non-Orthodox Rabbis

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Reform and Conservative rabbis protest at the Western Wall, November, 2016.
Reform and Conservative rabbis protest at the Western Wall, November, 2016.Credit: Emil Salman

The High Court of Justice on Thursday gave the government three weeks to present a plan to put more Reform and Conservative rabbis on the state payroll, like their Orthodox counterparts.

The ruling, which gives the state 21 days to publish criteria for the salaries to be paid to non-Orthodox rabbis, was made in response to a petition submitted by the Reform and Conservative movements last November.

Should the non-Orthodox movements find the criteria unsatisfactory, they will be at liberty to renew their petition, the justices said.

In their petition – submitted by the Israel Religious Action Center, the advocacy arm of the Reform movement in Israel – the non-Orthodox movements demanded 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 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 funded by the state.

Reform and Conservative institutions in Israel are funded through the Culture and Sports Ministry, while Orthodox institutions are funded through the Religious Services Ministry, and the new petition was filed against both institutions.

During the hearing, Justice Uzi Vogelman chastised state representatives for referring to Reform and Conservative rabbis as “community leaders” rather than by their official religious title.

In 2014, the state announced its intention to create new criteria for funding religious services that would eliminate discrimination against non-Orthodox rabbis. But the state never met the deadline it set for itself.

Meanwhile, some 120 Orthodox rabbis employed in large towns and cities continue to benefit from state-funded salaries – unlike their Conservative and Reform peers.

According to IRAC, 75 Reform and Conservative rabbis currently serve towns and cities around Israel.

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