Israeli Reform and Conservative Rabbis Petition Court Demanding Equal Pay

Jerusalem is accused of delays despite court ruling for equal treatment of Orthodox and non-Orthodox rabbis.

The state is dragging its feet on paying Reform and Conservative rabbis despite a High Court ruling ordering it to do so, the Movement for Progressive Judaism said in a petition to the court Tuesday.

The movement argued that although the court in May had ruled that equivalent criteria must be set for paying Orthodox and non-Orthodox rabbis, the state was doing everything it could to reject funding requests for Reform and Conservative communities. The movement said these requests were being evaluated in ways that perpetuate the discrimination against non-Orthodox Jews.

"After seven years of litigation, the state accepted – albeit with clenched teeth – the proposal of this esteemed court and agreed to fund the salaries of non-Orthodox rabbis by way of support tests," the petition states.

"These tests were meant to create a mechanism for employing Orthodox rabbis in a way that non-Orthodox rabbis could receive similar conditions. But rather than properly implementing the ruling, the state has used foot-dragging tactics ... and in the end published tests that blatantly discriminate against non-Orthodox rabbis."

According to the petitioners, funding requests that adhere to the state's criteria were being rejected because the state interpreted the criteria unreasonably.

For example, the state demanded that non-Orthodox rabbis work in their congregations full-time, while Orthodox rabbis were not required to work a minimum number of hours, the petitioners said. The state also required a minimum number of participants at prayer services and activities held by Reform congregations, while no such demand was made of Orthodox congregations. The state also placed limitations on the salaries of non-Orthodox rabbis that did not apply to Orthodox rabbis.

"In light of the state's outrageously unfair and blatantly unreasonable behavior, the petitioners are forced to petition this esteemed court once again so it can make it crystal clear to the state that it must behave equitably and reasonably in the funding of religious services," the petitioners wrote.

In the original petition filed in 2005 for the Reform congregation on Kibbutz Gezer and Rabbi Miri Gold, the movement demanded equal funding of non-Orthodox religious services from the local authority. The petitioners demanded that the local council be allowed to pay the salary of the community's leader in the same way hundreds of cities, towns and neighborhoods employ male Orthodox rabbis.

Last year the state said it was willing to recognize the heads of Reform and Conservative congregations as rabbis in every way, and to pay their salaries. In practice, the state has not upheld its commitment, the petitioners said.

Gil Cohen-Magen