Sephardic Chief Rabbi Tries to Nix Funding of Reform Rabbis

Shlomo Amar calls on peers to fight state decision to recognize Reform rabbinate.

Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar sent a letter to hundreds of Orthodox rabbis in Israel calling on them to fight the state's decision to recognize and fund Reform and Conservative rabbis.

In the letter, Amar urged the clerics to attend an emergency meeting next Tuesday at the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem to try to persuade the government to renege on its decision, and foil implementation of the High Court's ruling on the matter.

In May, the government told the High Court of Justice that it was prepared to recognize Reform and Conservative rabbis and fund their salaries. The statement came in response to a petition filed in 2005 by the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism demanding that the state finance non-Orthodox religious services just as it funds Orthodox rabbis and institutions. Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein advised the court about the decision last month, and it was given the status of a High Court ruling.

So far, the government has committed to paying the salaries of 15 non-Orthodox rabbis. The money would not come from the Religious Services Ministry, which pays the salaries of Orthodox rabbis, but from the Culture and Sports Ministry.

Nevertheless, the funding is being held up by Religious Services Minister Yaakov Margi (Shas ), who has threatened to quit if forced to implement the ruling.

In his letter, Rabbi Amar lamented "the hand given to the uprooters and destroyers of Judaism who have already wrought horrible destruction upon the People of Israel in the Diaspora by causing terrible assimilation and the uprooting of all of the Torah's precepts. And now they seek recognition in the Land of Israel as well, to be destroyers of the religion... This will not pass!"

"It would behoove Rabbi Amar to resign from his state post; then he will be free to wage public and political battles just like any other citizen in the State of Israel," said Rabbi Gilad Kariv, the director of the Reform movement in Israel. "But until then, it would be appropriate for him to internalize the principles of democracy and avoid exploiting his state position to incite against a public of tens and hundreds of thousands who identify with the approach and the path of Reform Judaism."