RA Praises Religious Affairs Ministry, Calls for Immediate Implementation of Local Selection of Religious Leadership by Israeli Communities

Posted on: Friday May 31, 2013

Also calls for official, non-Orthodox administration of Robinson’s Arch

NEW YORK – In response to the announcement by Israel’s Ministry of Religious Services that it will develop criteria enabling communities to select rabbis of their own choosing without regard to religious denomination, Gerald Skolnik and Julie Schonfeld issued the following statement:

We are pleased to learn that the Ministry of Religious Affairs has announced its intention to end discriminatory practices in the selection of religious leadership by communities. We are hopeful that such policies will bring us significantly closer to restoring the principle of freedom of religion and conscience, one of the pillars of democracy undergirding Israel’s political system.

We support our rabbinic colleagues in Israel who work tirelessly on behalf of Israeli citizens to strengthen and enrich their lives through Judaism. In the absence of separation of synagogue and state, equal funding for all religious streams is the prerequisite for making Judaism available to Israeli Jews long alienated by decades of entrenched Orthodox monopoly by the Israel government.

The Rabbinical Assembly encourages the Ministry of Religious Services to take swift action to implement fair guidelines on this issue. In numerous cases, government pronouncements have remained unfulfilled for years. We are eager to see the new government reverse this model of discrimination by not delaying in implementing its new policy.

In May 2012, Israeli Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein issued a determination declaring that Conservative and Reform rabbis serving in rural communities would be paid salaries by the Ministry of Culture and Sport, thus short-circuiting the need for the Supreme Court to make a decision in the case of Rabbi Miri Gold. One year later, Rabbi Gold has yet to receive the first shekel.

Under the direction of Natan Sharansky, discussions are now also underway regarding renovation of the Kotel, including at Robinson’s Arch where egalitarian prayer services are now held. The initial requirement for the Israeli government to create appropriate space at Robinson’s Arch goes back to 2003, and yet the space is still largely unsuitable and open only for very limited hours. The Conservative Masorti Movement in Israel brings 20,000 worshippers to the current space, undertaking the administration and supply of prayer books and other necessary items at our own expense. Equitable funding for the work carried out by Masorti rabbis at Robinson’s Arch also calls for redress by the government of Israel, which benefits immensely from the tireless service of these Israeli citizens.

Now is also the time for government to support the appointment and government funding of non-Orthodox leaders to administer this space, just as the government supports the administration of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation.