Local municipalities will now be allowed to employ non-Orthodox rabbis with state funding for salaries, Israel Radio reported on Tuesday.
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein, in accordance with a recent High Court decision, announced that local municipalities would be allowed to employ "non-Orthodox community rabbis" if they desire, and the state will be required to fund the position.
The original petition to the High Court on the issue was made in 2005 by the Israel Religious Action Center, the legal arm of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, on behalf of Rabbi Miri Gold of Kibbutz Gezer’s congregation Birkat Shalom. The petition documents the local Reform congregation, which was established on the kibbutz in 1979 and which today has grown to 180 members, mostly from the kibbutz but also from the surrounding areas.
Miri Gold had been a community lay leader at the congregation's Shabbat and holiday services as well as bar- and bat-mitzvah celebrations. She was ordained as a Reform rabbi in 1999 after studying for four years at Hebrew Union College and has served as the official community rabbi since then. Because she is not state recognized, however, Gold receives her salary from the congregation itself, as opposed to Orthodox rabbis in other communities around Israel.
IRAC added that the rabbi's affiliation with a certain religious faction or the rabbi's gender disqualifies him or her for applying as a neighborhood rabbi, even if there is a large liberal Jewish population in the area that would appreciate his/her services. This automatic disqualification violates the principle of Freedom of Religion and Conscience as well as principles of religious pluralism that it says the state must promote.
Following High Court deliberations in June 2006, the court ordered the IMPJ and IRAC to hold out-of-court negotiations with a governmental committee on religious affairs to reach a mutually agreeable set of criteria for determining allocations of state funding to non-Orthodox rabbis. After years of delays and deliberations, the state submitted its reply in March 2012, including a number of problematic aspects such as the obvious elimination of the term "non-Orthodox rabbis" from the criteria and in its place using the term "community leaders."
IMPJ and IRAC viewed the government's proposal as a failure of out-of-court deliberations and turned to the High Court again, which heard arguments this month and reiterated its earlier decision regarding state funding for the rabbinic roles even if they are non-Orthodox.
Weinstein communicated the message to the government and measures will be taken to implement the decision.
Israel Radio also reported that the non-Orthodox community rabbis would have no bearing on matters of religion and Jewish law nationwide. This decision only relates to rabbinic salaries based on community needs, the report said.