Incoming Religious Services Minister Michael Malkieli vowed to fortify the power of the Chief Rabbinate and to increase the salaries and cache of municipal rabbis and other religious officials during his inaugural speech taking control of the ministry on Sunday.
“I will act in accordance with the decisions of the Chief Rabbinic Council, led by… the Rishon Lezion Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef and the Chief Rabbi of Israel David Lau, the president of the Rabbinic High Court,” said Malkieli, a member of the Sephardi ultra-Orthodox Shas party.
Malkieli, 40, did not take over the office from another minister, as the office has been empty since August, after the previous government failed to get the votes necessary to appoint someone to the role.
In his speech, Malkieli said he planned to expand the powers of rabbinic courts and “strengthen their status against those spirits looking to limit their power.”
Malkieli referred to a pledge in the coalition deals that requires the government to pass a law permitting rabbinic courts to adjudicate civil matters, namely property disputes, which they are currently barred from doing.
In addition, Malkieli said he planned to “uplift the religious services workers,” namely those who perform burials, those who oversee ritual baths, and employees of local religious councils.
“I will strengthen the standing of municipal rabbis, neighborhood rabbis, and settlement rabbis,” he said.
Malkieli’s Shas party has frequently controlled the Religious Services Ministry, which critics accusing it of using the office to dole out favors to political allies and supporters across the country, installing municipal rabbis and religious councilmembers, giving them power and sometimes healthy government salaries.
The head of the Shas party, incoming Interior and Health Minister Aryeh Deri, said he had fought to get control over the ministry, after the Religious Zionism party expressed interest in it.
“It’s no secret that this was a much-desired office. Immediately after the elections, the issue of control over the Religious Services Ministry became central to the negotiations because all of the coalition partners saw great importance in maintaining the office,” Deri said.
“We paid a political price in order to be responsible for the ministry and we could have gotten twice as much if we’d given up on it. It is important to us to appoint the best possible rabbis and rabbinic judges,” he said.