Lawmakers have approved a transfer of NIS 149 million ($39 million) to the Religious Services Ministry to pay for Chief Rabbinate operations and to renovate the tombs of Jewish sages, following a nearly half-billion shekel budget reallocation last week for ultra-Orthodox education and religious organizations.
A spokesperson for the Knesset Finance Committee, which okayed the transfers, says although the funds were initially budgeted to different ministries, they were padded into the state budget with the understanding that the Religious Services Ministry could pull them for future use, as if using a “line of credit.”
About NIS 61 million of the funds is being pulled from a budget section relating to pensions and worker compensation claims, while NIS 88 million was marked for the Religious Service Ministry’s potential usage, according to the committee spokesperson.
The funds will be used for paying salaries of Chief Rabbinate employees, rabbinic court operations, renovating mikvehs, or ritual baths, in Beit Shemesh, and to bulwark the tomb of Jewish sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai on Mount Meron, a pilgrimage site where a deadly crush killed 45 people in 2021. Money will also be used to renovate the graves of other sages and to prepare for celebrations at the Baba Sali tomb in Netivot, along with “establishing religious institutions,” according to Finance Committee chair MK Moshe Gafni’s office.
Several of these goals fulfill coalition promises made by the ruling Likud party to its religious coalition partners, in order to form a government in December.