Relaunch of municipal rabbi bill piques tensions in wartime coalition

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

The planned reintroduction of a bill funding appointments of new municipal rabbis is ratcheting up tensions in the wartime coalition headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Erstwhile partners Benny Gantz and Gideon Sa’ar both object to the planned relaunch of the bill from 2023, which was stalled by the war, to appoint hundreds of new city rabbis at a cost of tens of millions of shekels annually, representatives of their parties say.

Ze’ev Elkin, a member of Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party, has informed coalition whip Ofir Katz of Netanyahu’s Likud party of the objection, citing an agreement signed by all coalition members to refrain from advancing any legislation without the pre-approval of all coalition parties, Makor Rishon reports. The bill’s advancement threatens to violate the deal’s terms, Elkin says.

Gantz’s National Unity party also opposes the planned advancement of the Jewish Religious Services Bill, Makor Rishon reports.

The report does not say whether New Hope and National Unity are explicitly threatening to pull out of the wartime coalition, established following Hamas’s October 7 onslaught.

The bill, submitted in June by Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman and Shas’s Erez Malul, is scheduled to go up for a preliminary discussion and possibly a vote tomorrow at the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.

Critics of the bill say it gives Shas excessive power over municipally employed rabbis, because of its influence within the chief rabbinate and its municipal rabbis, who would play an important role in appointing neighborhood rabbis under the new bill.

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