Rabbi Ovadia Yosef signs petition against funding of non-Orthodox rabbis

Shas spiritual leader joins Sephardi chief rabbi in opposition to ‘threat’ to Orthodox Judaism

Late Shas spirtual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (seated) and Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar during a Shas party Passover gathering, April 2012. (photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flashh90)
Late Shas spirtual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (seated) and Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar during a Shas party Passover gathering, April 2012. (photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flashh90)

Shas party spirtual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef on Thursday signed Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar’s petition calling for action against state recognition of non-Orthodox rabbis of communities.

On Sunday, three weeks after a historic decision recommending that the State of Israel allow non-Orthodox rabbis to receive state funding, Amar harshly denounced the recommendation and called for an emergency meeting of rabbis to combat what he sees as a threat to Orthodox Judaism.

Although the decision has been made, and funding for the non-Orthodox rabbis will come from the Culture and Sport Ministry rather than the Religious Services Ministry, Amar and his colleagues are not planning to surrender but instead are gearing up for a protracted battle to maintain the current Orthodox status quo.

Amar told Radio Kol Barama, a Haredi radio station, on Sunday night that he sees the decision as a dangerous precedent that could damage the office of the chief rabbi of Israel, and that he plans to fight it as furiously as possible.

“We will come out loud and clear against this matter. The greatest danger for our generation is the danger of assimilation, and we need to be strong and steadfast in our fight. It is forbidden to remain silent, because there is nothing more serious than this measure,” said Amar.

The proposed conference of rabbis that Amar called for, reportedly to take place next week, will convene Orthodox rabbis from around the country to discuss the implications of the decision to fund Reform and Conservative clergy, and to propose ways to bring about a reversal of the ruling. Amar is reportedly hoping to present a united front against the decision.

During the course of the radio interview, Amar also slammed Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, who wrote the historic mandate, saying that he should have consulted with the Chief Rabbinate before making such a “reckless” decision, which could “uproot all the foundations of the Torah.”

The Jewish Federations of North America issued Wednesday a rebuke in response to the comments made by Amar, decrying what they described as Amar’s lack of respect for diversity: “Federations believe in a pluralistic, inclusive Jewish people and work hard to bring members of our people closer to their heritage. We know that the Chief Rabbi’s comments and language are completely rejected by the millions of Jewish people whom we represent from all streams, including our Orthodox brethren.”

The Knesset Finance Committee, chaired by MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism), has not yet approved the proposed funding process. Gafni, himself ultra-Orthodox, is opposed to the court decision, and spoke out last Tuesday during a stormy committee session against “the decision to give government funding to someone who is not defined by law as a rabbi and who was not ordained by the Chief Rabbinate.”

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, executive director of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, who was ejected from that same Finance Committee discussion of the funding for non-Orthodox rabbis for ridiculing his Orthodox colleagues, told Haaretz that Amar’s statements show “how far [the Chief Rabbinate] is isolated from the beating heart of the broader Israeli public which is tired of the Orthodox monopoly.” He called on Amar to respect the principles of democracy.

On May 29, the attorney general adopted the recommendation for non-Orthodox rabbis to receive state funding in response to a 2005 petition by American-born Reform Rabbi Miri Gold and the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) to the High Court.

Gold, the rabbi of Kibbutz Gezer, midway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, petitioned the Supreme Court seven years ago asking that she receive a state salary for her work as a municipal rabbi. Although Gold’s Orthodox colleagues receive a salary funded by Israeli taxpayers for their duties, the Gezer rabbi was paid privately.

Local councils provide religious services for their residents using government funds, but non-Orthodox clergy members were not welcome on the municipal committees, nor did they receive a state salary.

Although the Supreme Court ruled in the 1990s that there should be no barrier for Reform or Conservative rabbis who were elected to serve on local religious councils, Orthodox members of the councils were not amenable to sitting with non-Orthodox representatives, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

In Israel the Chief Rabbinate, a government institution which is run by the Orthodox establishment, is responsible for all aspects of religious life for Jewish citizens of Israel, from birth to marriage to death. Marriage ceremonies conducted inside Israel by non-Orthodox rabbis are not recognized by the state, and non-Orthodox conversions are invalid.

However, according to a survey which was conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) in 2009 and released in early 2012, more Israelis define themselves as Reform or Conservative than Haredi. Further, 61 percent of Israelis “agree that the Conservative and Reform movements should have equal status with the Orthodox in Israel.”

“Seventy percent of Israelis are seeking a different way to be Jewishly observant in the Jewish state. An Orthodox monopoly is bad not only for Judaism and for the State of Israel, but for Orthodoxy itself. This monopoly has stultified Orthodoxy,” IRAC’s Anat Hoffman said, noting gladly that Weinstein’s decision would allow Israelis to choose the way they observe Judaism.

Anat Hoffman reads from the Torah at Robinson's Arch near the Western Wall (photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Anat Hoffman reads from the Torah at Robinson's Arch near the Western Wall (photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90)

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