When a law is made, or a ruling is handed down by the Supreme Court, all citizens are meant to follow it. Yet, a certain governmental agency in Israel has decided to ignore this basic principle of democratic nations. Israel’s Religious Affairs Ministry has decided that it is above the law.
Earlier this year, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the Ministry of Religious Affairs must fund non-Orthodox institutions if they provide Jewish services. The specific case was about the funding of conversion programsÂ of non-Orthodox institutions, such as those of the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel, yet may easily be extrapolated to include other Jewish services. Despite this ruling, religious Affairs Minister Ya’akov Margi stated last week that state-funding for religious services will only be given to Orthodox institutions, and that the Reform and Conservative movements ought to fund their own services. Margi stated that, “According to the law for Jewish Religious Services, the Chief Rabbinate is the sole body responsible for providing religious services. And they do this in accordance with Halacha. Since the Conservative and the Reform do not conform to Halacha, they are not eligible for state funds. Nor do they have the right to use existing mikvaot and synagogues.” However, it would appear that the true sentiment behind this is, to quote Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni, “The Reform Movement is not a legitimate form of Judaism. [They] are a bunch of treacherous backstabbers to Judaism. They are jokers who operate without hierarchy and without rules.”
Natan Sharansky, head of the Jewish Agency sent a letter to the Ministry of Religious Affairs saying the following:
“I was surprised to read your statements in The Jerusalem Post in which you claim that only institutions that are run in accordance with Halacha are eligible for Religious Affairs Ministry funding. I wish to remind you that the Religious Affairs Ministry is not a halachic body and is responsible for providing religious services to all citizens of the state of Israel from all religions, streams and congregations who need these services.
The Religious Affairs Ministry must ensure religious freedom and prevent infringement of citizens’ rights in this field. The Jewish Agency calls on the Religious Affairs Ministry to fulfill its responsibility to all the religious congregations in Israel and to foster mutual respect and brotherhood among different religious approaches and beliefs. By doing so the ministry will deepen appreciation and respect for Jewish tradition.”
I would like to congratulate Mr. Sharansky on this action. But more so, I would like to add my utter contempt for the statement by the Minister of Religious Affairs and his associates. The question at stake is not whether these individuals believe that either Reform or Conservative Judaism are “legitimate.” Rather, it is a question as to whether a governmental institution will abide by the rulings of its own Supreme Court. Debate and even disagreement is legitimate, but this should not be demonstrated through contempt for the court. If rulings by the Court are to be ignored at will, then what is the point of the Court? How is the system of checks and balances supposed to function? Then again, maybe these individuals would prefer that there be no Court, no system of checks and balances, no democracy; maybe these individuals believe themselves to be elected monarchs who may rule over the public as “benign” dictators. It would appear that such statements indicate that Margi and his compatriots see themselves as above the law.