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 programs 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.

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  • The way to go about it would be for all Reform and Conservative Jews in Israel to stop paying taxes. That’ll be more effective than arguing with theocrats.

  • More evidence why Israel needs a written constitution– and more evidence why it doesn’t have one.

  • I fail to see any conflict here between the court and it’s interpretation by this ministry. they never clarified what Jewish was. speaking objectively… it needs to be elaborated.

  • Noah: A clear example is that the court said that the Ministry must fund conversions and conversion courses offered by Reform and Conservative institutions and Margi has said that the Ministryw ould not do so as those institutions do not follow halacha. In my opinion, that is a clear violation of the ruling.

  • Dahlia:
    How is the system of checks and balances supposed to function?
    – – – – – – – – – –
    … you mean, when the Supreme Court is a self-appointed cabal?

    I quite agree.

    I realize you’re an Israeli – and therefore your understanding of terms like “rule of law” and “checks and balances” have been deeply distorted by Israel’s Bolshevik secular elite – but even you should be able to get the irony in your plaint:

    maybe these individuals believe themselves to be elected monarchs who may rule over the public as “benign” dictators.
    – – – – – – – – – – –

    Indeed.
    Who exactly is doing that, Dahlia?
    Who exactly are the “benign dictators” in this story?

    BIG HINT: whatever you think of Rabbi Margi’s opinions – he’s where he is because his party got elected by the people.

    And the Supremes?

    We just saw a few weeks ago how our Supreme Court functions – more like a papal nuncio or mafia family.

    This incident is part of a loooong story in which the secular elite – barricaded in the courts, wielding power won totally undemocratically – tries to impose its will on The Rest of Us – the majority of Israelis who time and again have indicated that they really don’t want to import the sectarian split that had such disastrous results in the diaspora.

    So – how about we start the “checks and balances” thang by prying the “benign dictators” out of our court system?

    – or at least disregarding them when they try to extend their authority to overrule the Knesset… which for all its faults is still the most representative and democratic element of Israel’s government.

    Instead, you seem to be siding with the “dictators”.

    How does that work – other than you possibly agreeing with the “progressive” view?

    I know that for most Israelis, phrases like “rule of law” have been used by the “progressive” minority to impose its will on the “primitive, fundamentalist” majority.

    But I assure you it really means the opposite – that however convinced you are of the justness of your opinion, you must accept the will of the majority, even if you disagree.

    And if you’re not up to that – kindly spare us the progressive – and empty – puffery about a “rule of law” that only seems to work in one direction….

  • Ben-David,

    Shas is not the majority. Never have been and hopefully never will be. They have control of the Ministry by blackmail. I suspect most of Likud is not happy with many of Shas’s actions and statements.

    I personally resent Shas telling me how to practice my Judaism. You may consider the Supremes “benign dictators”. Shas is worse. And they and their Haredi soulmates who refuse to speak out when children attack police and incite violence in Mea Shearim? They don’t remotely believe in anything except what their Rabbis said.

    Apparently, these dictators are ok in your book. This mafia rules with a hand that makes the Supremes seem like amateurs.

  • Israel needs a better political system. An unwritten constitution begs to be abused. Is a parliament really good for the country? Why is this religious bigot being allowed to stand above the law?

  • Good golly. This is a very complicated situation. Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni’s statements are not just impolitic, they are unnecessarily offensive and disrespectful. However Dan, “majority” in Israel is an interesting term. No single party has ever garnered a majority of the votes. All of Israel’s governments have been cobbled together out of coalitions. Shas does not engage in blackmail nor are they dictators or a mafia. I think it would be interesting to note that most of Shas’s supporters aren’t even Haredi. Shas was born out of Sephardic disaffection with government after government that marginalized Sephardic interests.

    The special interests that benefited from government largess in the past are not seen as a mafia by critics of Shas. For instance, the highly secular Kibbuts movement who in the 80s managed to secure massive loans and funding from the government even though they only represented less than 5% of the population. Such shenanigans I believe ultimately destroyed the kibbutz movement as mounting debt forced them to privatize, sell off their land and essentially destroy the ideological underpinnings of their movement.

    Similarly, while Shas for many represents a vote against “the man,” Shas merely functions to continue the marginalization of Sephardic voices in the political process as that legitimate agenda is instead sacrificed for the sake of narrow Haredi interests like religious matters and partisan educational funding. The existence of Shas reduces the likelihood of a Sephardic Jew becoming Prime Minister any time soon. In that respect Shas is perfectly in line with the interests of the still powerful traditional elites that run this country and the price paid for that is ceding control over religious matters that most secular power brokers don’t give a rat’s ass about.

    That having been said, most Sephardic Jews, regardless of their level of religious practice, do not care about the rights of reform and conservative Jews. They do indeed see these movements as foreign, illegitimate and inauthentic. The same can be said about many Israelis who again, despite their lack of religious practice, always choose “real” Orthodox Rabbis and institutions when they do engage in religious activity like weddings, bar mitzvas and high holiday services. The synagogue they don’t attend is invariably Orthodox.

    The Religious Affairs Ministry needs to follow the rulings of the Supreme Court, but the ultimate solution is for more Reform and Conservative Jews to move to Israel and have their voices heard. As you all know, I do not believe in these religious movements, but I will welcome their adherents here with open arms. Mamish open arms.

  • We still are a country of laws and where, ck, all your points are correct in regards to Shas and the feelings of the broader Israeli public, neither they or their Askenazic soulmates condemn violence, and worse, in their own community if it suits their objectives. Until they do, they have no creditability with me on any issue.

    And political blackmail? I respectfully disagree. I think Shas could be called “masters of the universe”. Though, they are surely not alone on this.

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