JERUSALEM (Aug. 8)
A committee appointed by the Israeli government to review the function and performance of local religious councils has recommended sweeping changes that could give new legitimacy — and funding — to the Reform and Conservative movements here.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has asked Deputy Religious Affairs Minister Raphael Pinhasi to review the findings and recommend within 60 days which should be implemented.
Though not all are expected to be accepted, some of the changes could depoliticize and otherwise radically alter the publicly supported, Orthodox-controlled religious establishment.
The councils oversee the gamut of religious services, from marriage to burial, from mikvehs to synagogue maintenance, from kashrut to the supply of prayerbooks and prayer shawls.
Among the most far-reaching suggestions is for Reform and Conservative institutions to receive funding from the local religious councils for their religious operations on the same basis as Orthodox and haredi (fervently Orthodox) institutions. Currently, while they are eligible to apply, they receive little such funding, if any.
The committee also has recommended allowing for Reform and Conservative representation on local councils, where it is currently barred.
“We did not make a decision as to the status of the Reform and Conservative movements or call for their official recognition,” said Isaac Herzog, a member of the review committee.
“But we enabled them in a technical sense to enjoy equality,” he said. “This is a government body, and all citizens are equal. This removes the monopoly of one stream (Orthodoxy) over religious services.”
‘NEGLECTED FOR YEARS’
“We have been neglected for years” by the religious councils, explained P’nina Libni, spokeswoman for the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism’s Religious Action Committee. In their eyes, she said, “we have not existed.”
“I think the government will accept some of the recommendations, and that will make a difference,” said Libni.
Other proposals include streamlining the system by eliminating many local councils and consolidating them into regional councils, reducing the number of members on the councils who are volunteers and radically cutting the number of publicly paid council directors.
The committee, which was headed by former Justice and Religious Affairs Minister Haim Zadok, also called for the reorganization of the Kosher certification system in the wake of widespread abuse and corruption.
The reorganization would entail issuing new, standard criteria for the kosher certification of establishments and the formation of a public corporation to pay Israel’s 12,000 kashrut supervisors. Currently these supervisors are paid by the very establishments they oversee.
Also key is a proposal to reform and standardize burial rules and practices, which have long been a target of complaints.
“The current system is wasteful and not well-managed,” said Herzog. “There is no accountability, and no one has ever defined the services people are entitled to.”