Israel to pay non-Orthodox rabbis

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Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel
Image caption,
Until now, the State has only paid the salaries of Orthodox rabbis

Israel has agreed to tacitly recognise for the first time rabbis from non-Orthodox backgrounds and pay the wages of those serving communities.

Until now, only the wages of Orthodox rabbis have been paid by the religious services ministry via local councils.

Non-Orthodox communities employing a rabbi had to pay them with funds raised through the payment of membership dues.

It follows complaints that one strand of Judaism was being given preferential treatment over others in Israel.

The minister of religious services said he was unhappy with the move.

'Important breakthrough'

In 2005, a petition was filed in the Supreme Court by Rabbi Miri Gold of Kibbutz Gezer and the Reform Movement in Israel, which demanded equal financing of non-Orthodox religious services.

A panel of Supreme Court judges recently asked Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to reconsider the existing rules.

Mr Weinstein agreed the State would recognise "a rabbi of a non-Orthodox community" and that they would be entitled to financial assistance equal to the wages paid to Orthodox rabbis.

The assistance will be paid via the regional councils by the ministry for culture and sport, rather than the ministry for religious services.

The decision is reportedly currently limited to regional councils and farming communities, and those listed as "rabbis of a non-Orthodox community" will not have any authority over matters of Halakha (Jewish religious law).

The head of the Reform Movement, Rabbi Gilad Kariv, said the attorney general's decision was "an important breakthrough in the efforts to advance freedom of religion in Israel", Haaretz newspaper reported.

"This is the first, but significant, step toward comparing the status of all streams of Judaism in Israel and we hope the state will indeed ensure the court's commitments are fully applied," he said.

"We expect that the state's agreement to recognise the community activities of Reform rabbis will lead to additional steps that will annul the deep discrimination of non-Orthodox streams in Israel."

The BBC's John McManus says this decision only extends those rights to 15 such rabbis - including Rabbi Gold - who work for regional councils, but the number may increase.

It could also have implications for marriage, he adds. At the moment, Jews of all backgrounds can only have a religious marriage conducted by Orthodox rabbis.