Seth Farber
Rabbi and Social Activist
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Those lawless local rabbis

It's time for the Religious Services Minister to stop complaining and start enforcing the law

In his summary of his achievements as Minister of Religious Services, Shas MK Yaacov Margi pointed an accusing finger at some municipal rabbis saying that they take the law into their own hands. Though Margi didn’t give examples, allow me to, from my experience directing the ITIM hotline.

In Hedera, converts from the IDF still can’t register to get married, despite the Ministry’s insistence that they open files.

In Rishon Lezion, immigrants who have certification of Jewishness from rabbinical courts, are still rejected when they come to open a marriage file, despite the Ministry’s insistence that they open files.

In Petach Tikva, women still can’t give eulogies.

And the Chevra Kadisha in Netanya isn’t willing to bury people who donated their bodies to science in regular plots.

MK Margi is aware of these issues. In the first two cases, ITIM has turned to Israel’s Supreme Court and is now negotiating with the Ministry and the rabbinate to help immigrants register for marriage.

In the last case, ITIM launched a public campaign that yet so far has yielded results, with the Netanya Chevra Kadisha backtracking and admitting that every Israeli is entitled to a regular burial.

But the simple question still hovers: If MK Margi (from the Shas party) is the minister, why can’t he pressure the local rabbis to fall into line?

There is a procedure for disciplining local rabbis who won’t follow ministry guidelines. There is even a procedure for firing municipal rabbis. Before we went to the Supreme Court, we petitioned the Justice Minister, Yaacov Neeman to initiate proceedings against the municipal rabbi of Rishon.

Needless to say, we didn’t get a response.

The problem isn’t the local rabbis. The problem is the inability of the Minister of Religious Services or anyone else in government to enforce policies.

This may all change if we get a new minister. But even if we don’t, I would say that the time has come to get beyond instituting regulations; the time has come to enforce them.

About the Author
Rabbi Seth Farber is Founder and Director of ITIM, an organization committed to making Israel’s religious establishment respectful of and responsive to the diverse Jewish needs of the Jewish people, and a Founder and Director of Giyur K'Halacha, Israel's largest non-governmental conversion court network. He is a recipient of the Nefesh B'Nefesh Bonei Zion Prize, and the Israel Ministry of Aliyah & Integration's Prize for Outstanding Contribution to Israeli Society.