Religion and State in Israel

Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah creates a framework that offers all Jewish Israelis the opportunity to live according to the religious lifestyle that speaks to them.

·         Developing mechanisms that allow communities to shape their own religious guidelines and services.

·         Effecting change in the administration of religious sites, institutions, and services. This includes efforts to decentralize the problematic mechanisms governing Kashrut in the country.

·         Sitting on government committees and composing bills for presentation at Knesset on the topics of Shabbat in the public sphere, Kashrut, and the responsibilities of the local authorities.

·         Raising awareness amongst Members of Knesset, government officials, lay leaders, rabbinic figures, and the general public about the need for a religious framework that is more democratic and open.

·         Raising awareness amongst the general public about the alternatives to the current state of affairs vis-à-vis the administration of religious services.

·         Constant vigilance and immediate responses to all attacks on the democratic nature of the State of Israel.

The Democratic Communal Model:

 Changing the Relationship between Religion and State in Israel

The goal of the Communal Model is to offer all Jewish Israelis the opportunity to live according to the religious lifestyle that speaks to them. By democratizing the Chief Rabbinate, we can give the different communities the opportunity to shape their religious guidelines and services in a way that is much closer to their beliefs. This is augmented by changes on the institutional and governmental level; once new procedures are put into place in the administration of religious sites and institutions, more voices will be heard in decision-making processes, creating a Jewish Israel that is more democratic and open.

Throughout its many years of activity, Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah has been at the forefront of the struggle to define Israel’s religious nature. The organization has been involved in any number of specific issues, attempting to find a middle ground that could be acceptable for all Jewish Israeli communities. Over the years, we have worked with such topics as prenuptial agreements to help stem the tragic occurrence of women chained to marriages; conversion; Shabbat in the public sphere; burial; public transportation on Shabbat; refusal to obey orders in military situations; encouraging citizens to pay taxes; mikvahs; social justice; conscription of young women to the army; and women in the public sphere. Very often, these initial efforts grew into entire organizations dedicated to one cause, and we were pleased to serve as their first home.

However, over the past few years, we have begun to work on a broader level, hoping to effect a change in the national rabbinic system. As such, we have developed the “Communal Model,” a program that removes the authority over religious services from the Chief Rabbinate and places it in the hands of different communities.

The Communal Model operates on a number of levels, including legal measures, advocacy, raising awareness, and creating a model for communities. The program hopes to effect a broad change, working from within the system to create an improved model for religious services and a greater understanding of the differential needs of religious communities.

The Communal Model aims to transform the current religious services using a two-pronged approach:

  • Turning over the power and some of the budget for religious services to each community, giving them the ability to set their own standards and create a system that is meaningful for them.
  • Changing current practices in administering sacred sites and institutions. Whereas at present these are controlled by haredi factions, our aim is to create new mechanisms and procedures whereby representatives from a much broader spectrum would be included in decision making, taking into account the needs and desires of the greater community and making these sites more open and welcoming to all.

Our media campaigns can be seen here and here.

At present a pilot of the Communal Model is being held in the Zevulun regional council. Staff is working with the regional council and communities to create the mechanism by which they will make decisions about religious services once the budget is transferred to them. To learn more about the communal model and its success, please click here.

Furthermore, legislation has been drafted that will transforms the Communal Model from a theoretical one to a practical one – on the national level. The communal model, once presented as a bill in Knesset, will be a starting point; while it no doubt will encounter resistance and not be accepted in its entirety, its elements can then be introduced over time as legislation and become binding on the national level, effecting a massive change in the way religious services run in the country.

Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah is grateful to have the UJA-Federation of New York as a partner in this project.

לוגו פדרציית ניו יורק

Our efforts have brought the issues of religion and state to the fore, bringing about exciting changes.

  • Due to our appeal to the Supreme Court about the exclusion of women and various religious populations from the process of selecting rabbis, the state has decided that no new rabbis will be appointed until new policies are put into place. The Ministry of Religious Services is currently formulating its response to the appeal.
  • As a result of our lobbying, conference, and media campaign, for the first time in the state’s history, the “Status Quo,” which dictates that the religious nature of the state will remain unaltered, was not mentioned in the coalition agreement.
  • The Chief Rabbinate’s refusal to accept Rabbi Avi Weiss’s testimony regarding the Jewishness of his congregants brought the question of the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly on the question of “Who Is a Jew” to the forefront. We are proud to be representing Rabbi Weiss in his legal battle against the Israeli rabbinate, and are pleased that the rabbinate has seen reason; more importantly, the media attention surrounding the case that we were able to generate highlighted the larger problem.