The other week, our fellow board member, historian Jerome Chanes, published a well-informed essay in New York’s Jewish Week newspaper on the growing numbers and power of the Haredim, the utlra-Orthodox, in Israel. Also in the same paper’s “Israel Now” supplement is “What’s The ‘Jewish’ In Jewish State?” by the CEO of the New Israel Fund, Daniel Sokatch, on the problem that non-Orthodox Jews (a majority of Israel’s population) do not have full religious equality.
But it should be noted that non-Orthodox rabbis have just won a double-barreled advance for religious pluralism (albeit limited) with the Attorney General’s ruling to grant a Reform rabbi the right to a state salary, coupled with another Reform rabbi taking membership in a regional religious council, pursuant to a 2009 High Court decision—rights heretofore granted only to Orthodox rabbis. The other articles in this special section also deal with the issue of diversity or the lack of same in how Judaism is regarded in Israel.
I am not absolutely certain of rights accorded to non-Jewish religious communities, but (as with non-Orthodox Jews) there is no restriction on the right of worship for non-Jews, and I believe (according to this 2009 US State Dept. report) that officially-recognized non-Jewish religious streams may also benefit from government-funded clergy. But I could not get confirmation on this last point from Israel’s embassy in Washington, D.C., which responded to me in an awkwardly-worded email from the “Assistant to The Director of Public Affairs,” which does not reflect well on the embassy’s work (my corrections are in brackets): …. “Since our focus is more on foreign policy maybe your answer [question] can be answered by the Internal Affair[s] Office of Israel.”
There is no “Internal Affairs Office” that I know of in Israel, but it’s even odd if this official is referring to the Interior Ministry; although its Hebrew name includes the word, “Misrad” (office), its portfolio includes “local rule, citizenship and residency, identity cards … and student and entry visas.” It would have made more sense for her to refer me to the Ministry of Religious Services.
Be that as it may, our organization shares the view of Israel’s Meretz party for a complete separation of religion and state. We regard the legitimacy of Israel as a “Jewish state’ to be a function of the Jews as a historic and distinct people rather than a religious group.