Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Charedi World

25 Teves 5759 - Jan. 13, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







High Court Rules That Haifa Religious Council Must Meet; Rabbi Ravitz Protests

By Arye Zisman and M. Plaut

The High Court ruled on Monday that the Haifa religious council must convene within a week including its Reform and Conservative members. The decision was protested by the Israeli religious community, led by MK Rabbi Avrohom Ravitz. The Torah observant delegates of the council are planning to boycott the meeting, so that the only ones present at the Religious Council will be the chairman and the non-religious delegates.

The Reform and Conservative in Israel, whose numbers are minuscule, have been waging a battle in Israel's courts for years to be allowed to sit on the country's Religious Councils which have the responsibility for disbursing the State's budgetary support of organized religion. Though their insignificant numbers give them no basis for asserting the right to representation on the councils to meet their own religious needs, they are backed by the anti-religious community, led by Meretz, which is a significant presence in many cities and asserts that the Reform and Conservative represent their "religious needs."

In Haifa they sent several delegates to the council. The rabbonim and the Ministry of Religions did not convene the council. Some months ago, the High Court ordered it to convene. When it did not do so, the Reform went back to court.

Last week, the chairman of Haifa's Religious Council, Mr. Yitzchok Getz, sent letters to the members of the council to convene it. The staff of the Religious Affairs Ministry claimed that Getz had no authority to convene the council, since it hadn't been convened during the thirty day period in which it was originally ordered to do so by the High Court.

Religious Affairs Minster, Eli Suissa, canceled the meeting, and sent a letter saying this to the members of the council. However on Monday the High Court met and canceled Suissa''s cancellation. The High Court issued an unequivocal order to the head of the Religious Council of Haifa to convene the council within seven days. The justices of the High Court were expressed their dissatisfaction over the delay in the convening of the religious council, and ordered the Religious Affairs Minister to pay the petitioners legal expenses of 30,000 shekels.

In the arguments before the High Court, the government claimed that the chairman of the council did not convene it within the thirty day was period in which he was ordered to do so, and therefore the Religious Affairs Minister took over and he in turn decided to convene the council only after the Religious Council Law is passed in the Knesset. In their verdict, justices of the High Court, Mishoel Cheshin, Yitzchok Zamir and Dorit Beinish criticize the decision of Religious Affairs Minister Eli Suissa, and the interpretation that was given to the law by the government.

The judges noted that "until Suissa's announcement, Getz behaved like a loyal public servant and sought to convene the religious council, but then he canceled the meeting due to Suissa's instructions." They determined that Getz has the authority to convene the council. They also criticized the Attorney General, Eliakim Rubinstein, for not having issued an unequivocal directive to the Religious Affairs Minister, clarifying that the Minister is not authorized to prevent the religious council from convening.

Officials the Religious Affairs Ministry were upset that Getz rushed to send the letters to the members of the council announcing the meeting even though, they said, he had no obligation to do so. They said that Getz could have refrained from sending such letters due to his current illness, and then the authority would have been transferred to the Religious Affairs Minister.

The chairman of the Finance Committee, Rabbi Avrohom Ravitz said, that the High Court has once more proved that regarding religious matters, it is prepared to twist its own laws and rulings. "It has become clear that Justice Cheshin will soon launch a one man battle against organized religious life in Israel," he added

Rabbi Ravitz noted that the amendment to the Religious Council Law should be passed quickly, so that the High Court will be neutralized on this matter. "We will do everything we can to prevent the Reform from gaining a foothold here, and from undermining the foundations of Judaism," he stressed.

Observers said that it is likely that the Torah observant representatives will not come to the meeting of the religious council, and thus only the chairman and a few other members, including the two controversial representatives, will be in the meeting room. It will be impossible to reach decisions at such a limited forum, and the convening of the council will thus be postponed in practice to a later date.

The Reform yesterday asked Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein to order the convening of councils with their representatives in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Arad and Kiryat Tivon.

The Chief Rabbi of Haifa, Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen said that this isn't only Haifa's problem, and therefore the Council of the Chief Rabbinate should determine how the chairman of religious councils and their members must behave.


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