Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

14 Adar I 5765 - February 23, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Payment of Religious Council Workers and Religious Services — a Festering Problem

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

Public outrage is growing over the failure to pay religious council workers, who say they have had enough of the promises issued by the Prime Minister and Finance Ministry officials to pay their salaries in the near future while not the slightest progress has been made toward a solution.

Histadrut heads have decided to take up the struggle with the Finance Ministry, saying that in places like Bat Yam, Herzliya, Maaleh Adumim and Karnei Shomron religious council employees have not received their pay for four months. At other religious councils, such as Ohr Yehuda, Givat Ada, Ariel (some workers), Bnei Shimon, Rechovot, Yehud and Lod, salaries have not been paid for three months. In Jerusalem, the Gaza Coast, Metulla (advances only), Mizkeret Batya and Kiryat Gat salaries have not been paid for two months. Even in the least problematic places—Ohr Akiva, Ariel (non- elected workers), Bnei Brak, Beit She'an, Zichron Yaakov, Mevasseret Tzion and Kiryat Arba—salaries are one month behind schedule. A total of 700 of the country's 5,000 religious council workers have not been paid on time.

Religious council workers in Arad, Lod and Chatzor Haglilit began a strike, halting religious and burial services.

Tensions are extremely high in the Knesset State Control Committee, which has been discussing the prolonged crisis crippling religious services in Israel. All of the participants, both coalition and opposition members, lodged harsh criticism against the government's inability to provide minimal religious services. Although the government held a special meeting to address the problem, since then almost no progress has been made toward paying the salaries of rabbonim, religious council workers and mikveh workers.

State Comptroller Eliezer Goldberg announced he has decided to look into the issue of providing religious services and the government's failures in the matter, including the factors that led to the collapse of religious services. Committee Chairman Yuri Stern (HaIchud HaLeumi) asked the State Comptroller to include in his inquiry the decision- making process that led to the dismantling of the Religious Affairs Ministry, taking note of political appointments of Likud Center members and their friends and relatives to the religious councils.

Goldberg also lodged criticism against the state of affairs in religious services and demanded the matter be set straight. "Religious services are in need of root-canal treatment and anything else is merely a painkiller," he said. Turning to the rabbonim present at the meeting he said, "You are issuing a great and bitter cry that is certainly called for. It is unconscionable that employees do not receive their pay. There are no excuses for such a thing and none of them matter. First of all workers have to be paid their salaries, period."

HaRav Moshe Rauchberger, chairman of the Rabbinical Association, voiced the indignation of the rabbonim, many of whom have been rendered penniless. "Families are collapsing and nobody cares. This is truly a matter of dinei nefoshos. How can you allow such a thing to continue even one day longer? The government cut the religious services budget in the most scandalous way and the funding that remains is not even enough to pay the salaries. This is where the religious councils' obligation stems from. The local authorities' contributions were also cut proportionately because the law requires them to give according to what the government gives, and all this brought about a situation in which minimal religious services cannot be provided. Mikvehs are being closed and nobody is troubled by it. What is taking place is the devastation of religious services and the dam must be fixed before it's too late."

HaRav Dovid Shapira, the rov of Jerusalem's Beit Hakerem neighborhood and the secretary of the Rabbinical Association, said what is happening to religious services is "total and criminal neglect. Is this a nation of Jews or a nation of non- Jews?" he asked.

MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni was the most staunchly critical among the MKs. He surveyed at length the abuse done to religious services and the violated agreements regarding mikvo'os, cemeteries, rabbonim, religious council workers, money to suppliers, etc., saying, "I'm sick of talking about the matter. None of the problems associated with religious services have been solved. Recently an agreement was reached in the framework of the coalition agreement to address religious services, but in practice the agreement has not been honored. The Jewish Religious Services Law has not been implemented and what is happening in the area [of religious services] is anarchy, like in Third World nations, and perhaps this definition is even an insult to Third World nations."

Ilan Cohen, director of the Prime Minister's Office, who was placed in a position of great discomfort as the attacks continued, tried to defend against the onslaught by claiming the Prime Minister's Office is making every possible effort to solve the problem of religious services. He admitted not meeting the timetable but insisted the issue is highly complex. "A reform that will be presented to the government within three weeks [Note: i.e. 3 weeks from 7 Adar] has been formulated," he said. "According to the reform an authority will be set up to determine, for the first time in the history of the State, the standards and mandatory services the State is required to provide every citizen. A real revolution will take place in religious services."

He said the 2005 budget and the upcoming reform would provide realistic funding for religious services. Cohen also pledged to solve the problem of unpaid salaries within a matter of days, but committee members expressed skepticism in light of the numerous unmet promises already made to address the issue, including a government decision.

The Knesset Religious Lobby also discussed this issue and decided to demand the Prime Minister carry out the coalition agreement signed with UTJ by setting religious services in order.

Rabbi Gafni criticized the government's failure to coordinate with Degel HaTorah—as stipulated in the coalition agreement— on the reform slated to be presented in the near future.

Following his remarks, the members of the Religious Lobby decided to demand that the government prepare the reform in coordination with them and with the consent of the Religious Lobby, the rabbonim and representatives of the religious council workers.

Meir Schpiegler, responsible for religious services in the Prime Minister's Office, said one of the problems of funding the religious councils is the salaries of the pensioners, which constitutes 40 percent of the budget, and said the solution is to transfer pension payments to the State Employees Pension Department.

Religious Lobby members and representatives of the rabbonim present at the meeting voiced approval for this proposal, saying they would include it in their demands to put religious services in order.


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