Israel’s attorney general, Yehudah Weinstein, has spoken. From now on, he said, Masorti and Reform rabbis who serve communities will be paid by the Israeli government, just as their Orthodox colleagues are now paid. Finally, after 64 years since its founding, the State of Israel has recognized the non-Orthodox rabbinate. Let us all sing for joy.
The euphoria over the attorney general’s decision may be a bit too premature. To begin with, it actually means that the State of Israel does not recognize the legitimacy of the non-Orthodox rabbis as rabbis. They will be listed as “rabbis of non-Orthodox communities,” which is very specific wording. Orthodox rabbis are listed as rabbis, period. Weinstein is hoping that the wording will satisfy Israel’s Supreme Court without actually changing anything substantive in the state’s religious favoritism.
He also probably is hoping that the “compromise” will satisfy the Orthodox members of the ruling coalition that nothing substantive has changed, because Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu would like to hold on to as broad a coalition as he can.
Besides, the prime minister has other “religious” headaches to deal with, including what to do about drafting charedi men into the military, how to counteract gender discrimination in the public domain, and the evacuation of the Ulpana neighborhood of Beit El. The attorney general’s decision may prove to be one headache too many for Bibi. Merely because the state’s highest legal officer has spoken does not mean the state will pay heed.
The fact that the attorney general acted under pressure from the Supreme Court does not mean anything, either. One thing that should be obvious to everyone is that Israel’s elected government is just as prone to thumbing its nose at the rule of law as it is in proudly proclaiming it as proof that Israel’s democracy is alive and well. Israel does have an independent judiciary. Its government just chooses when not to obey its decrees.
The attorney general has offered half a loaf, and the Masorti and Reform rabbinates in Israel are glad to take it in hand. It remains to be seen whether or how the government will go along.