Regev Responds


A Free Market for Beliefs

A Hiddush program for privatizing religious services and eliminating the monopoly on them.

Inspectors from the Chief Rabbinate checking the kashrut certificate at a stand at the 'Te'amim'  festival at the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem. 28.03.2011. Photo: Robin Salvadori, Flash 90 Inspectors from the Chief Rabbinate checking the kashrut certificate at a stand at the 'Te'amim' festival at the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem. 28.03.2011. Photo: Robin Salvadori, Flash 90

On May 30th the "Calcalist" newspaper published a project which analyzed the possibility of privatizing religious services. This is a project which Hiddush submitted to the newspaper. If there is one area in which free choice and the elimination of a monopoly is necessary, religious services is it. This kind of competition will bring to a free, open and diverse market faiths and ideas provided by various streams of Judaism. They will do this at various levels of orthodoxy and zeal, and at different prices.

The states to become a regulator, which will supervise the quality of services, reliability and prices, but under no circumstances insist on conditions of orthodox halacha. In this way the state will save hundreds of millions of shekels and will cease to fund hundreds of unneeded political patronage jobs. Another saving will be the great improvement in the relationship to Judaism, which will no longer be identified with a ruthless and corrupt monopoly. Nevertheless, care must be taken that privatization does not lead to a rise in the price of religious services or harm their quality.

Rabbinate – The institution of the Rabbinate should be eliminated for the sake of the country. In the past there was a need for rabbis who worked on behalf of the state. Today there are countless community and yeshiva rabbis and there is absolutely no need for rabbis to be subsidized with duplicate salaries. In any case, the truly important rabbis actually work outside of the rabbinate and those in the rabbinate are their envoys. The situation in which the chief rabbis are the 3rd rate ones makes a mockery of the Rabbinate. Elected (unpaid) councils of rabbis should be set up which will give halachic advice to local authorities as needed.

Kashrut – The situation in which the state still provides a basic economic service like kashrut is completely absurd. And particularly when at the same time more than a few private bodies enjoying far greater authority are operating in parallel with it. The public disadvantaged by this is the majority that wants kashrut, but doesn't want it subjected to unrelated considerations such as keeping the sabbath or modest dress. The state should become a regulator which would give permits to kashrut organizations from all streams of Judaism. The regulator would not deal with the conditions for kashrut, but rather enforce the reliability of the organizations and make sure they declare their policies and abide by them. There would be organizations which gave kashrut

If there is one area in which free choice and the elimination of a monopoly is necessary, religious services is it

certifications to places which keep the sabbath or don't, are mahedrin or not, offer entertainment and dancing or don't. The public will choose. Everyone will demand fair hiring for kashrut inspectors.

Marriage registry – in the present absurd situation the state is outsourcing civil marriage to Cyprus. We should make the transition to civil marriage on Israeli soil. These marriages could be performed in courts and city halls, but also by private marriage registrars licensed by the state. Rabbis and non-rabbis. Those registering will pay a fee which will fund the costs of registering the marriage.

Conversion – The state has failed completely in the national challenge of converting immigrants from the former Soviet Union. The monopoly of the Chief Rabbinate on conversion courts creates an impassable barrier. The procedure for conversion is already privatized, but only to organizations which prepare for Orthodox conversion. The privatization of conversion courts could lead to a breakthrough which the public has been waiting for about 20 years. The state must become the regulator of conversion, allowing every recognized Jewish community to set up courses for conversion and conversion training. The state will not dictate how to convert, but only who can convert (for example, those with resident status).

Burial – The burial societies are an appropriate model for privatization. But this privatization has been granted only to the Orthodox. In order for real privatization to exist there must be competition an alternative civil burial law must be in force, with a state inspector seriously pursuing cases of non-compliance. Civil burial societies should be established, as well as civil cemeteries. For-profit private burial societies should also be allowed to operate, as they do abroad, to provide burial related services. At the same time, inspection of the provision of service and prices should be increased, in order to avoid price gouging.

Mikvas – This is a very unprofitable institution and it is doubtful that it could be privatized.

Torah lessons – Torah lessons for the Torah observant haredi public are comparable to entertainment, sport and culture for the secular public, and therefore there is no problem in their receiving state support. They are in fact already privatized today, but the providers are political and proselytizing organizations. The subsidy of political organizations, for example Shas's El Ha-Ma'ayan and Agudat Israel's Degel Yerushalayim should be avoided, as well as subsidy of proselytizing organizations such as Arakhim and Chabad. Instead, we should transfer the funding to organizations without political or missionary objectives. From a report in "Calcalist".

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