New IDI Study Calls for Breaking Up the Religious Councils
Recommendation: Transform Them into Professional Departments in The Local Authorities
A new study conducted by Ariel Finkelstein under the auspices of the Israel Democracy Institute’s Center for Religion, Nation and State, found grave failures in how religious councils are operating. The study provides an overview of the religious services being provided by religious councils and their failures in recent years.
Among the failures cited: There is an inconsistent model of representation being used and, in many cases, the Religious Services Minister is appointing people close to him to head the various councils. Religious councils lack transparency, their services are low quality and there are grave violations of policy.
THIS STUDY WAS AMONG THE SUBJECTS DISCUSSED AT IDI'S 70TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE STATUS QUO EVENT. FOR FULL EVENT DETAILS AND SUMMARY, CLICK HERE.
More detailed findings:
HARM IN REPRESENTATION AND APPOINTMENT OF PEOPLE CLOSE TO THE RELIGIOUS SERVICES MINISTER
While the law stipulates that within a year of a municipal election, a religious council should be comprised of nine to 31 people based on the size of the municipality as of November 2016, three years after the most recent municipal elections, 57 percent of the councils were not appointed accordingly. In most incidents, two religious council heads were appointed (1 aide) by the Religious Services Minister, while ignoring the element of representation defined by the law.
DISCREPANCIES IN APPOINTMENTS
The study found that there is a 63% discrepancy between the appointments approved according to the Religious Services Ministry and what is happening, according to the Finance Ministry. For instance, the study showed that while the report of the wage director of the Finance Ministry showed 3,417 religious council workers, the data given to the standardization committee within the Religious Services Ministry, which has the authority to approve appointments, showed only 2,176 workers. Further, in Ashdod, where the Religious Services Ministry reported there are 45 employees of the local religious council, the Finance Ministry reported 136. And, in Jerusalem, the Religious Services Ministry reported 289 staff, while the Finance Ministry reported 392.
The study showed a lack of coordination between the number of employees reported by the Finance Ministry and the Religious Services Ministry, indicating that the Religious Services Ministry asked to add additional staff, was denied, but appointed people to those roles anyway.
TRANSPARENCY AND ACCESIBILITY
Only a fifth of the religious councils operate an independent website; 29 percent of the religious councils have no official information available to the public on the Internet even though every Jewish local authority has a website.
Even when there is accessibility, it is partial and the information available on the Internet is sparse and not credible. For instance, out of 93 religious councils that presented information on the Internet, only 68 percent included the hours in which they are open. Although there is information about 43 religious councils on the Religious Services Ministry’s website, half the time the information about the hours the councils are open does not align to the information on the religious councils’ websites. In addition, 22 religious councils have no email account for the public to use for contact. And, there is no unanimity in the financial reports between the councils.
LACK OF FUNCTIONING
Reports by the comptroller of the local authorities have indicated consistently over the years that most of the councils don’t meet at least 10 times a year, as they are supposed to by law.
The study checked specific services that the councils provide and found that, for instance, the kosher certification system suffers from conflicts of interest, lack of unanimity in the fees charges and administrative discrepancies. The study also found that only 35 percent of kosher supervision supervisors have training for their roles. Likewise, most of the mikvehs don’t have the business licenses required. Further, there are not set criteria to guide burial services, which raises concerns that discounts were given to people close to the authorities.
Since different reforms over the last years have failed, and most of the budgets of religious councils come from local authorities and not from the Religious Services Ministry, researcher Finkelstein and Dr. Shuki Friedman, Director of IDI’s Center for Religion, Nation and State, recommend dismantling the religious councils and having religious services be provided through the formation of a new religious department in each local authority, just as local authorities have departments for education and welfare. These departments would be obligated by government regulations, and would still receive resources from the Ministry of Religious Services.
According to Finkelstein and Freidman, this recommendation would solve the lack of representation in that the religious council would be directly subordinate to the city council, which itself is reflective of the character of the local population. Similarly, the proposal will improve professionalism, because this department would be subject to administrative rules, oversight and tenders for appointments.
For a full copy of the study (in Hebrew), please contact Maayan Hoffman at +972-50-718-9742 or email@example.com. Interviews available.