The head of Israel’s Reform Judaism movement [Rabbi Gilad Kariv] was thrown out of a Knesset panel session discussing state funding of Reform and Conservative rabbis on Tuesday, with the committee’s Haredi chairman saying such rabbis “didn’t exist” and calling them “clowns.” The fiery debate came after late last month Israel announced that it was prepared to recognise Reform and Conservative community leaders as rabbis and fund their salaries.


Rabbis belonging to either stream will be classified as “rabbis of non-Orthodox communities.” The attorney general advised the High Court that the state will begin equally financing non-Orthodox rabbis in regional councils and farming communities that are interested in doing so.

However, a hearing on the subject in the Knesset’s Finance Committee turned heated on Tuesday, culminating in the panel’s head, United Torah Judaism’s Moshe Gafni (pictured), ejection of Rabbi Gilad Kariv, director of Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, from the session.

According to Gafni, the move was prompted by continued disturbances by Kariv, including the Reform leader speaking without permission and making incendiary remarks.

The hearing was rife with harsh exchanges between Haredi MKs, including Gafni and Shas’ Minister for Religious ServicesYaakov Margi, and representatives of the Reform and Conservative movements. Opening the session, Gafni said that Reform and Conservative rabbis “did not exist,” calling them “clowns.”

Margi even went as far as to accuse the High Court justice who had presided over the hearing on the issue of impartiality, saying that they should have disqualified themselves over what he called personal interests.

Yizhar Hess, head of the Masorti Movement in Israel, accused Margi of “slinging filth at Supreme Court justices, and used his parliamentary legal immunity to cite a rumor he claims to have heard, according to which three justices presided over the session despite an apparent conflict of interests.”

“Minister Margi and MK Gafni, who have for years been in charges of allocating thousands of jobs for ultra-Orthodox rabbis, have been conducting themselves like a wronged Cossack and usually undeterred from injuring the courts,” Hess said, adding that it their behavior was “the height of audacity.”

by Yair Ettinger (Ha’aretz) and photo by Olivier Fitoussi