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Israel Cabinet Ministries: Ministry of Religious Services

236 Jaffa Road, P.O.B. 13059
91130 Jerusalem
Tel. (02) 5388605

Functions and Structure

The Ministry provides religious services to the population of Israel and deals with all matters related to the provision of religious services. It carries out its function through central and local units, in cooperation with the local authorities.

The Ministry discharges the following functions:

  • Appointment of religious councils, pursuant to the law; covering 40% of the shortfall (expenditures in excess of revenues) in the approved budgets for religious facilities and services, monitoring budget implementation, specification of uniform operating plans and procedures;

  • Financial assistance to yeshivas to support Torah study, renovation and construction of physical facilities, and support of Torah institutions;

  • Planning and financial assistance for the construction and renovation of synagogues and ritual baths;

  • Maintaining public order, supervising, protecting, and guarding Jewish holy places;

  • Planning activities to teach Torah to the general public, promoting religious outreach activities, and supporting organizations engaged in disseminating religious information;

  • Organizing, implementing, and participating in religious celebrations and fostering the tradition of the Jewish religious way of life;

  • Fostering religious ties with Diaspora Jewry;

  • Certifying the observance of kashruth in public and government institutions;

  • Helping to maintain the religious services of the various non-Jewish groups in Israel and dealing with their concerns;

  • Supplementary religious education for underprivileged youth in depressed neighborhoods;

  • Providing ritual articles to new immigrants, educational institutions, and indigent students;

  • Supporting the Chief Rabbinate;

  • Managing the rabbinical courts.

Chief Rabbinate

The Chief Rabbinate is recognized by law as the supreme halakhic and spiritual authority for the Jewish people in the State of Israel. The Chief Rabbinate Council assists the two chief rabbis, who alternate in its presidency. It has legal and administrative authority to organize religious arrangements for Israel's Jews. It also responds to halakhic questions submitted by Jewish public bodies in the Diaspora. The Council sets, guides, and instructs those agencies subject to its authority concerning their activities and scope.


Religious Councils

The Religious Council in each community is the principal agency representing the Ministry in providing religious services to the public. They are assisted by the local and neighborhood rabbis. The councils supervise kashruth observance in their jurisdiction and maintain departments for marriages, synagogues, ritual baths, Torah classes, etc. Except in the large cities, they also provide burial services. There are currently more than 170 religious councils in Israel.

Religious councils operate pursuant to the Religious Services Law, which defines the manner of establishing religious councils, their authority, and their budgetary sources. A religious council has the same number of members as the local-authority council, with representatives of all segments of the population who are interested in the provision of religious needs.

Religious council candidates are nominated 45% by the Minister of Religious Affairs, 45% by the local authority, and 10% by the local rabbinate.

Religious Courts

The Rabbinical Courts are part of the State judicial system. They have exclusive jurisdiction over marriage and divorce by Jews and have parallel competence with district courts in matters of personal status, alimony, child support, custody, and inheritance. Religious court verdicts are implemented and enforced - as for the civil court system - by the police, bailiff's office, and other agencies.

Rabbinical Department

The Rabbinical Department has administrative authority over local rabbis. It is charged with seeing that every city, town, and moshav has one or more rabbis to provide guidance and spiritual leadership and perform various religious rites. To this end, the Department maintains links with the local and religious authorities throughout the country, helps them approve the budgets required for choosing and employing rabbis, and guides them in election protocols in accordance with the law. All this is done in coordination with the Chief Rabbinate, which passes on the competence of candidates. The Ministry also provides administrative guidance and supervision of rabbis' activities, especially in the registration of marriages, and holds rabbinic conventions to consider problems that arise from time to time.

Ritual Baths Department

The Ritual Baths Department sees to the existence of this religious facility in every settlement and neighborhood that need one, working through the local authorities and the religious councils or committees. The Ministry helps arrange funding for ongoing maintenance of ritual baths throughout the country.

Yeshiva and Torah Institutions Department

The Department promotes study and research of Torah and halakhah (Jewish religious law) by supporting various types of Torah institutions, such as yeshivas and Torah research institutes, awarding scholarships to needy students, and paying monthly stipends to indigent young scholars who have no outside income, in the framework of the Income Assurance Law.

The term yeshivot embraces many different types of educational institutions:

  • The kolel is a Torah institute for young married men, who devote themselves entirely to Torah study.

  • The metivta is for boys in grades 7-9, who study until early evening with a curriculum concentrating heavily on religious studies.

  • The high school/vocational yeshiva is for boys 14-18, and integrates religious studies in a yeshiva format with secular studies; graduates receive a matriculation certificate or diploma in academic and technical subjects.

  • The yeshiva gevoha, for boys 18 and up, offers religious subjects only, some as preparation for service as rabbis, religious-court judges, and teachers.

  • The hesder yeshiva enrolls graduates of high-school yeshivas and religious high schools who wish to integrate Torah study with their compulsory military service in IDF combat units. The service-and-study program, recognized and coordinated with the IDF authorities, lasts five years.

  • The yeshiva for the newly observant is for men and women past 17 who have chosen to spend a year learning about and practicing the religious way of life.

  • The ulpana is a girls' school whose curriculum parallels that of the yeshiva high school. Some of them are residential facilities, with classes from morning to evening and at least 16 hours of religious studies a week.

Computer and Information Systems Unit

The Unit was set up to deal with the broad and varied scope of the religious services administered and supervised by the Ministry. Its objective is to create a computerized database of all religious services in Israel, to facilitate the lives of service-providers and of citizens who require such services, and permit computerized communications and data transfer among agencies.

Holy Sites Division

The Division is responsible for guarding and maintaining the sites holy to Jews, which are concentrated in and around Jerusalem and the Galilee. The geographical location of the sites requires regular contact with various agencies and institutions throughout the country, and daily supervision. In addition to regular maintenance, the Division also carries out work to develop, renovate, and expand amenities for visitors.

Burial Affairs Department

This department handles and supervises some 500 burial societies throughout the country. It recommends that the Minister grant or cancel burial society licenses, deals with the rehabilitation and renovation of cemeteries, and aids in the construction of ritual purification rooms. Today there are three types of burial societies: autonomous societies (some 50 throughout the country), those attached to religious councils (in 62 religious councils), and burial societies on agricultural settlements (serving around 400 moshavim and kibbutzim).

Department representatives supervise all the burial societies. They scrutinize the level and quality of the service provided by the different societies, and inspect cemeteries to supervise the efficient use of graveyard tracts, proper fencing and gates, ritual purification rooms and other facilities, and cleanliness. The Department is sometimes called upon to arbitrate disputes between burial societies concerning ownership of tracts, trespassing, and the like.

Religious Communities Division

The Religious Communities Division deals with more than two million individuals, including Muslims, Druze, Christians, Baha'is, Samaritans, and Karaites.

Sources: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs