Summer 2008

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MERCAZ USA Newsletter — Summer 2008

Israel Funds Non-Orthodox Synagogues

For the first time in its 60-year history, the Ministry of Housing has covered the costs for the construction of non-Orthodox synagogue buildings in a half-dozen communities in Israel.

Historically, the Housing Ministry has refused to provide funds for the construction of non-Orthodox synagogues. While municipalities have recently begun providing land for Reform and Conservative congregations, the Israeli government has studiously avoided allocating funding for such building, thereby putting all responsibility for construction on private donations.

This policy changed for a very brief moment back in 2005, when Isaac Herzog, a leader of the Labor Party, took over as Housing Minister. Although the grandson of Israel's first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog, Herzog, the son of former President Chaim Herzog, has long been committed to religious pluralism and was influential in facilitating the creation of the Masorti Kotel at Robinson's Arch.

Now, as the new Housing Minister, Herzog was confronted with a court case brought by the Reform and Conservative Movements against the ministry's discriminatory funding system. Eager to avoid a legal battle, he proposed a compromise by which the plaintiffs would suspend their petition while the ministry would provide a number of prefabricated synagogue structures or their monetary equivalent.

While further "pluralistic" synagogue construction may not come again in the near future under the current political situation, Reform and Conservative congregations in a half-dozen Israeli towns, including the Masorti communities in Modiin and Kfar Vradim, are now celebrating their new homes.


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