Ministry of Diaspora Affairs creates Jewish Renewal Administration to fund all denominations

On Tuesday, July 5th, 2022, Minister of Diaspora Affairs Nachman Shai (Labor) announced the creation of the Jewish Renewal Administration, which will promote various Jewish projects, programs, and events for the general public by any and all denominations, including Reform, Conservative, Orthodox movements. The administration will have a budget of 60 million shekels, half of which will be provided by the ministry and half of which will be funded by Panim, an umbrella organization of Jewish organizations. According to the ministry’s estimate, approximately 700,000 people will participate in projects supported by the new body.

Minister Shai:

The decision to create the Jewish Renewal Administration is a historic decision of equality, equality between different traditions practiced within the Jewish people. We, as a government and as a state, are now giving equal space, respect, and recognition. In the 21st century, the Jewish people is struggling with complicated issues, including conversion, kashrut, and civil marriage. We must ensure the unity of the Jewish people as it is, and also allow internal dialogue, discussion, and thought about the essence and meaning of Judaism. That is the power of Judaism.”

Opposition MKs reacted, attacking both the support of non-Orthodox Judaism and the timing of the move by a transitional government.

MK Shlomo Karhi (Likud):

This illegal act by the Minister of the Reform is a reflection of all that is bad about this government. It is not enough that they destroyed Judaism, conversion, and kashrut, and dishonored the sacred elements of Judaism in a single year. They are finishing like thieves in the night, creating a Reform Department in a country where they are not even a minority of a minority.

MK Avi Maoz (Religious Zionism):

The “Jewish Renewal Administration” is, which in less laundered and artificial language is the Reform Judaism Division, is an attack on the Jewish character of the State of Israel. Its advancement during a transitional government is incomparably shameless. After the elections, we will transfer the budget that has been earmarked for it for Torah education, Jewish legacy, and Jewish identity.

MK Gilad Kariv (Labor) posted about the establishment of the administration on Facebook:

An historic accomplishment! We are fixing discrimination. We have made it that for the first time, the Israeli government will also support pluralistic and egalitarian Israeli Judaism!

For more than a decade, in my role as CEO of the Reform Movement in Israel and as a member of the directorate of Panim, the umbrella organization for pluralistic Jewish renewal, I have fought for the establishment of a government administration or branch that would be a home to pluralistic Jewish culture, and the address for the basic idea that there is more than one way to be Jewish – both in Israel and abroad! After countless appeals to the Supreme Court and public maneuvers, it was clear to me that as long as the government bodies that deal with Jewish culture are entirely inclined towards Orthodoxy, secular batei midrash [study halls], egalitarian communities, and pluralistic leadership and training programs would not get their rightful, equal share.

This is the reason that I pushed for the creation of a Jewish renewal administration into the Labor Party’s coalition agreements. This is one of the reasons why I made every effort for the Labor Party to demand the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs (in addition to the urgent need to repair the damage left in the important realms of Israel-Diaspora relations).

After a year of preparations and administrative work in the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, this week the Jewish Renewal Division was created in the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, and the strategic agreement for the joint initiative was signed with Panim for three years. This is an important step to fix discrimination, to push back the forceful attempt to seize ownership over Israeli Judaism, and to advance tolerance and the multiplicity of voices. The best proof of the importance of this move is the attack from extreme and nationalist elements who are scandalized by the criticism of the monopoly that they seek to maintain.

I congratulate the Minister of Diaspora Affairs, my friend Dr. Nachman Shai, the CEO of the Ministry, Tziona Koenig-Yair, and the professional staff on carrying out this important step. Congratulations to Panim, to CEO Jotam Brom, and to the dozens of member organizations and movements. This is a significant first step and we are keen to continue on this journey in years to come. For Israeli Judaism, for Israeli democracy, for Israeli society, and for the entire Jewish people.

MK Kariv responded on Twitter to Channel 14’s critical coverage of the initiative:

For you at Channel 14, everything that is related to equality is illegal. How fortunate that Israeli law does not align with your analysis.

By the way – How about the licensing directives of the channel which require giving expression to all elements and communities of the Jewish people? I understand that serial violations of the conditions of your license fits nicely within your definition of what is legal and what is not.

Rakefet Ginsberg, CEO of the Masorti Movement in Israel: 

We are glad to see the establishment of the Jewish Renewal Division in the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, but its natural place would have been in the Ministry of Religious Services. To say that non-Orthodox Judaism does not belong in the Ministry of Religious Services is a result only of worry and fear of extremist Orthodoxy.