The success enjoyed by the dati leumi community in the Jerusalem Chief Rabbinate elections is now turning its focus on rebuilding the Jerusalem Religious Council to better reflect the character of the city’s chief rabbis.

In essence, the city’s religious council was disbanded about seven years ago due to the bleak financial situation. A committee was appointed to oversee religious services in the city. The committee was headed by Yehoshua Yishai. He was appointed during a period when Shas controlled the Ministry of Religious Services. That committee turned around the financial issues and today presents a balanced budget. However the committee’s mandate expired a long time ago but without chief rabbis and without elections for the council, they simple remained and continue overseeing the city’s religious services.

Not wasting time following the election of the city’s chief rabbis, Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Dov Kalmanovich is working to build a new religious council that reflects new realities. The council is appointed by the local government (45%), the Ministry of Religious Services (45%) and by the city’s chief rabbis (10%). Kalmanovich wants to set a new and official Jerusalem Council into place, one that reflects the dati leumi tzibur’s control of the ministry as well as the Jerusalem Rabbinate. The religious council is responsible for major services including the city’s mikvaos, kashrus and marriage registration.

One person who has been waiting in the background somewhat impatiently is Nili Ben-Gigi, who is a member of the Hisorarus Party and is slated to enter the Jerusalem Religious Council. She told the dati leumi Srugim News “I am waiting anxiously to enter the council. Much work awaits us. There is much to change and improve including the methodology of the council’s operations”.

Ben-Gigi explains “first and foremost the religious council is a municipal serve for every citizen, not just those who are shomrei mitzvos. One must remember that a significant number of people receiving services from the council are doing so because they are compelled to and not because they choose to. The council must remain aware of this as it functions. Since my appointment, for example, many people have approached me to tell of their difficulties in dealing with the council’s mikvaos department and their harsh stories. This is true of kashrus too. Regarding the latter, there have been quite a few storms in recent years.”

Ben-Gigi adds “I view myself as a shalicha of the women, the dati leumi tzibur, and pluralistic community, and this will be evident by my dealings with them, those who to date did not receive what they should from the council”.

Ben-Gigi admits that the deal is not yet sealed but she remains confident that Mayor Nir Barkat will back her vision, admitting that if he does, it will lead to a coalition crisis with the chareidi parties. She explains she is well aware the chareidim do not wish to see a woman on the Jerusalem Religious Council and they also do not wish to see the dati leumi community controlling the city’s religious services.

To learn more about Councilwoman Ben-Gigi, who describes herself as a “religious feminist” one may read an interview conducted with her in haaretz in February 2014 (English).


(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)