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Ben-Dahan: Religious Services for Secular Israelis

Israel's secular majority needs - and deserves - accessible, modern religious services, new deputy minister says.
By Maayana Miskin
First Publish: 4/3/2013, 10:36 AM

Rabbi Elyahu Ben Dahan
Rabbi Elyahu Ben Dahan
David Hochberg, Besheva

Israel’s government-provided religious services must be open to all, Deputy Minister for Religious Services Eli Ben-Dahan said Tuesday, speaking at the Ramle Conference.

“The secular community is the majority in the state,” he noted. “We must give secular Israelis the sense that religious services are there for them as well – by right, not as an act of kindness.”

The services provided by the ministry must be made accessible to all, and must be “fitting for a modern state,” he said.

He quoted Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion when discussing the role the ministry will play in Israeli life. “There is a big difference between private life and public life. It’s true that we do not interfere in people’s private lives – we do not investigate what people are doing at home, what they have in their refrigerator, if it is kosher or not… But we decided together that public matters will be done according to Jewish law.”

For example, he said, Israel’s weekly day of rest is the Jewish Sabbath, and the Jewish holidays are state holidays. “In particular, Ben-Gurion attached importance to the matter of marriage and divorce. Ben-Gurion said, ‘We decided that marriage and divorce will go according to Jewish law because we want to unite the Jews… we understand that this is the only way to maintain the chain of continuity,’” he said.

Ben-Gurion’s perspective was not influenced by the need to make coalition agreements, he noted.

Ben-Dahan also spoke of other plans for the ministry, including separating the role of Chief Rabbi from the presidency of the highest Beit Din [rabbinic court].

He has previously called to change Israel’s days of rest by adding a second weekend day on Sunday, and to give harsher punishments to "Get refusers," men who refuse to grant their estranged wives a Jewish divorce contract.