Rabbi Avihai Ronski (file)
Rabbi Avihai Ronski (file)Flash90

Rabbi Avichai Ronski, former IDF Chief Rabbi and Jewish Home Knesset candidate, criticized the decision of Labor-Hatnua Monday to include the dissolution of the Jewish Identity Department, established by the Ministry of Religious Services and the government, in its party platform. 

According to Ronski, the plans to scrap the bureau show - if anything - how much progress has been made in connecting the Israeli public to their Jewish heritage and how important it is to keep on going. 

The section of the Labor-Hatnua party platform dealing with the relation between synagogue and state provides the goal of "abolishing the Jewish Identity Department which was established by the Ministry for Religious Services during the outgoing government and to concentrate instead on government support in the field of Jewish culture in the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Culture with full implementation of the principles of pluralism and equality." 

The department provides educational activities on Judaism to about 130,000 Israelis in grades 11 and 12 from non-religious schools, students in pre-army mechina programs and individual students in the IDF and out up to age 30, Ronski noted. 

Next year, he said, the department was slated to teach some 250,000 people - if it still exists.

"There is a huge demand," he said, "and if we had additional funding we would engage more with the public - and this is what Labor is waging war against." 

Further, this would also interrupt the work of student organizations associated with the Department working nationwide on college campuses and in the Golan and Negev, he added. 

Establishing the Department was not easy, he noted, revealing that the Ministry of Education more or less brushed aside the initial initiative for a group with a "maybe." Only when the Ministry for Religious Services stepped in did the project take off. 

Ronski added that it has had unprecedented success and that "there is a free market to connect to the Jewish character of the state," as he put it, and that the program has flourished despite a plethora of NGOs promoting pluralism instead of an education program based on traditional Jewish values and principles. 

"In a high school where I taught we did a seminar Wednesday in Jerusalem, which includes studying for three hours in Yeshivat HaKotel for boys and in Midreshet HaRova for girls," he recounted. "The administration told me later that the highlight of the seminar were these hours, where the students had dialogue with Torah instructors. They say they left other organizations because they wanted to study Judaism at the roots."

"This is an example of the nation saying clearly what it wants," he noted. 

"Judaism, at its roots, does not only include those with a connection to God but also the connection to Israel," he continued. "The leftists aren't afraid of the haredi world, which respects aspects of Torah and faith in the synagogue, and at home, but when the Torah is also involved in the Land of Israel and the State - suddenly the commandments [. . .] are too much." 

"Maybe some people fear religious coercion, etc., but this in fact appears to be a party platform which wants to cancel the Department despite overwhelming demand."