Though the 19th Knesset served for one of the shortest periods in our history (less than two years), it was very active concerning matters of state and religion. The governing coalition did not include any of the Ultra-Orthodox parties, and, although there were those who criticized this fact, others saw this as a chance to enact reforms on issues of state and religion.
This survey examines the activity of the 19th Knesset in this area, focusing on proposed legislation (both private and governmental) which was actively advanced or which generated significant public discussion. The survey does not discuss other proposed laws which may have been formally filed. The survey also encompasses a number of formal government regulations and certain public initiatives outside the regulatory framework. The survey does not include proposed legislation relating to the state relationship to religious populations such as proposals to draft Ultra-Orthodox men into the IDF or to modify the autonomy of the religious and Ultra-Orthodox educational systems.
The survey shows that 32 proposals and initiatives on the subject of state and religion were actively promoted during the 19th Knesset. Deputy Minister of Religious Services Eli Ben Dahan (HaBayit HaYehudi) and MK Elazar Stern (HaTenuah) are the leading members of Knesset in this area: each promoted eight different initiatives. MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) promoted six initiatives in the field, and Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni (HaTenuah) promoted five. (At the end of the survey there is a table summarizing all proposals and their current status.)
A majority of all these proposals did not make it into law, but those that did are:
1. Opening areas for marriage registration: Proposed by MK Eitan Cabel (Labor) and promoted with the support of Minister of Religious Services Naftali Bennett and his deputy Eli Ben Dahan. Ben Dahan added a rider providing a two year prison sentence for those who conduct marriage ceremonies outside the framework of the Rabbinate.
2. Prohibition against civil service rabbis taking payment for conducting marriage ceremonies: Proposed by MK Shuli Mualem-Refaeli (HaBayit HaYehudi).
3. Establishing female representation (4 of 11) on committees to appoint city rabbis: Proposed by MK Aliza Lavie and MK Shuli Mualem-Refaeli.
4. Establishment of conversion courts by city rabbis: Proposed by MK Elazar Stern. This proposed law did not pass its second and third reading in the Knesset, but it promoted a similarly worded proposal being accepted as a government decision.
In addition, there were two significant ministerial regulations promulgated during the incumbency of the 19th Knesset:
1. A change in the guidelines for appointing city rabbis in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling from 2012. The new guidelines set by Minister of Religious Services Naftali Bennett and his deputy Eli Ben Dahan increase the power of the Minister of Religious Services and of local authority representatives on the appointments committee while reducing the power of members of the local religious council and of the local synagogues. In addition, 30% was set as the minimum level of representation by women on the committee.
2. A decision by Minister of the Interior Gideon Saar (Likud) to overturn a new Tel-Aviv municipal by-law which would have allowed for the widespread opening of neighborhood grocery stores on the Sabbath.
In addition, as part of the activities of the 19th Knesset Naftali Bennett, Minister of Religious Services, and his deputy Eli Ben Dahan held two separate press conferences about a number of initiatives they wished to advance. Bennett and Ben Dahan called these initiatives a “revolution in religious services.” These initiatives included reforms in a variety of areas: marriage, religious councils, and kashrut. The table shows the various initiatives announced and their current status.
It can be seen that most of the initiatives declared as an integral part of what was called the “revolution in religious service” went nowhere.