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The court ruling is far short of a full-fledged recognition. It classifies Reform and Conservative rabbis as “rabbis of non-Orthodox communities.”

It applies to only 15 congregations in farming communities and outlying areas where they were the only rabbis and qualify as “community leaders” eligible for state funding. Still excluded are those operating in cities, where Orthodox rabbis are present.

Creative financing

To avoid clashing with the strict state-run rabbinate, the financing will not come directly from the Religious Affairs Ministry. Funding will be channeled through the Ministry of Culture and Sports.

But with a precedent established, liberal streams are aiming for greater breakthroughs.

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, who heads Israel’s Reform movement, said the state funding marked the most significant development to date in breaking down the Orthodox monopoly.

“It is one victory out of many that are needed in order to reach full equality in Israel between the denominations,” he said.

“The important thing is that the Israeli government will not be able to say anymore that the non-Orthodox denominations do not deserve equal treatment.”

The precedent was enough to spark outrage from the religious establishment and Orthodox political parties, which wield significant political power and often act as kingmakers in Israeli politics.

Yaakov Margi, the minister of religious affairs from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, threatened to resign if forced to provide funding. Ultra-Orthodox lawmaker Moshe Gafni accused the legal system of attempting to “undermine the Jewish infrastructure of the state.”

“All of a sudden, there is money for Reform and Conservative clowns for whom Judaism is a mockery,” he said in parliament.

At a charged parliamentary meeting last week to discuss the new funding scheme, an angry Mr. Gafni had Mr. Kariv removed from the room when he tried to speak.

“I have no problem with heads of these communities getting funding for their cultural activities. My problem is with the state of Israel recognizing them as rabbis,” said Daniel Hershkowitz, an Orthodox Cabinet minister.

“It has been clear for thousands of years how one becomes a rabbi. Just like the state does not decide who becomes a doctor or a lawyer, it shouldn’t be deciding who becomes a rabbi.”