Religious Services Ministry on Autopilot with No Minister

As of Tuesday, an unelected civil service is running the Religious Services Ministry in Israel.

This is because earlier this year, the government was not able to garner enough votes for reappointing Matana Kahana, the former minister.

The operations

Two weeks ago, Gal Shem-Tov had taken office as Interim Director-General only two weeks ago. He is now playing the role of the minister for managing day-to-day operations.

The only exception are the functions that are specifically mentioned in law as needing ministerial approval.

Those authorities can be designated to another minister by the government for the time being.

A ministry spokesperson said that the operations of the office would be stopped because of the upcoming elections scheduled for November 1st.

Avi Rosen, the spokesperson, said that they could do basic things for now, such as ensuring that religious services are properly provided.

He said that they could not issue new tenders, or launch new campaigns and could only continue with the programs that have already started.

This is not the first incident where a civil servant has run the entire ministry in place of an elected official, as it had also happened in the previous year.

This had occurred with the Justice Ministry and Communications Ministry, but the arrangement has novel peculiarities that the attorney general and legal adviser of the Religious Services Ministry will navigate.

Kahana’s situation

Until May, Kahana had held the position of the religious services minister, but he had quit his position as part of a political maneuver.

It had been aimed at maintaining the control of the government of the Knesset. Once he resigned, the ministership had been granted automatically to Naftali Bennett, who had been Prime Minister back then.

Meanwhile, Kahana had been chosen as the deputy minister, even though he was still effectively managing the day-to-day operations of the Religious Services Ministry.

Ultra-orthodox lawmakers had also used a similar arrangement extensively, as they had refused to serve as ministers because of religious reasons.

Rabbinic authorities had ruled that accepting the ministerial title would mean recognition of a secular Jewish state, hence the refusal of the lawmakers to become ministers.

Thus, deputy ministers served as de facto heads, while officially the title belonged to the premier. But, the practice was eventually curtailed in 2015 via a ruling from the High Court of Justice.

No replacement

After Kahana stepped down from his position, the coalition had tried to reinstate him, but they had not been able to garner a majority to do so.

This is because internal differences of the coalition had seen more and more members desert. The ministry will continue to be run by the director-general for now.

Either the current government can vote in a new minister, which seems unlikely, or a new government will choose one.

Kahana’s spokesperson said that the former minister would not be involved in any activities of the Religious Services Ministry, even unofficially.

His office said that that as far as the ministry is concerned, his work is done.

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