Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger announced at the opening of the Fourth Orthodox General Assembly on Monday that he would begin a sit-down protest in front of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's residence should derelict salaries for rabbis and other employees of the religious councils not be paid.
Many had not been paid for months and had reached the point where they barely had anything to eat, Metzger said. He called on other rabbis to join him in the protest.
Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar did not mention the issue in his speech before the four-day conference organized by The World Zionist Organization that brought together 200 rabbis and educators to Jerusalem from 42 countries around the world, including Cuba, Japan, India and the Philippines.
Instead, Amar proposed that special conversion courts operating under the authority of Israel's chief rabbinate be set up in strategic points around the world. This is especially important in the former Soviet Union, where many demonstrate considerably more interest in conversion before their immigration to Israel than after.
Amar added that some of the courts might be mobile. In the first half of the 10-year term of office, Amar serves as head of the rabbinic court system. Social Affairs Minister Zevulun Orlev (NRP) called on the rabbis to join together in creating an international Jewish emergency program to deal with assimilation, which he called a greater existential threat to the Jewish people than Arab armies.
That danger lurks not only abroad, but in here as well, since "most Israeli pupils do not study enough Judaism or learn about the Jewish tradition."
Jewish Agency Chairman Sallai Meridor, on the other hand, told the assembly that while keeping Jewish identity among Diaspora communities is important, "the best guarantor of Jewishness is immigration to Israel."
Speaking about anti-Semitism around the world, and especially in France, Meridor announced that while he himself usually keeps his kippa in his pocket, he would don one on his upcoming trip to France in January. "There shouldn't be anyplace in the world where Jews are afraid to wear a kippa."