Israel has agreed to pay the salaries of Reform and Conservative rabbis who serve as community leaders, in a landmark decision following a seven-year legal dispute.
The request had first been made to the Supreme Court in 2005 by the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, which asked that non-Orthodox rabbis be recognised by the state as community leaders, and receive the same state funding as their Orthodox equivalents.
Although the court ruled in 2009 that the state should pay up, a dispute arose over how to define non-Orthodox rabbis, which prevented the agreement from being finalised.
The Reform movement insisted its leaders be called "non-Orthodox rabbis," while the ministry of religious services -- which is controlled by the ultra-Orthodox Shas party -- insisted on calling them "community heads."
But on Tuesday, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein released a statement saying the state had accepted the court's recent suggestion that Reform and Conservative rabbis, two non-Orthodox Jewish movements, be called "rabbis of non-Orthodox communities," paving the way for state funding for 15 such leaders.
Unlike Orthodox community rabbis who are funded by the religious services ministry, the Reform and Conservative rabbis will receive their salaries from the ministry of culture and sports.
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, head of Israel's Reform movement, hailed the decision as "an important breakthrough in efforts to promote freedom of religion in Israel.
"This is the first step, but a significant one, on the way to equalising the status of all religious streams in Israel," he said in a statement released late on Tuesday.
Religious services in Israel are provided and funded by the state, but until now, Jews have only been able to receive Orthodox services.
There are some 26 Reform and 60 Conservative communities in Israel.