Rabbis Forced to Take Pay Cuts, Unpaid Leave as Coronavirus Hits Israel’s non-Orthodox Movements

The coronavirus outbreak is forcing dramatic cost-cutting measures on the Conservative and Reform movements in Israel, including salary cuts and furloughing staffers.

As they are not officially recognized by the state, the non-Orthodox movements rely heavily on donations from overseas, as well as fees for services, to finance their local activities. By contrast, Orthodox synagogues and rabbis are financed almost entirely through the state budget.

In the past few weeks, quite a few congregational rabbis affiliated with the Conservative movement, as well as administrative staffers, have been placed on unpaid leave. Others have been asked to accept pay cuts. The Reform movement has thus far refrained from furloughing rabbis or administrative staff, but has introduced significant pay cuts for all employees, rabbis included.

All synagogues in Israel have been closed since March 25, under government order, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Many Reform and Conservative congregations have moved their Shabbat and Passover holiday services online. When possible, life cycle events – a major source of revenue for Reform and Conservative rabbis in Israel – are being postponed.

“We saw that the coronavirus crisis is not disappearing within a week, so we had no choice,” said Yizhar Hess, executive director of the Conservative movement in Israel. He would not provide exact figures, but said a “significant number” of employees had either been put on unpaid leave or had agreed to salary cuts.

“This happens at a terrible time because now, more than ever, people are in need of spiritual guidance,” he said.

The Conservative movement runs 80 congregations in Israel and has 30 rabbis employed in its synagogues.