The government approved Sunday the re-formation of the Ministry of Religious Affairs – four years after it was dissolved in an attempt to save the taxpayers' money.
The Ministry of Religious Affairs was dissolved in October 2003 by the Shinui Party; its responsibilities dispersed among the various government offices.
The National Authority for Religious Services was formed instead, as a division in the Prime Minister's Office.
The motion was carried 15 to seven, with two ministers abstaining. Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Minister Ami Ayalon (Labor-Meimad) Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog, Tourism Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch (Yisrael Beiteinu), Minister for Strategic Affairs Avigdor Lieberman and Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann voted against the motion.
The ministry will be headed by Minister Yitzhak Cohen (Shas), but its authorities will not be as extensive as they were; it will oversee the Chief Rabbinate, the Rabbinical Court and the Yeshiva division.
"I don't believe the prime minister of Israel should spend numerous hours a week signing burial permits," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the ministers.
The political arena was stirred up by the decision: "This is a dark day for the relations between religion and state," said Meretz-Yahad Chairman MK Yossi Beilin. "Israel just took a huge step back in reestablishing a ministry dedicated to force religious law in a secular majority."
MK Chaim Oron (Meretz-Yahad) slammed the decision as well, saying "the government decided once more to funnel resources to a redundant cause, which was justly dissolved in the past, all in the hopes of avoiding a political tremor."
The Prime Minister's Office rejected claims suggesting the move was devised as means to gain political stability prior to the publication of the Winograd report, on January 30th.