Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Religion and State in Israel - November 5, 2007

Religion and State in Israel
November 5, 2007
Editor: Joel Katz

Peres seeks improved relations between Beit Hanassi, Reform rabbis
By Matthew Wagner,

In contrast to his predecessor, Moshe Katzav, who refused last year to address the head of the Reform Movement, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, as "rabbi," President Shimon Peres met Friday with a group of five newly ordained Reform rabbis at the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem.

"What I appreciate in Reform Judaism is its accommodation of the best of higher Jewish values with the modern world," Peres said.

The previous week, he met with Rabbi Tony Bayfield, head of the British branch of Reform Judaism. It was the first meeting between Peres and a member of the Reform movement since Peres took office in July.

Sources said the meetings were part of Peres's bid to repair damage caused by Katzav to relations between the presidential office and Reform Judaism.
During the meeting with Bayfield, Peres reportedly said, "Since the rabbis get to decide who is a Jew, the Jews should decide about who is a rabbi."

Dr. Michael Marmur, dean of the Hebrew Union College, said the change in presidents marked a new and positive era.

"Up until now, Katzav had made it impossible for us to meet with him," he said. "But today there is a new breeze blowing."

"I have no interest in forcing anyone to call me rabbi against his or her will," Marmur added.

"The rabbi's congregation is the one that reaffirms the title every single day."

Reform Reflections: Who is a Rabbi?
By Rabbi Michael Marmur,

It matters a great deal to me, however, what the President of the State of Israel calls our rabbis. If the name of the game in Israel is Monopoly, and if anyone outside that monopoly is invisible, then I fear that Israel will not fulfill its historic task.

The State of Israel needs to forge an unbreakable bond with the Jews outside Israel, and the burgeoning number within, who look to non-Orthodox rabbis for spiritual leadership.

Sheetrit: Limit Law of Return; some JA governors storm out
By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz

Speaking at a meeting of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency, Sheetrit said that every Jew who wishes to come to Israel should be permitted to do so, but there is no need to grant citizenship to them "five minutes later."

The interior minister was particularly critical of the immigration to Israel of "lost tribes," saying that he will insist on ending this phenomenon.

Stop "bringing immigrants by force," Sheetrit said. "Immigration should only be by choice. There is a need to change the Law of Return so that Israel can conduct itself as a country and not as a committee for the Jewish people.

Hands off the Law of Return Editorial

Part-Jews who immigrate at their individual initiative merit the warmest reception. They are among those for whom the Law of Return was enacted. Its aim, however, was never to hunt for prospective immigrants and entice them with material benefits. Thus vestigial quasi-Jews should not be actively sought and wooed.

Sheetrit, therefore, would do best to seek to change government policy and discourage aggressive searches for Jews where almost none exist. He should not be pompously taking out a contract on the Law of Return.

Zionist leaders protest donors' bid to separate JA, WZO

By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz

The protest letter is signed, among others, by heads of world organizations affiliated with Israeli parties, representatives of the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform movements, and Maccabi and Naamat.

The organizations Wednesday called on JA, UJC and United Israel Appeal leaders to refrain from harming WZO and its status as the umbrella organization for immigration to Israel and international Jewish and Zionist education.

A new Jerusalem and Babylon
By Haaretz Editorial

The relations between Israel and the the world's Jews, especially those in the United States, have always been fraught with hypocrisy.

The threat by a group of prominent donors to halt funds unless the Jewish Agency cuts itself off from the WZO - a blatant and patronizing demand as it may be - could accelerate a very necessary debate.

Immigration groups agree to mediation
By Daphna Berman, Haaretz

The Jewish Agency and Nefesh B'Nefesh have reached an agreement to enter mediation and are expected to begin the process shortly, in a move that may finally repair the high-profile rift between the two immigration organizations.

"Our hope is that a mediator will introduce ways for the two groups to move forward," said Paula Edelstein, co-chair of the Jewish Agency's Immigration and Absorption Committee. "The current situation is not good for the Jewish people or the State of Israel."

Jewish Agency cutbacks
Haviv Rettig,

The Jewish Agency's operational budget that finances overseas programs will be cut by millions of dollars, according to officials attending this week's Jewish Agency Board of Governors meeting in Jerusalem.

Chief Rabbinate ordains substitute kashrut supervisors
By Neta Sela,

Eight days after the High Court's ruling, the Chief Rabbinate obeyed the decision and authorized five rabbis to grant kashrut certificates to businesses which practice heter mechira in area where local rabbis refused to do so.

Tzohar organization said in response, "We are satisfied with the Rabbinate's decision. We will continue to operate the alternate kashrut apparatus until we are convinced that every business that wants a certificate based on heter mechira receives it. We did not establish an alternative rabbinate; we will be happy if the Rabbinate fulfills its mandate and make our apparatus unnecessary."

Chairman of the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, MK Menachem Ben Sasson, congratulated the Chief Rabbinate's decision that put an end to the crisis. Ben Sasson said, however, that "the Knesset must pursue a legislative solution so we will not have to face such hurdles again in the next shmita year."

A big production and power struggle over produce
By Matthew Wagner,

Haredi rabbinic leaders, most of whom are at best ambivalent about the entire Zionist endeavor, saw the Chief Rabbinate primarily as a tool for strengthening control over religious affairs and tailoring them to a narrow, strict and purist interpretation of halacha.

Needless to say, these rabbis, when ruling on issues of shmita, did not factor into their legal equations the Zionist ethos of supporting Jewish agriculture, which is seen as an extra-halachic consideration.

Import of agricultural produce to Israel to resume
By Zvi Lavi,

"It is unacceptable that the secular residents and the foreign diplomats in Herzliya will be forced to purchase strictly kosher (Badatz Lemahdrin) food because the local rabbi disagrees with the Chief Rabbinate's order," said Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon.

Converts hit new Israeli barrier
By Simon Rocker, The Jewish Chronicle

Since most diaspora conversions are non-Orthodox, the conditions are "particularly designed to limit Reform and Conservative conversions", argues Rabbi Uri Regev, the Israel-based president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism. But protests have come not only from the non-Orthodox.

Rabbi Shaul Farber, the Orthodox head of Itim - the Jewish Life Information Centre in Israel, which advises potential converts - said: "These criteria demonstrate complete disregard and disrespect for the local Jewish community."

Rabbi Chaim Weiner, convenor of the London-based European Masorti Bet Din:"Changes to the immigration procedures in Israel frequently come down to the ultra-Orthodox authorities wishing to assert their power over Jews abroad."

Majority of secular public views rabbinical authority 'irrelevant'
Kobi Nahshoni,

It is the sole authority overseeing marriage, divorce, conversion, kosher licensing and virtually ever other aspect of Jewish life in Israel.

But a new study conducted by Ynet and the Gesher Institute reveals that 41% percent of the general public believes the time has come to dismantle the National Authority of Religious Services (NARS).

Rabbis Invited For Pre-Annapolis Temple Mount Talks
By Ezra HaLevi,

Israel's Chief Rabbis and Chief Rabbi of Haifa invited to White House for pre-Annapolis talks to explain the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount.

Chief Rabbis Yonah Metzger and Shlomo Amar, as well as the Chief Rabbi of Haifa and Chairman of the Chief Rabbinate Communications Committee Rabbi She'ar-Yashuv Cohen departed Saturday evening for a series of meetings to clarify to US leaders that the Temple Mount is Judaism's holiest site.

Beit Shemesh residents protest Haredi violence

Some 1,500 residents of Beit Shemesh gathered last night to protest the recent wave of ultra-Orthodox violence in the city, calling on police and municipality officials to take stronger action against Haredi "zealots."

The protesters, many of them Anglo residents of the city's modern Orthodox neighborhoods, demonstrated against what they call growing religious intimidation and coercion on behalf of Haredi fringe elements.

Bratslav Hasid and Shas oust non-Hasidic incumbent mayor
By Yair Ettinger, Haaretz

In Beitar Ilit, Meir Rubinstein, a Bratslav Hasid surprised all the pundits when he unseated the incumbent non-Hasidic mayor, Yitzhak Pindros, by a huge majority (60 percent to 40 percent).
His United List, which includes Shas and most of the Hasidic groups in town, took nine out of the 15 seats on the town council.

MK Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism) is likely to reap the fruits of his success, reportedly seeing his victory in Beitar Ilit as paving the way to the mayor's office in Jerusalem in 2008, replacing the non-Hasidic present mayor, Uri Lupolianski.

Working against the clock
By Tamar Rotem, Haaretz

Citybook, a company based in Modi'in Ilit provides real-estate insurance services to the American market and Citybook exclusively employs ultra-Orthodox women.

Citybook employs 150 women at its two branches - in Modi'in Ilit and Beitar Ilit. The company was founded around four years ago by an ultra-Orthodox American entrepreneur, Joseph (Joe) Rosenbaum, the owner of Madison Title of Lakewood, New Jersey.

A Modern Marketplace for Israel's Ultra-Orthodox
By Steven Erlanger, NYTimes

But because [the ultra-Orthodox] live in tight communities like this one, and obey their rabbis, they have significant power in the marketplace, as well as in the voting booth, said Rafi Melnick, dean of the Lauder School of Government at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya.

Some 60 percent of ultra-Orthodox men do not work regular jobs, preferring religious study. More than 50 percent live below the poverty line and get state allowances, compared with 15 percent of the rest of the population, and most families have six or seven children, said Momi Dahan, an economist at the School of Public Policy at Hebrew University.

Two new Orthodox girls schools push egalitarianism in Jerusalem

By Brian Blum, JTA

Two new cutting-edge schools that opened in Jerusalem this fall are pushing the envelope on modern Orthodox education in the Jewish capital - and challenging rival schools to follow suit.

The Shalom Hartman Institute, a popular pluralistic Orthodox educational institution that already has a junior high and high school for boys, opened a girls school for grades seven through nine, and educator Beverly Gribetz started a girls school called Tehilla for grades nine and 10.

With a decidedly liberal bent that includes allowing girls to study Talmud and lead prayer services, the schools are positioning themselves to challenge the status quo in girls' religious education in Jerusalem and throughout the Orthodox world.

I, too, want to help the Jews
By Fania Oz-Salzburger, Haaretz

Excuse me, but who appointed you to connect my sons to their Jewish roots?

I would be delighted to join an organization for religious-secular reconciliation that enables my colleagues and me to write and distribute, with the Education Ministry's blessings, "A Program for State-Religious Schools."

Our programs would be taught by students of history, philosophy, law and political science, and they would be aimed at "helping religious youth connect to their humanist roots and the universal tradition."

Israeli Children Immerse themselves in their First Torah Lessons
By Mordechai Nisselman,

In what has become a tradition, Israeli second graders again began their year of learning the book of Genesis by attending a program run by the Chabad-Lubavitch Youth Organization.

Called Chagigat HaChumash, or Torah festival, the now 25-year-old program will welcome over the course of a month some 20,000 seven-year-olds from across the country at Chabad centers and in the village of Kfar Chabad.

IDF: 1 in 4 don't enlist in army

By Yael Branovsky,

11.2% said they could not enlist because they were engaged in Torah study.
This is compared with 4.9 who opted out of IDF service for the same reason in 1991.

Land deal would have state, JNF swap 60,000 dunams
By Shahar Ilan, Haaretz

The JNF will transfer 60,000 dunams of developed land to the ILA in exchange for 60,000 dunams of open space. The deal is designed to render redundant the controversial JNF bill, which would allow the organization to continue leasing its lands only to Jews.

A Knesset research paper indicates that the JNF paid the state full price for absentee Arab land in the 1950s, in contradiction to claims by Arab parties that the state transferred the lands for symbolic fees.

No 'Israelis' in Israel?
By Aviram Zino,

The Jerusalem Administrative Court on Wednesday ordered the State to justify its refusal to include the term 'Israeli' on the list of possible nationalities inscribed in Israeli identification cards.

"In its response, we ask the State to address, among other things, the manner in which the list of nationalities is set and through which legal means a nationality can be added or removed from that list," wrote Judge Noam Solberg.

Landmark Criminal Suit Against Waqf for Temple Mount Destruction
By Hillel Fendel,

A group of 150 Israeli citizens have filed a class action suit against the Moslems who run the Temple Mount site for having destroyed Jewish antiquities there.

The suit, brought by the Shurat HaDin Israel Law Center charges that Islamic officials have engaged in the deliberate destruction of ancient Jewish relics on the Temple Mount. The indictment was filed in the Jerusalem District Court last week, and Shurat Hadin sources say it is the first of its kind in Israeli legal history.

"We are utilizing a seldom-applied section of the penal code," Shurat Hadin director Attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner explained, "that allows private citizens to bring a criminal complaint in certain areas. If we win, the Waqf officials could face years in prison."

Trouble in the Jewish Quarter
By Gil Zohar,

The Old City's rebuilt Jewish Quarter stands as one of Zionism's proudest accomplishments - a showpiece of history and spirituality that attracts millions of Israelis and foreign visitors annually to the Western Wall and the neighborhood's myriad tourist attractions.

But the 600 families living in the picturesque quarter have a different perspective on life there. Many are fed up with the arbitrary quasi-bylaws imposed upon them by the Jewish Quarter Development Company (JQDC) - the government corporation established after the Six Day War to restore the then-ruined, historic neighborhood.

Group plans direct access to refurbished synagogue in J'lem's Muslim Quarter
By Nadav Shragai, Haaretz

The passageway, which is being planned by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, will utilize existing spaces created by archaeological excavations beneath the Muslim Quarter.

Court convicts conmen who defrauded Greek Church in Jerusalem
By Aviram Zino,

The investigation, led by the National Fraud Unit and the Jerusalem District Prosecutor's Office, revealed that Rabinowitz and Morgenstern, two real-estate businessmen, claimed to have signed three contracts in 2000 with then-Greek Patriarch Diodoros while falsely saying they were representing the State and the JNF.

Showdown over holy objects in Jerusalem
By Neta Sela,

Greek Orthodox patriarch turns to court to instruct his predecessor to return collection of holy items valued at millions of dollars. Judge allows church representatives to enter home of former patriarch to photograph items, but they are refused entry

Religious leaders: Protect holy sites

The Archbishop of Canterbury and Israel's chief rabbis issued a joint declaration Tuesday calling on religious communities worldwide to take responsibility for protecting all holy sites.


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