Monday, May 26, 2008

Religion and State in Israel - May 26, 2008 (Section 1)

Religion and State in Israel

May 26, 2008 (Section 1) (continues in Section 2)

Editor – Joel Katz

Religion and State in Israel is not affiliated with any organization or movement.

Haaretz cartoon May 21, 2008 by Amos Biderman

“In Or Yehuda we held Lag B'Omer early this year”

Or Yehuda deputy mayor: I'm sorry about burning New Testaments

Aharon told the Post that he was very sorry for the book burning and that it was not planned, and that he was aware that the incident may have caused damage to relations between Christians and Jews.

The deputy mayor said he had organized, together with "three or four" yeshiva students from the city's Michtav M'Eliahu Yeshiva to go to apartments in the city's Neveh Rabin neighborhood, which has many Ethiopian immigrants, and round up packages given to them several days earlier by messianic Jews.

The packages contained a New Testament and several pamphlets, which Aharon said "encouraged on to go against Judaism."

"I wasn't even on the scene when the boys rounded up all the Bibles and brought them all to one place [near the synagogue in Neveh Rabin].

They started burning them before I got there. Once I arrived the most I could do was pull a Bible out of the fire.

I put it in nylon and its now in my car. I am really sorry for the book burning, but I did not organize it, it was a spontaneous thing by the yeshiva boys," Aharon said.

"We respect all religions as we expect others to respect ours. I am very sorry that the New Testament was burned, we mean it no harm and I'm sorry that we hurt the feelings of others," he said.

However, he added, Israel could not allow messianic Jews to "come into our homes and incite against our religion, and turn our children away from Judaism. That is against the law."

Burning of Bibles a Desecration of Jewish State’s Values

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Peter Knobel, President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism:

“…We share the concerns of Jews in Israel about messianic activities of Christian missionaries, but such activities must be dealt with through appropriate legal means, as determined by the laws of the State of Israel.

We are appalled that Deputy Mayor Azi Aharon would apparently make comments encouraging such acts. We call upon him to apologize immediately, and we urge rabbis of all streams in Judaism to condemn these actions and to reaffirm the bonds of friendship and respect that should mark relations between Jews and Christians throughout the world.”

The burning of Christian bibles in Israel must be condemned

By Rabbi Jerome M. Epstein, JTA Opinion May 23, 2008

The writer is the executive vice president of United Synagogues of Conservative Judaism.)

I certainly do not endorse missionizing activities in Israel, but the images of book-burning Jews makes me shudder.

Israel and Jews throughout the world must condemn this atrocious behavior and take the bold and necessary steps to ensure that this one-time occurrence remain a singular nightmare.

Shas’ book bonfire

Haaretz Editorial May 25, 2008

The Messianic Jews number a few thousand in Israel, and as long as they do not stalk children or try to convince them to change their religious beliefs, their standing in this country should be equal to that of other religious and ethnic groups who enjoy freedom of practice and worship as stipulated in the Declaration of Independence and protected by law.

Chosen People Ministries and the Messianic Movement in Israel

Chosen People Ministries New Outreach Efforts

Jews for Jesus in Israel

Jews for Jesus Outreach at New Age Festival

Chaos in Conversion authority as head is fired

By Matthew Wagner, May 22, 2008

The bruised and tattered State Conversion Authority is once again in turmoil after its head, Rabbi Haim Druckman, was unceremoniously dismissed by the Prime Minister's Office.

The surprise development this week that the Prime Minister's Office would not renew Druckman's employment contract, which expires at the end of June, sparked a flurry of speculation regarding the motive.

The Prime Minister's Office stated that Druckman's advanced age of 75 was the reason for the dismissal. The retirement age in the civil service is 67. Druckman was hired in 2004.

Druckman, however, rejected that explanation.

"I was already 75 when they renewed my contract," he told Army Radio on Thursday. "Doing this now is foolish and malicious. And the way it was done was disrespectful as well. No one talked to me, I just got a letter delivered to me by a messenger."

Druckman said the Prime Minister's Office was kowtowing to haredi political pressure to oust him from his position.

Rabbi Druckman ousted from Conversions Court

By Neta Sela, May 22, 2008

A source familiar with the decision wondered how "someone who was called in by the prime minister to perform a sacred duty is now dismissed by a government clerk… This move plays right into the hands of the hostile orthodox factors within the conversions establishment.

"This is a fatal blow to the establishment and might lead to its crumbling all together." The Prime Minister's Office, added the source, "is crushing the system while pretending to modernize it."

European rabbis invalidate Druckman conversions

By Matthew Wagner, May 20, 2008

The Conference of European Rabbis announced this week that it would not recognize converts who were converted by rabbis in Israel, singling out Rabbi Haim Druckman, head of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate's State Conversion Authority.

"We oppose the phenomenon of Israeli rabbis shuttling to Europe especially to perform a conversion and then shuttling back," said Rabbi Moshe Lebel, Rabbinical Director of the Conference of European Rabbis (CER) in a telephone interview from Moscow. "These rabbis are not familiar with the reality in Europe," he added.

"I know of several cases where Druckman and other Israeli rabbis performed conversions for people who lived in communities in places like Germany and Scandinavia where it was almost impossible to adhere to a religious way of life. There was no minyan, no kosher butcher, no mikveh."

MK Gafni: We Must Step Up the Campaign against False Conversions

By Yechiel Sever, Dei’ah veDibur May 22, 2008

"The Justice Minister does not understand the meaning of a Jewish state. There is no way to turn non-Jews into Jews except through conversion done according to halacha.

We're already accustomed to seeing here in the State of Israel, in all matters associated with Judaism, that the ends justify the means.

We must redouble our efforts to fight this, not allowing the walls of Judaism or Kerem Beis Yisroel to be breached," said Rabbi Gafni.

Turning their backs on the people of Israel

By Shahar Ilan, Haaretz Opinion May 26, 2008

Judaism is too serious a matter to be left in the Chief Rabbinate's hands. We must divest the rabbinate of the task of integrating immigrants with no religion into the Jewish people.

…It is inconceivable for a large population to leave the question of how to be Jewish in the hands of the ultra-Orthodox. It is inconceivable that a secular non-Jew who wants with all his might to be a secular Jew should have to disguise himself as religious.

There are several options for secular conversion.

One would involve a public announcement by secular Judaism groups saying that they see all immigrants from the former Soviet Union who are classified as not having any religion as full-blown Jews.

…Another possibility would be to hold private secular conversion ceremonies, but only for those who have taken Judaism courses.

…And here is another option: focusing the secular conversion process on teens.

Comptroller: Most rabbinic court cases handled improperly

By Tomer Zarchin and Yair Ettinger, Haaretz May 21, 2008

The comptroller's review of administrative procedures at rabbinic courts found problems with 83 percent of cases at the Tel Aviv court, and 71 percent of cases handled in Petah Tikva.

In 17 percent of the cases checked, delays were found in the procedure for granting the get - a step that follows a divorce ruling, and without which a couple is not considered divorced.

Absences by judges led to hearings being postponed by several months in 26 percent of cases checked.

Agunot advocates push for prenuptial agreements

By Matthew Wagner, May 20, 2008

In two separate initiatives, a coalition of Orthodox Jewish women's rights organizations are calling on attorneys, marriage registrars and rabbis to support the institutionalization of prenuptial agreements as a solution to the phenomenon of women denied a divorce (agunot).

The Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women at Bar-Ilan University, the Center for Women's Justice and the Jewish Women's Foundation of New York have recently joined forces to publish a pamphlet encouraging the use of prenuptials that target public figures who preside over marriages.

Meanwhile, the Council of Young Israel Rabbis in Israel, Matan, Mifnim and Yad L'isha together with the Rackman Center have organized two conferences - one this week, another next week - aimed at teaching marriage professionals the benefits of prenuptial agreements.

Rachel Lev-Mor, a rabbinical court advocate, said that the revolution in prenuptials has already started.

"People who are getting married and the public figures who preside over these marriages are using them more and more," said Lev-Mor.

"Rabbi after rabbi is quietly recommending it suggesting it to their students and their communities. Progress is being made."

National Service Budget Restored to Education Ministry

By Hana Levi Julian, May 22, 2008

The National Service budget for next year has been restored with a last-minute agreement to transfer funds from the Prime Minister's Office to the Education Ministry.

A decision by Education Minister Yuli Tamir to slash the program by at least a third was averted at the last minute Thursday morning in a deal between MK Ami Ayalon, the minister responsible for national service, and the prime minister.

According to Ayalon's spokesman, Olmert ordered the transfer of NIS 18 million from his own office to cover the national service budget and allocation of an additional NIS 60 million for next year's budget.

PM summons ministers to resolve national service funding crunch

By Ruth Sinai, Nadav Shragai and Or Kashti, Haaretz May 20, 2008

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will meet this week with Education Minister Yuli Tamir, Finance Minister Roni Bar-On and Minister Without Portfolio Ami Ayalon to seek a solution to the crisis over the future of national service, the civilian alternative to army service.

The recent cut contradicts a cabinet decision to establish a national service administration, headed by Ayalon, that would expand the national service program from its present majority of Orthodox Jewish participants to Arabs and non-Orthodox young people.

Don't deny the right to serve

By Shahar Ilan, Haaretz Opinion May 20, 2008

…the struggle against the national service cutback is not the nationalist religious public's struggle, but the entire public's. Even if nationalist religious institutions receive unjustly larger allocations of volunteers.

…Perhaps the nationalist religious public should simply announce that until the national service positions are reinstated, no young women will volunteer for the service. Let's see Tamir explain to the hospitals or the Shin Bet how to fill the places of the missing volunteers. Let's see how long it takes her to revoke her decision.

Chief IDF rabbi: Military rabbis inseparable from combat units

By Hanan Greenberg, May 21, 2008

Chief Military Rabbi Brig.-Gen. Avichai Ronsky:

"The military rabbi is an inseparable part of the combat unit, and just as the rabbi risks death in entering the battlefield together with the soldiers, it is a simple fact that if the unit leaves for an operation on a Saturday, the rabbi must leave with it."

"The criticism derives from a basic misunderstanding of the rabbi's position within his unit," Ronsky said.

"The military rabbi is known to us from days of yore, when he was a priest… This rabbi, the priest, stood before the soldiers prior to their departure for battle and imbued them with the fighting spirit, and later even went with them to war."

"The military rabbi's main task is to fortify the soldiers. This fortification is necessary for battle, for it is known that the charging of an enemy at the risk of one's life is not a natural human impulse, and certainly not for our young soldiers.

"A rabbi who is involved in his unit and accompanies them throughout their training and operations can assist the soldiers in overcoming the spiritual distress and crises they experience," he concluded.

Haredi Nahal soldiers to serve in Jenin for first time

By Yuval Azoulay, Haaretz May 21, 2008

GOC Central Command Major General Gadi Shamni announced recently that soldiers in the ultra-Orthodox battalion of the Nahal infantry brigade, a branch of the Israel Defense Forces which combines military and voluntary civilian service, would soon begin defending the Jenin line.

This is the first time soldiers in the battalion will engage in operational activities in this area. Since the battalion was created, nine years ago, its soldiers have served only in the Jordan Valley.

The battalion enlists ultra-Orthodox youth who are not studying in yeshivas.

About 2,500 young ultra-Orthodox men have enlisted in the battalion to date, and members of the IDF human resources department recently said they intend to open another battalion in 2010 to meet the growing demand of ultra-Orthodox youth to serve in a battalion of this type.

Hasidic Singer Lipa Schmeltzer at Nahal Hareidi

Wikepedia entry for Lipa Schmeltzer

Click here for VIDEO

IDF Mechinot May Close Their Doors

By Yechiel Spira, May 21, 2008

An estimated 35 “Mechinot,” IDF Prepatory Yeshivas may be compelled to close their doors if the government does not infuse badly-needed funds into the network.

According to Rabbi Moshe Hager, who heads the organization representing the yeshivas around the country, budgetary cuts from the Education Ministry and other sources have left the yeshivas with NIS 19 million a year in place of NIS 29 million, resulting in dire realities with some yeshivas inability to pay salaries.

Secular Court Called on To Enforce Beth Din Ruling

May 22, 2008

A prominent Modern Orthodox rabbi is at the center of a case being taken to secular court on the grounds that his organization ignored the ruling of a rabbinical court in a contract dispute.

A former employee of Ohr Torah Stone, which was founded by Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, has filed suit against the organization in New York State Supreme Court to confirm an arbitration ruling by the Beth Din of America, a widely respected rabbinical court run by the largest union of Orthodox rabbis in the United States, the Rabbinical Council of America.

New York Court Refuses Comity to Israeli Divorce Based On US Religious Decree

Prof. Howard M. Friedman, May 20, 2008

A New York state trial court refused to recognize the validity of a divorce decree issued under unusual circumstances by an Israeli Rabbinical Court.

The couple involved are Israeli citizens now living in New York. The Israeli decree was based on a religious divorce ("Get") issued by a rabbinical tribunal in Brooklyn.

Religion and State in Israel

May 26, 2008 (Section 1) (continues in Section 2)

Editor – Joel Katz

Religion and State in Israel is not affiliated with any organization or movement.

Religion and State in Israel - May 26, 2008 (Section 2)

Religion and State in Israel

May 26, 2008 (Section 2) (continued from Section 1)

Editor – Joel Katz

Religion and State in Israel is not affiliated with any organization or movement.

Education Minister Tamir encourages Reform education in schools

By Matthew Wagner, May 25, 2008

"Bring more Reform Jewish content into the education system," Tamir said at the 18th Biennial Conference of The Israel Movement for Progressive (Reform) Judaism, which took place Friday and Saturday at Kibbutz Shefayim.

"I see in the Reform Movement a potential inroad for the introduction of Jewish subjects in our school system," she said.

"There is a thirst for knowledge, especially among our youth, and I expect you to quench that thirst.

"As a minister and a human being with a pluralistic approach to the world, I identify with Reform Judaism. When I pray, I pray in an egalitarian Reform synagogue."

Tamir called on the Reform leadership to "create facts on the ground."

"That's the way to make a lasting change," she said. "I recommend that you devote your energies to education, not to legal battles."

Modi’in Milestone

By Michele Chabin, May 21, 2008

Einat Hurvitz, director of the legal department of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism’s Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), said IRAC petitioned the High Court of Justice about six years ago on behalf of the congregation and the movements.

“We had a big stick, but we decided to put it down,” said Anat Hoffman, IRAC’s executive director. “The court petition led to the negotiations, and in the end we were given six synagogues at a cost of two million shekels,” almost $600,000.

Hoffman, who has dedicated her life to the notion of inclusion and choice, insisted that “a little competition is good for everyone.”

Israel, Hoffman said, “should be the largest supermarket in the world from a religious perspective, a Club Med for the soul. You can’t be a supermarket with just one item on the shelf.”

Rabbi Andy Sacks, director of the Conservative/Masorti movement’s Rabbinical Assembly in Israel said he is confident that the synagogue precedent “is a portent of things to come.

I foresee that the government being forced by the courts to fund [non-Orthodox] mikvahs, salaries for conversion teachers, circumcisions for non-Orthodox converts and salaries for rabbis who aren’t Orthodox.”

Rabbi Sacks, whose movement plans to inaugurate its first government-funded synagogue in Modi’in next week, said his movement has opened or will soon open court cases on these issues.

Poll: Identification with Progressive Judaism Movement May 26, 2008

When asked what religious movement they feel closer to, 49 percent of secular Israeli Jews said they identify with the progressive moment, while only 10 percent of those polled said they identify with Orthodox movement.

A quarter of secular Israelis said they do not identify with any religious movement.

The poll furthermore revealed that 71 percent of secular Israelis are in favor of adding liberal Jewish content to the school curriculum, as opposed to 24 percent who said they were against the idea.

Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel video

Click here for VIDEO

Video produced in connection with the 30th anniversary of the Masorti Movement [7:24 min.]

Poll: 40% of secular Jews keep kosher May 26, 2008

38 percent of secular Jews living in Israel keep kosher often or at all times, while 36 percent of Israeli families that define themselves as secular light Shabbat candles, according to a recent survey conducted by Market Watch for the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism.

According to the survey, 50 percent of Israeli Jews don't keep kosher at all times, and 47 percent of secular families never light Shabbat candles.

Twenty percent of the respondents said they go to synagogue on a regular basis, while 42 percent said they never attend prayer service.

Among tradition Jews living in Israel, 67 percent go to synagogue regularly, 87 percent light Shabbat candles every Friday and 94 percent keep kosher.

Religion and State: Fundamentalism or Freedom

New Israel Fund International Town Hall Webcast May 18, 2008

Click here for recordings of LIVE broadcast

Speakers: Rabbi Uri Regev, Naomi Chazan, Jafar Farah, Gershom Gorenberg

Jewish Agency aliya chief quits over policy changes

By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz May 22, 2008

The director of the Jewish Agency's Immigration and Absorption Department, Oded Solomon, is resigning in protest over changes the organization is introducing in its activity to encourage aliya.

The JA has been working for the past few months on a sweeping reorganization plan, at the center of which is drastic cuts in immigration activity as well as diverting resources into the fields of Jewish and Zionist education.

Hesitating Anglo immigrants end up in ‘ethnic enclaves,’ study reveals

By Cnaan Liphshiz, Haaretz May 23, 2008

The longer North American immigrants deliberate about moving to Israel before taking the plunge, the likelier they are to settle in areas which are heavily populated by other Anglos, according to a newly-completed piece of research on the significance of social networks on immigration from developed countries.

Solomon joined the JA just 18 months ago from the private sector, where his last job was as CEO of Gerber for Israel and the Middle East. He brought to the task new marketing methods for encouraging Jewish immigration from affluent Western countries. But he says his plans were not well received within the JA, and that he ran into disagreements with senior officials.

Eyewitness: 'A great assembly shall return here'

This group, which numbers 38 adults, two children and two babies, is among the last batch of Falash Mura that the Israeli government plans to bring to the Jewish state. According to embassy officials, another 300 or so Falash Mura will be brought to Israel by the end of June, and then the operation will be complete.

Embassy staff have already begun seeking employment elsewhere, as rumors of impending cuts in personnel make the rounds. It is the end of an era, one official says, proudly adding that the ancient community of Ethiopian Jewry has at last found its way home.

Activists in Israel and the United States disagree, saying that there are at least 8,700 Falash Mura in the Gondar region whose eligibility for aliya has not even been reviewed by the Israeli government, which they accuse of wanting to shut down the process in haste.

And they vow to press on until every last member of the Falash Mura who wishes to return to Judaism and the Jewish people is allowed to do so.

Edri: Don't dump the ulpanim on the Absorption Ministry

The Absorption Ministry is worried. As its director-general, Erez Halfon, explained in the Knesset meeting, his ministry lacks the institutions of a professional education system, the Hebrew teachers themselves, and the funds to run the 300 nationwide courses.

New generation has a new take on Israel

By Julie Gruenbaum Fax, May 15, 2008

Many Gen Y-ers -- people born between the mid-1970s and early 1990s -- don't buy into the mainstream demand that they wave the Israeli flag and pledge support to the Jewish state.

Uncomfortable with terms like "Israel advocate" or "pro-Israel," many of today's future leaders are forging an arena where they can build a relationship with Israel that is nuanced and multifaceted, relying on cultural interactions or collaborative tikkun olam projects, sometimes in addition to, sometimes instead of, traditional political advocacy.

To them, Israel is not a miracle to be held in respectful and infallible esteem, but a complex reality to be criticized and/or befriended, woven into or left out of many layers of their ongoing search for meaning.

It is a shift in attitude that the Jewish establishment is still trying to get its head around.

Evangelical Group Cuts Off Donations to Jewish Agency

www.Forward.comMay 21, 2008

International Fellowship of Christians and Jews founder and president, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein and Jewish Agency representatives presented the latest rupture as a simple bureaucratic matter, borne of clerical errors.

Eckstein says that the Jewish Agency missed a deadline for a marketing plan publicizing the new partnership, thus breaching the agreement. Both sides say that IFCJ now has the plan and is reviewing it, and that they hope the matter will be resolved soon.

…Eckstein said he would not resume payments under the partnership until both sides reached an agreement on the marketing plan, which he described as a crucial measure of how seriously the Jewish Agency takes its relationship with Christian donors.

He said he wants Jews and Jewish organizations “to see evangelical Christians who are supportive of Israel as not just niceties, not just as friends, but as strategic partners for Israel around the world.”

A Chinese Jewish wedding in Jerusalem

Shavei Israel May 23, 2008

Click here for VIDEO

Shoshana Li, a descendant of the Jewish community of Kaifeng, China, recently made aliyah and married an American Jewish immigrant to Israel.

The wedding was organized by the Shavei Israel organization.

Vatican moves to calm chief rabbis on Latin liturgy, says not a call to proselytize

By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz May 25, 2008

Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone wrote last week to chief rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger that the revival of the Latin liturgy calling on God to enlighten the Jews to the Catholic Church is not a call for missionary work toward Jews.

Jerusalem City Hall Transfers NIS Millions to Talmedei Torah

By Yechiel Spira, May 23, 2008

After a number of years during which the city was prohibited from doing so, Jerusalem City Hall this week distributed NIS millions to talmedei Torah classified as “not recognized” in the city towards building improvements and to acquire supplies.

In past years, legal limitations prevented the move but this year, Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupoliansky had city legal advisors and experts establish new criteria and take necessary steps to create a new reality, now placing such action within the framework of the law.

According to Rav Ori Maklev, who holds the city’s chareidi education portfolio, he is working to bring total equality between the “recognized” and “not recognized” institutions until they both enjoy equal funding.

Jerusalem Municipality Overcomes Talmudei Torah Budget Obstacles

By Yechiel Sever, Dei’ah veDibur May 22, 2008

After years of legal directives preventing unrecognized talmudei Torah from receiving funding, the Jerusalem Municipality recently made it possible to complete the transfer of millions of shekels earmarked for substantial renovations, equipment purchases and operational costs at chareidi educational institutions.

The payments went through after Jerusalem Mayor Rabbi Uri Lupoliansky formulated new criteria that allow the municipality to legally support the institutions.

Chareidim Targeted in Airport Customs Inspections

By Yechiel Spira, May 20, 2008

According to a ‘Chadrei Chadarim’ report, customs officials in Ben-Gurion International Airport are targeting Chareidi travelers, pulling them over to the side upon their arrival for a thorough inspection.

An unnamed “customs’ source” quoted in the report stated that travelers with a chareidi appearance are being selected by customs agents in an apparent operation to single them out among other travelers. The source is quoted as explaining the operation is intended to apprehend people carrying illegal funds into the country.

Sexless city: 'Sex and the City' adverts banned in Jerusalem

By Adi Dovrat, Haaretz May 20, 2008

Outdoor advertising company Maximedia has notified the distributors of 'Sex in the City' Forum Films and its publicist, Golan Advertising - that the movie based on the popular TV series of the same name will not be allowed to advertise in Jerusalem and Petah Tikva, because the word "sex" appears on the signs.

"The news was a great shock," said a spokesman for Forum Films said. "We have not asked to advertise nudity, or messages that may be offensive to the general public and the ultra-Orthodox community in particular. Nevertheless, this is the name of the movie. We feel that it is ridiculous to prohibit us from advertising the brand without naming it," he added.

Kol Korei in Support of Chinuch Atzmai Bus Program

By Yechiel Sever, Dei’ah veDibur May 22, 2008

Keren Hahasa'ot was formed two years ago by Maran HaRav Eliashiv and the Rosh Yeshiva HaRav Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman shlita when the government failed to transfer payment for transportation costs, based on dubious claims devised by jurists.

Until then the government had provided partial funding for the Chinuch Atzmai busing program. At government schools the remaining transportation costs were covered by the local authorities, whereas Chinuch Atzmai institutions had to obtain the balance of funding through coalition agreements.

Two years ago, although the balance of funding had been arranged and approved by the Knesset Finance Committee, jurists blocked the transfer of payment, claiming it was illegal and citing a High Court decision in a petition filed by the Reform Movement.

Ex-chief rabbi Eliyahu's condition deteriorates further after stroke

By Yuval Azoulay and Nadav Shragai, Haaretz May 22, 2008

Rabbi Eliyahu underwent cardiac bypass surgery at Shaare Zedek a month ago and was released after his condition had initially improved.

Rabbi Eliyahu is the most prominent spiritual leader of National Religious Zionism.

Breakthrough for English-Speaking High School Students in Israel

By staff May 25, 2008

A new high school for religious English-speaking youth will open in Jerusalem's Bayit Vegan neighborhood in September, 2008. Rabbi David Samson, noted author and educator, is founding the new program and accepting 9th and 10th-grade boys in the first year.

The program, called Yerushalayim Torah Academy (YTA), answers an overwhelming demand of many new immigrant families who are concerned about their children's integration into the Israeli yeshiva (religious) high schools.

YTA will offer a full GED program, and a full Israeli bagrut (high school diploma). The goal of the YTA founders is that by the end of 12th grade, all the graduates will continue to Israeli yeshivas and programs, and become a thriving part of Israeli society.

The fight over the saintly rabbi

By Yair Ettinger, Haaretz May 22, 2008

The tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai on the slopes of Mount Meron

Different organizations have been fighting for years for control over the site. They are motivated of course not only by a yearning to cling to the righteous man's holiness, but also by a desire to have some of the substantial amounts of money the place brings in each year cling to them.

According to Yossi Shvinger, the director general of the National Center for Managing Holy Sites, the alms boxes placed there bring in NIS 2.5 to NIS 3 million shekels a year for the different charitable trusts. But because there is a serious dispute among them - which has been through the rabbinical courts and the civil courts - the site is neglected.

Last week, the Supreme Court decided to hand over the site to the state's management, at least temporarily. The judges ruled that a committee be set up to run the site headed by a representative of the state, whose members would include four members of the charitable trusts.

For the first time, the fate of the gravesite in Meron is being determined by a secular court, and will be handed over to the management of the secular state, instead of rabbinical courts and religious organizations.

Lag B'Omer: 200,000 attend Mount Meron festivities

By Hagai Einav, May 23, 2008

More than 200,000 people arrived at Mount Meron in northern Israel Thursday night to take part in the annual Lag B'Omer celebration at the grave of second-century Torah sage Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yohai.

Some 4,300 police officers and volunteers are maintaining order at the event. According to police officials, an additional 200,000 people are expected to arrive at the site by noon Friday.

A time-honored tradition

By Leah Abramowitz, May 25, 2008

Meron is not the only holy site visited by masses of pilgrims on Lag Ba'omer. The custom to pray at the grave of Shimon Hatzadik, one of the earliest and most famous high priests of the Second Temple, dates back to the 1800s.

The burial site of Shimon Hatzadik is located in Wadi Joz, near Sheikh Jarrah, on the road leading to Mount Scopus. The grave consists of a man-made cave hewn in the Roman or Byzantine Period and has three interconnecting rooms plus a fenced-in yard. The cave and surrounding field were purchased by the Jews of Jerusalem in or around 1876.

Academia looks seriously at Kabbalah

By Matthew Wagner, May 23, 2008

The latest example of this burgeoning interest in contemporary Kabbalah is a three-day series of lectures and workshops at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba this week titled Kabbalah and Contemporary Spiritual Revival: Historical, Sociological and Cultural Perspectives.

Tourist's 13-foot Leap from Tiberias Walkway Called "Jerusalem Syndrome"

By May 25, 2008

Israeli officials are attributing an American tourist's apparent suicide-intended leap from a 13-foot walkway at a Tiberias hospital to "Jerusalem syndrome."

The 38-year-old made the leap on Friday night and remains hospitalized in critical condition with broken ribs, punctured lung and a crushed vertebra.

The victim had been taken to the hospital by his wife on the 10th day of their group tour of Israel. He had been unable to sleep and had become overly anxious, according to newspaper accounts.

After being interviewed by a psychiatrist and giving samples for blood tests, the tourist walked out on to the 13-foot walkway and jumped. Jerusalem syndrome is described as "a psychotic state brought on by visits to Jerusalem or the Galilee. It induces a state of religious ecstasy which overcomes the tourists."

Second Temple Period Quarry Discovered

Click here for VIDEO

By Shauna Naghi, May 26, 2008

Dr. Gerald Finkelstein, who is leading a new archaeological dig in Jerusalem, claims to have discovered the very quarry which supplied stones used thousands of years ago to build Jerusalem's Western Wall, also known as the Kotel.

Pottery from the Herodian period through the destruction of the Second Temple was found at the excavation site. These finds, paired with the type of stone, further suggested the quarry's connection to the construction of the supporting walls surrounding the Temple Mount, including the Kotel.

Religion and State in Israel

May 26, 2008 (Section 2) (continued from Section 1)

Editor – Joel Katz

Religion and State in Israel is not affiliated with any organization or movement.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Religion and State in Israel - May 19, 2008 (Section 1)

Religion and State in Israel

May 19, 2008 (Section 1) (continues in Section 2)

Editor – Joel Katz

Religion and State in Israel is not affiliated with any organization or movement.

God only knows where this will lead

By Matthew Wagner, May 18, 2008

A high-ranking source in the rabbinical courts said this week that the recent controversy over conversions, pitting rabbi against rabbi, has devastated the rabbinical establishment.

…Rabbi Avraham Sherman’s decision, though more aggressive in its wording, was just another salvo in the ongoing argument over conversions between haredim and religious Zionists.

But it also defined more clearly the delineation between the warring camps, and it placed Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar squarely on the side of the religious Zionists.

Although Sherman's rabbinic invective focused mainly on Druckman and his former deputy, Rabbi Yosef Avior, the attack was also indirectly aimed at Amar, who is the overriding halachic decisor supervising conversions performed by the Conversion Authority.

If, as Sherman claimed, thousands of converts were passing through the Conversion Authority in a non-kosher way, without any intention of adhering to Halacha, Amar could not escape culpability.

…A near anarchic situation has been created in which one arm of the official, state-funded rabbinate, the High Rabbinical Court, is attacking another, the Conversion Authority - while the chief rabbi, who is the ultimate authority of both, is torn in half, and has yet to issue a definitive stand on the issue.

More importantly, thousands of Israelis who converted to Judaism no longer know whether or not they are Jewish. The answer, obviously, depends on whom you ask.

Jewish Court Questions Conversions

By Michelle Martin, NPR interview May 9, 2008

Click here for AUDIO interview

Click here for Transcript of AUDIO interview

Hundreds - and, perhaps, thousands - of Jewish converts may soon have their status invalidated.

The [Supreme] Rabbinical Court in Israel has questioned the integrity of an official who oversaw their conversions.

Rabbi Shaul Farber, director of the Jewish Life Information Center and Shaney Gilbert, who converted to Judaism 2005, discuss the case and its implications.

Continuing Conversion Crisis

Jewish Press Editorial May 14, 2008

The issue of the underlying halachic imperative surely remains, regardless of the politics and the emotions.

We cannot lose sight of the fact that the seeds of an irreparable schism in Yahadus, with all that means in terms of marriages, is in the making.

No one will be well served if ostensible converts go on with their lives mistakenly believing they will be universally accepted as Jews.

All Sarah's Children

Contributing Editor Anne Roiphe is a novelist and journalist living in New York.

If all of us in America had gone to the Promised Land, then Israel would by popular democratic consent insist on civil marriage in a civil society. So, in a way, this whole problem serves us right.

…One branch of the Israeli people has arrogated to itself the power to declare and determine the Jewishness of all the people.

This is unacceptable to the rest of us. Here in America we have no vote over Israeli religious matters.

We can't throw these Orthodox rabbis out of power. We can only rant a little, tossing our displeasure to the political winds.

Public Notice from Vaad HaRabbonim Haolami LeInyonei Giyur

Dei’ah veDibur May 15, 2008

…we hereby commend and support the reputable dayanim of the High Rabbinical Court of Jerusalem, HaRav Avrohom Sherman, HaRav Chagai Izerer and HaRav Avrohom Sheinfeld shlita, as well as HaRav Avraham Attia shlita, a dayan at the Ashdod Beis Din, who resolutely determined in their respective rulings that conversion without accepting mitzvas is not conversion, and that a conversion performed by unworthy dayanim who do not bother to look into whether there was a genuine acceptance of mitzvas is not a valid conversion at all, and the "convert" has a din of a non-Jew for all intents and purposes.

As such this is a sacred call to the Chief Rabbis and all other rabbonim and dayanim in Israel to publicize their support for this ruling and to fulfill the Torah's exhortation, "Do not be afraid in the face of any man" (Devorim 1:17) in order to stop non-Jews from being assimilated into Am Yisroel.

HaRav Nachum Eisenstein, Vaad HaRabbonim Chairman

An end to religious coercion

Letters to the Editor, Haaretz May 15, 2008

Regarding "Free Israel!" May 7, 2008

It was indeed exhilarating to read Benjamin Lau's call to "free Israel" from the tyranny of the ultra-Orthodox, non-Zionist rabbinate that now controls state-sponsored Judaism in Israel.

It would certainly be an improvement to have Zionist rabbis serving as judges in the rabbinic courts.

However, Rabbi Lau does not go far enough. To truly "free Israel" from religious tyranny and grant Israelis the religious freedom they were promised 60 years ago in the Declaration of Independence, there must be an end to religious coercion, an end to the monopolistic control that the Chief Rabbinate exercises over such matters as marriage, divorce and conversion.

The rabbinate must be privatized so that individuals have the right to choose their own rabbinic authorities according to their beliefs, or to ignore them.

Only when Israelis have the same religious rights as are accorded to citizens of every other Western democracy will we be truly free.

Rabbi Reuven Hammer


Take Israel’s Declaration of Independence off the wall

Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi, May 7, 2008

While Israel today is witnessing a religious renaissance, with more and more Jews searching for diverse expressions of spirituality and religious meaning, Orthodoxy still holds exclusive control of the country’s religious public sphere, institutions and funding.

We are still a far cry from the freedom of religion envisioned by the founders of this great State.

Aharon Barak: Don’t leave marriage in hands of religious

By Raanan Ben-Zur, May 14, 2008

“Civil marriage laws must be regulated in Israel. The control cannot be left in the hands of the religious alone; an alternative must exist,"

former Chief Justice of Israel’s Supreme Court Aharon Barak said on Tuesday in a conference commemorating 60 years to law in Israel which took place at the the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center.

“I am not in favor of culture clashes, we can conclude this with an agreement with the religious sector,” he claimed. “The Knesset needs to do this in order to provide minimal service to the Israeli citizen.”

Justice Minister Friedmann: Israel must allow marriages for all citizens

By Kobi Nahshoni, May 19, 2008

“Israel needs to find a solution regarding weddings and divorces for citizens who are not considered Jewish according to Jewish law, "Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann said Sunday night.

According to him, the State needs to help them integrate into Israelis' lives and to accept them even if the Halacha (Jewish law) has difficulty recognizing them as Jews. The present situation, in which they cannot marry, is unacceptable, he added.

…Israel’s Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar also discussed Friedmann’s proposal to arrange weddings for non-Jewish immigrants and noted that

“my past proposal to the justice minister was to allow them to marry one another, just like Christians, Muslims and members of any other sect are permitted to do in Israel.

"However, they are not permitted to marry Jews. We cannot be part and parcel to the plague of the generation - assimilation."

Beilin and Gafni parry over separation of religion and state

Former Meretz chairman Yossi Beilin said that if haredi MKs agreed to separation of religion and state, it could be a "bridge to understanding."

But he attacked haredim for refusing to recognize non-Orthodox movements in Judaism that constitute the majority of Diaspora Jewry.

However, if haredim grow to 20% or more of the population, this would be a problem, he said.

…Former Bnei Brak mayor Rabbi Mordechai Karelitz said housing for young couples is one of the biggest problems, and that 80,000 apartments are needed for them over the coming years.

"In the past, haredim lived in mixed neighborhoods and towns," but now they want to live alone because they need schools, stores, education and standards of modesty that are unavailable among the non-haredi population, he said.

Shas Flexes Its Muscles

By Leslie Susser, The Jerusalem Report May 12, 2008

Shas has also taken a consistently hard line on state and religion.

"No one can show me a single historical instance in which Shas presented a more conciliatory or pragmatic position than the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox Torah Judaism party,"
says Bar-Ilan University's Asher Cohen, co-author of "Israel and the Politics of Jewish Identity: the Secular-Religious Impasse."

"When it comes to things like the Tal Law on army exemptions for yeshiva students, work hours on the Sabbath or the hametz law, Shas is never more moderate than the Ashkenazi haredim."

Nevertheless, in Cohen's view, the great state and religion compromises brokered by the National Religious Party in the 1950s - on army service for yeshiva students, work on the Sabbath, public observance of Jewish festivals - are starting to unravel and Shas is doing nothing constructive to rebuild them.

"For example, more people work on the Sabbath and many more places are open, because the haredi parties focus their power on sectoral gains and not on the big religion and state compromise agreements," he avers.

Long arm of rabbinical court reaches LA

By Matthew Wagner, May 19, 2008

She's an Israeli with US permanent residency rights. He has both US and Israeli citizenship. They were married in Israel, but now they live in Los Angeles. Their four-year-old daughter was born in California, but they both have strong family ties to Israel.

Now they want to get divorced.

She filed in Los Angeles; he filed with a rabbinical court in Haifa. Who will hear the case?

To be or not to be?

By Abe Selig, May 15, 2008

As Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and the Shas party flex political muscle to see the appointment of Yosef's son as the next chief rabbi of Jerusalem, many of the city's leaders, religious and otherwise, are playing down the post as either unimportant or completely unnecessary.

…Even the Reform movement seems to be in agreement with Ralbag over the lack of influence such a figure might have on the city's religious environment.

"With us, the whole story of having a chief rabbi of Jerusalem is just another setback that distances us from the rabbinate," says Rabbi Gilad Kariv of the Reform movement's Israel Religious Action [Center].

"In this particular situation there's more politics involved than religion, more special interest than spirituality. We're standing on the side and basically saying, 'We told you so' as far as the need for a separation between religion and state. If there's a rav or not, it will influence one thing - that rabbi's bank account."

Religion and State: Fundamentalism or Freedom?

Click here for New Israel Fund VIDEO

National Service placements cut

By Kobi Nahshoni, May 15, 2008

The Education Ministry has decided to cancel National Service placements in schools, starting in the next school year. The National Service failed to receive any formal notice of the cancellation, which may result in 3,000 placements being annulled.

…Seminary schools' graduates have been placed as special-education teachers and seminary school teachers all across Israel as well as caregivers to children at risk, or children living in the periphery.

Rabbi Lior: Meretz harming Israel's Jewish identity

By Kobi Nahshoni, May 19, 2008

Bnei Akiva's secretary-general, Rabbi Benny Nechtailer, said in response,

"The Bnei Akiva movement is not afraid of listening to additional voices and opinions from the Israeli public discourse…”

Former Bnei Akiva Secretary-General Dr. Amnon Shapira, who also took part in the discussions, said that he believed Rabbi Lior's approach was flawed and contradicted Judaism.

"Those who make these claims are trying to push us to the haredi path, where Rabbi Lior's books are banned from seminaries, as are those of Rabbi Kook and Rabbi Soloveichik. In our library one can also find books by Neturei Karta.

This is the way of Judaism and this is the way of Bnei Akiva, which has always invited representatives from the Shomer Hatzair Movement and the Working Youth movement, and this year the Meretz chairman."

Hod Hasharon law school to open beit midrash

By Matthew Wagner, May 14, 2008

Sha'arei Mishpat College, a private law school in Hod Hasharon, will establish a beit midrash (religious study hall) on campus as part of an ongoing effort to produce students well versed in Jewish law.

"We want our students to change the face of the Israeli legal system," said Prof. Eliav Shochetman, a specialist in Jewish jurisprudence and a driving force behind the creation of the yeshiva on campus.

"The idea is to encourage students who already have a strong religious background to apply Jewish law and thus become a force of change."

Some 20 percent to 25% of the students at Sha'arei Mishpat are religious.

For the national religious camp, a reason to celebrate

By Nadav Shragai, Haaretz May 13, 2008

On Israel's 60th Independence Day, members of the national religious camp who avoided the holiday and its symbols appeared to be highly isolated − a minority.

Whoever saw the joy expressed by hesder yeshiva students, members of Bnei Akiva and other youth movements, could gain some perspective about what had been presented before the holiday as an attempt to break free of the state and its symbols, following the "Gush Katif expulsion," and perhaps future uprootings.

Religion and State in Israel

May 19, 2008 (Section 1) (continues in Section 2)

Editor – Joel Katz

Religion and State in Israel is not affiliated with any organization or movement.