Monday, February 4, 2008

Religion and State in Israel - February 4, 2008 (Section 1)

Religion and State in Israel

February 4, 2008 (Section 1)

Editor – Joel Katz

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

Political disputes threaten new conversion authority

The cabinet postponed a meeting of the Ministerial Committee on Absorption and Immigration slated for Monday morning until later this week, after infighting among the parties planning a new state conversion authority forced a delay of the vote approving it.

The delay comes because of objections within the Prime Minister's Office to the establishment of two positions that the prime minister would fill at the recommendation of Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, the new authority's chairman and director-general.

The plan for revamping the conversion authority has seen a litany of objections.

The ministerial committee originally recommended turning the Institute for Jewish Studies - the semi-official conversion studies agency established in the wake of the 1998 Ne'eman Commission - which provides pluralistic Jewish studies that culminate in an Orthodox conversion, into an official arm of the state, eliminating the need for the authority to compete in annual tenders to obtain the right to open its academic year.

This recommendation was reversed in the final report's call for "open skies" - making the institute just one of many organizations vying for the millions of state shekels spent on conversion education.

The move would effectively dismantle the institute, since it would be the only agency subject for the government tender - the competing nonprofit organizations would not legally require one - and would be bogged down by the loss of budget and the bureaucratic hurdles of renewing the tender. The institute, and with it pluralistic conversion studies, might be dismantled.

In addition, a plan to allow 40 additional volunteer rabbinic judges to work in the authority, both to increase the capacity of the slow-moving conversion courts and to bring "a different perspective" to the proceedings, has been delayed because the Attorney-General's Office found legal problems with employing public servants on a volunteer basis.

This has created discord, since it is these rabbis - modern Orthodox rather than haredi-leaning - who were meant to effect the real change in the authority. Some have suggested that delaying their appointment is a political, not strictly legal, move.

Secular cemetery set for Jerusalem

"It is wonderful that at long last the Jerusalem Municipality is realizing that Orthodox burial is not appropriate for everybody, and that the largest city in Israel will now have a place for those who want to have an alternate burial ceremony,"
said Anat Hoffman, director of the Israel Religious Action Center, which represents Reform Jewry in Israel, and a member of Menucha Nechona's board.

She added that Mayor Lupolianski had no choice in light of the High Court ruling, adding that he "dragged his feet" as much as possible on the issue.

"This is his initiative to the extent that the snow in Jerusalem was his initiative," Hoffman said.

The Jerusalem Municipality has approved plans to establish a secular cemetery that will allow for civil burial, the city said

The proposal, which now needs state approval, would see construction of the secular cemetery in a new 350-dunam section of the main city cemetery in the Givat Shaul neighborhood.

The civil cemetery, which will be run by the Menucha Nechona NGO, which advocates non-Orthodox burials, will serve people who cannot be buried in the main section according to Jewish law, as well as those who are not interested in being buried in such a manner, the city said.

The plan, which was approved by a municipal committee at the initiative of Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski, was transferred to the Interior Ministry on Wednesday for further deliberation, a city spokesman said.

"Jerusalem is a pluralistic city which requires letting each person choose his lifestyle and burial style without coercion of one form or the other," Lupolianski said in a statement.

Capital's first secular cemetery in works

By Jonathan Lis, Haaretz February 1, 2008

Anyone barred by Jewish religious law from burial in the main part of the cemetery or who does not want an Orthodox ceremony can be laid to rest in the civil area, which will be operated by the association Menucha Nechona - Rest in Peace.

Jerusalem to build city's first non-Orthodox secular burial site

By Jonathan Lis, Haaretz January 31,, 2008

The new cemetery aims to battle Jerusalem's burial space crisis and will offer a plethora of burial methods - joint burial, vertical burial, burial in crypts and multi-level burial. In the lot adjacent to the cemetery, the municipality plans to build centers for eulogies and purification, an information center and upwards of 800 parking spaces for private and public vehicles.

In addition, the municipality is also discussing a plan to designate an additional 50 dunams for burial purposes in an area connecting the old Har HaMenuchot cemetery with the new cemetery.

Religious Affairs Ministry holds up Secular Burial

By Shaul Amsterdamski, (Hebrew) February 28, 2008,7340,L-3499558,00.html

The Ministry failed to spend NIS 11.5 million that was designated for secular burial in 2007.

This budget may be rescinded this year and only those with the financial means will be buried in a secular burial – that is, privately, in kibbutzim and moshavim costing thousands of shekels.

Say no to ‘kosher buses’

By Zahava Fisher, February 3, 2008

There was no minimal effort to look into the question of whether a judge is allowed to determine the proper dress code for women, or whether it is even appropriate to talk about how women dress.

In 2008, the High Court of Justice may force the crime of segregation into Israeli society. The judges must regain their senses, stop themselves from falling into this trap, and explicitly rule that this segregation in and of itself is false, illegal, undemocratic, and very bad.

Articles by the author in Hebrew can be found at

Education Ministry Allows Students at Government Schools to Pray

By Eliezer Rauchberger, Dei’ah ve’Dibur January 31, 2008

Any student attending a government school who elects to pray will be allowed to do so in the future, Education Ministry official Mr. Shmuel Gross told a meeting of the Knesset Education Committee convened to discuss the issue.

Mr. Gross, the Education Ministry's inspector for the Tel Aviv District, said that the Education Ministry's policy is to allow every student to pray, saying this is only feasible at a distance from the school.

He said these guidelines are formulated by the director-general of the Education Ministry and the place would be a ten-minute walk away, adding that there would be a special break to accommodate the students during the time it takes to walk there, pray and walk back to the school.

Ramat Gan Mayor Tzvi Barr said he wants to work out a solution to the problem and asked for some time to look for places to pray at or near the school. The committee decided to grant his request.

The committee welcomed the Education Ministry's announcement it would allow any student who elects to pray to do so. Following a suggestion by Rabbi Gafni, the committee asked the director-general at the Education Ministry to issue a directive saying that whenever possible students should be allowed to pray on the school grounds, and only if this is not feasible an alternative location near the school should be arranged.

End of the battle: Rabbi Metzger won’t be removed

By Yerucham Shmuelvich and Levi Ashkenazi, (Hebew) February 1, 2008

After a series of meetings, still no vote has taken place – but apparently there is no majority to oust Rabbi Yona Metzger from his position.

Chief Rabbi Metzger: 'Give Sinai to the Palestinians' January 18, 2008

Rabbi Metzger suggested that the UK, European Union and America could help build a Palestinian country in Sinai and “move them to the wonderful new, modern country with trains, buses cars, like in Arizona, we are now in a generation where you can take a desert and build a nice city.

Chief Rabbi Metzger on intermarriage January 18, 2008

Responding to the recent Jewish People Policy Planning Institute’s report on waning Diaspora support for Israel, Rabbi Metzger blamed intermarriage, he said: “There are two kinds of Jewish people in the Diaspora, people who have mixed marriages and people that keep their tradition and are proud to be Jews.

“The first that are married to non Jews, they lose their connection with Israel. The people who keep the tradition, even if they are not religious, they continue to support Israel.

Reform Movement pre-Army program plans cancelled to due Jaffa protest

By Yigal Hai, (Hebrew) February 2, 2008

Due to protest by Jaffa’s Arab leadership, the Tel Aviv Municipality has cancelled its allocation for a building in the Agami neighborhood in Jaffa designated for the Israel Movement for Progressive (Reform) Judaism (IMPJ) pre-Army program.

Two and a half years ago, the Municipality approved the allocation of the building to the IMPJ - which planned to tear down and reconstruct the building, and even raised funds for the project and hired the services of an architect.

Reform Reflections: Israel suffers from ADHD

By Rabbi Michael Marmur, February 4, 2008

The writer is Dean of the Jerusalem school of the Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion

A rabbi here in Israel has come out against the notion that human beings can love-cling to God in some physical sense.

He has made the radical suggestion that the way to express devekut, cleaving to God, is to do good things in the world: to support education and social justice, to stand for what is right.

He argues that since God is unknowable and untouchable, the best we can hope for is to do some good for God's creatures.

Dallas Native Commissioned as Navy Chaplain in Israel

U.S. Navy website January 16, 2008

Chaplain Candidate, Ensign Anne Strauss was commissioned at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel on Dec. 14.

Strauss is a rabbinical student at the American Jewish seminary at Hebrew Union College (HUC) and acceptance into the Chaplain Candidate Program for Officers (CCPO) offered her a chance to serve her faith and her country.

After a lot of searching, he was able to make contact with the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv and Assistant Naval Attaché, Lt. Cmdr. Frank Schlereth agreed to invite Anne from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv to take her oath of office.

The Shas paradox

By Yair Ettinger, Haaretz January 31, 2008

The Shas source's children are all being educated at well-regarded Ashkenazi-Lithuanian schools.

This detail will not give him away, since all of the Shas leaders, ministers and Knesset members - including Yosef - send their children to the same schools.

"Ashkenazi racism does exist, but it does not cleanse Shas," says A., a yeshiva student from the Har Nof neighborhood in Jerusalem.

"How is it possible to complain of discrimination and at the same continue to knock on the Ashkenazi doors?

We Sephardim must raise ourselves up and disengage ourselves entirely from dependence on the Ashkenazim. In this, the Shas leadership has failed."

Bambi's messiah

Interview with Eretz Aheret magazine founder and editor-in-chief Bambi (Beatrice) Sheleg

We are a Zionist magazine and Zionism, in my opinion, is also a messianic movement. But Zionism has also always been connected to some kind of reality.

That was the greatness of the founders of Zionism and for that reason the leaders of the historic Mapai managed to establish a connection between a utopia and a reality on the ground. They were always aware of the need to be "realistic."

Today, I'm afraid we have lost this connection a bit. I would say that the great failures we are witnessing today in our society are the result of the fact that so many of us are no longer careful to dream while keeping a foot in reality.

Rabbis: No More Alibis

By Rabbi Marc D. Angel,

There are, unfortunately, numerous horror stories where husbands have maliciously and immorally used the "get" as a weapon against their wives.

These cases have dragged on for years, causing immeasurable grief to the women involved, as well as to their families.

The problem is: why does the rabbinic court system allow such a corrupt situation to continue?

Why haven't means been found to protect women from this cruel victimization?

Why has the "system" essentially turned a blind eye to blackmail and extortion?

There needs to be systemic change in the rabbinic court system. Halakha must not be hijacked, nor lose its moral stature. Why aren't the obvious problems relating to the "Agunah" issue being addressed?

Taking 'yes' for an answer

By Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, Haaretz February 1, 2008

The writer is the founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.

As Fellowship president and an ordained Orthodox rabbi, I will continue to be the one sitting on the board and making decisions on the basis of what is good and right for Israel, the Jewish people and the Jewish Agency - as I have for the past seven years.

There are still many in the Jewish community whose mistrust, suspicion and prejudice cause them to perceive Christian motives in the most sinister light possible. I guess there are those of us who just can't take "yes" for an answer.

No room for evangelicals

By MK Colette Avital (Labor), Haaretz February 1, 2008

The writer is a member of the Knesset’s Committee for Immigration, Absorption, and Diaspora Affairs.

Let me be clear: I have no objection whatsoever to Rabbi Eckstein as an individual, nor do I doubt his sincerity or devotion. My objection to his appointment is not personal.

I do, however, find it highly objectionable that an organization such as the Jewish Agency, with its glorious tradition, should choose to put a representative on its executive board because of the money he collects. Why not substitute the entire board with big donors?

More important, in my mind, is the fact that the money so generously provided comes from evangelicals, whose views and purposes are, alas, well-known.

Lauder, a king without a kingdom

By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz January 31, 2008

President Shimon Peres smilingly addressed Ronald Lauder as "king of the Jews" this week.

Speaking at the official dinner concluding the board of governors meeting of the World Jewish Congress, even for the whimsical Peres this was one cliché too far.

Many Jews take pride in the fact that Judaism is a religion without need for a pope or supreme spiritual leader. Apparently, it doesn't need a king either.

Moshe Kantor's house of lords

By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz February 4, 2008

"Israel's leadership should recognize that all the Jews in the world have the right to vote in Israeli elections," he states right at the beginning.

"If anyone with at least one Jewish grandfather or grandmother has the right to make aliyah under the Law of Return, then we need to grant them equal rights.

If citizens of the United States and Russia living in Israel can vote here in their countries' elections, Jews around the world should be able to vote in Israeli elections.

We love the countries in which we live, but no less, we love Israel and demand to take part in its burdens and privileges. It is part of our hearts and pain."

Rabbi Kanievsky Visits Building Site of Kosher Electricity Plant in Modi'in Illit

By A. Cohen, Dei’ah ve’Dibur January 31, 2008

A throng of local rabbonim and activists accompanied HaRav Chaim Kanievsky shlita when he paid a visit to the site of the kosher power plant to be built outside of the city.

During the gathering HaRav Kanievsky blessed those involved in the task, adding, "May the Council Head have the merit to quickly complete the construction of the power plant for [the production of] electricity without any concerns of chilul Shabbos."

The initiative is being carried out with the encouragement and guidance of gedolei Yisroel and led by Maran HaRav Yosef Sholom Eliashiv shlita.

Religion and State in Israel

February 4, 2008

Editor – Joel Katz

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