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.

Religion and State in Israel - May 19, 2008 (Section 2)

Religion and State in Israel

May 19, 2008 (Section 2) (continued from Section 1)

Editor – Joel Katz

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

IFCJ suspends Jewish Agency payments

JTA May 14, 2008

The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews suspended its May 1 payment on a $45 million charitable commitment it made to the agency this winter.

The IFCJ's founder and president, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, told JTA in an interview Wednesday that the payment was suspended because the Jewish Agency had not yet fulfilled its end of the partnership.

A key issue, he said, is that Jewish Agency stationary still only lists the organization's historic partners, the United Jewish Communities and Keren Hayesod, but fails to mention IFCJ.

Aliyah and Israel-Diaspora Relations Discussed at Peres Conference

By Ezra HaLevi, May 18, 2008

Moderated by Dr. Ruth Calderon of the Alma Home for Hebrew Culture in Tel Aviv, the panel included Nefesh B’Nefesh’s Danny Oberman, Jewish Agency Treasurer Hagai Meirom, senior Jewish Federation official Dr. Steven Nasatir, and student activists Aharon Horowitz of the PresenTense Institute for Creative Zionism and Jason Lustig of ImpactAliyah.

…The Nefesh B’Nefesh official also credited programs like Birthright and Masa, who bring young people to visit Israel, with providing the sparks that ignite an increasing number of young, single Jews to make the move to Israel.

“Of the over 3,000 people who came last year – 1,000 of them were singles.” He noted that 65 percent of the singles were non-Orthodox – almost all of whom moved to Tel Aviv. He joked that the other 35 percent all moved to Jerusalem’s Baka neighborhood.

EJC head proposes a Jewish ‘House of Lords’

By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz May 16, 2008

A leader of France's Jewish community suggested setting up a "House of Lords" in Israel, consisting of 120 representatives of international Jewish organizations, communities and intellectuals.

Speaking at the President's Conference, European Jewish Congress President Pierre Besnainou proposed a "supreme house of representatives of the Jewish world" to advise rather than replace the Knesset.

"Israel is part of the life of all the world's Jews, and they too should have a say in issues like Jerusalem's future," he said.

The latest reality show: 'A social activist is born'

By Nehemia Shtrasler, Haaretz Opinion May 16, 2008

Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) understands that cutting NII allotments would decrease the number of children in large families.

Indeed, the cut in child allotments has already led to a change in ultra-Orthodox society: More and more Haredim are going out to work these days, and there has also been a decline in the birthrate.

In the Haredi town of Betar Illit in the West Bank, the birthrate dropped from 8.9 children per woman in 2001 to 7.7 in 2006, while in Modi'in Illit, the birthrate dropped during those years from nine children per woman to eight.

Therefore, anyone who truly wants to decrease poverty must continue the policy of cutting the allotments, along with encouraging education and employment.

Anyone who is truly concerned about Haredi children must ensure that they study the "core curriculum" instead of fighting to eliminate it from their schools.

The moment they study science, mathematics, English and history, they will have the tools and ability to enter the labor market and earn well, exiting the cycle of poverty.

Kashrut demands cause outrage

Tel Aviv's bar owners and caterers have come out fighting against a demand by the city's religious council that as a condition for being granted kashrut certificates they sign contracts raising the salaries of kashrut supervisors, reports Yediot Tel Aviv. Several bar owners questioned the legality of the contracts and said they would raise their costs significantly.

According to the report, Tel Aviv's kashrut supervisors are demanding that bar owners and caterers sign a contract agreeing to pay each supervisor NIS 100 per event plus NIS 50 for travel inside Tel Aviv, or NIS 130 per event plus NIS 100 for travel outside the city, as well as paying for other "social conditions."

One bar owner said that until now, he had simply paid NIS 37 per hour for kashrut supervision.

"This is completely absurd," the owner said. "It works out that we have to pay each supervisor a much greater salary, with various additions, and all at our expense. They are holding us [by the throat]."

IDF to build 'Jewish heritage' campus in J'lem

By Yaakov Katz, May 18, 2008

The IDF is in the final stages of receiving municipal permits to build a new college-style campus on Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem that will house a school offering mandatory courses for military commanders in Jewish heritage and tradition.

The school will be home to the Education Corps's newly-established Mehzavim program, a Hebrew acronym for "Educational Military Leadership in Jerusalem."

The project was launched just under a year ago and is held monthly - one week for lieutenant colonels, one week for majors and another week for junior commanders.

Since its opening, close to 1,600 officers have been through the course, which is conducted in conjunction with the Jerusalem-based Hartman Institute.

At Grave of Famed Rabbi, Feuding Trustees Find Little Common Ground

May 15, 2008

Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai’s burial place on Mount Meron, near the northern Israeli city of Safed

Just who owns his grave and the surrounding area?

As revelers link arms and dance together, organizers will be locked in a bitter, ongoing behind-the scenes feud.

Shalvash’s Sephardic trust and a rival Ashkenazic one both claim full ownership of the site.

The row is “paralyzing” the development of the site, the most visited religious place in Israel after the Western Wall, according to Jerusalem lawyer Shmuel Berkovitch, an expert on Israel’s holy sites.

MKs: Make Hebrew the only official language

By Shahar Ilan, Haaretz May 19, 2008

MK Limor Livnat (Likud) and three other leading MKs from Kadima, Likud and Shas are set to propose this week that the Knesset remove Arabic from its list of the country's official primary languages.

The bill would make Hebrew the only official primary language, and Arabic, English and Russian would become official secondary languages.

In addition to Livnat, the MKs behind the bill are Shas faction whip Yakov Margi and deputy Knesset speakers Otniel Schneller (Kadima) and Yuli Edelstein (Likud).

Actor Jon Voight: God gave this land to the Jewish people

Click here for VIDEO Interview

By Haaretz Staff and Channel 10 May 13, 2008

Academy Award winning actor Jon Voight is currently in Israel to express his fervent support for the Jewish people and his opposition to exchanging land for peace with the Palestinians.

On Tuesday, Voight visited Sderot, the western Negev town that suffers regular Qassam rockets strikes from the Gaza Strip. On Monday, he met with terror victims, and welcomed a group of children brought to Israel through Chabad's Children of Chernobyl program.

Voight is best known for his breakthrough role in Midnight Cowboy in 1969, and his parts in 1970s films including Deliverance and The Champ. These days however, he may be even better known for being the father of Angelina Jolie.

Jon Voight - from Hollywood to Chernobyl and Sderot

By David Brinn, May 18, 2008

Voight was visiting the country as a guest of Chabad and their Children of Chernobyl program, for which he has acted as spokesman for 15 years.

Clergymen find bond at law school

By Matthew Wagner, May 14, 2008

What do a Melkite Catholic priest, a Druze spiritual leader, a rabbi and a qadi enrolled in a law school have in common? At first glance, not much - besides the desire to get a law degree.

But over the past two years, a diverse classroom full of Israeli clergymen - Christian, Muslim, Druse and Jewish - at the Ono Academic College in Kiryat Ono have discovered that while they may not agree on issues of faith, they can still learn to like each other.

…Also, all the religious leaders have a common gripe against the secular legal system. Over the past decade, especially during Aharon Barak's stint as president of the Supreme Court, there has been a gradual weakening of powers held by the religious courts.

…The feeling of discrimination shared by the different religions vis-à-vis the secular Israeli legal system creates a feeling of unity.

Mughrabi Bridge approved

By Nadav Shragai, Haaretz May 13, 2008

Jerusalem's local planning and construction committee yesterday approved plans for the controversial Mugrabi bridge near the Temple Mount, intended to provide access to the Mugrabi Gate in lieu of the ramp that collapsed in 2004.

The plans are now in the hands of the district committee, which will meet in about a week to rediscuss objections by the Ir Amim nonprofit organization, Arab MKs, the Al-Aqsa foundation and archaeologist Meir Ben-Dov.

The plan entails building a raised ramp supported by several columns, and will enlarge the women's section at the Western Wall plaza.

Tel Aviv Municipality to supply firewood for Lag B'Omer

By Reuven Weiss, May 16, 2008

The Tel Aviv Municipality has decided to try and put a stop to the wood pilfering plaguing the city's construction sites every year, around Lag B'Omer time.

In an attempt to try and avoid this year's firewood raid, the Tel Aviv Municipality announced Thursday that come Lag B'Omer day – next Thursday – it will operate three firewood distribution centers in the city.

…"We intend on transporting the mass quantities of lumber to three locations in the city, and anyone who needs firewood is welcome to come and get it."

Reform Zionism Comes To Baltimore

By Neil Rubin, Editor May 16, 2008

Interview with Rabbi Andrew Davids, Executive Director, ARZA

"We want people to know that Israel is a place where real people live and where Hebrew culture is being developed and that it’s a place with a lot of tension.

Our mentality is that Israel is a complex place and we think people can develop a more mature, deep loving relationship."

An Open Conversation about Reform Zionism - by ARZA

In May of 2007, the Institute for Reform Zionism (IRZ), a small think tank run by ARZA, called for the creation of a concise definition of Reform Zionism.

What seemed at first glance to be a simple task quickly revealed its many levels of nuance and complexity. Instead of a succinct, clear definition, we decided to embrace the complexity and create a less brief, less succinct, but far more useful definition.

The initial definition was written by Rabbi Peter Knobel, Chair of the IRZ and a member of ARZA’s board.

[ARZA] then recruited six commentators to argue with Rabbi Knobel and with each other on the page, thus creating a document that is true to the ancient Jewish tradition of “machloket l’shem shamayim” or a dispute for the sake of Heaven.

Appeal on Waqf land to be heard behind closed doors

By Yigal Hai, Haaretz May 13, 2008 [print edition]

See also: “State refuses to release list of Waqf-owned properties in T.A., Jaffa”

By Yigal Hai, Haaretz November 14, 2007

The Tel Aviv District Court ruled Sunday that the state’s position on an appeal in the matter of assets belonging to the Waqf, the Muslim religious trust, will be held behind closed doors, without the presence of the appellants, because the information revealed might damage Israel’s foreign relations.

The appeal was submitted by the Jaffa Association for Human Rights and four activists in the Muslim community in Jaffa, against the Custodian for Absentee Property.

It demands that the Custodian provide them with an exact list of Waqf property in Tel Aviv-Jaffa and the rest of the country, and incomes from that property.

Citizens protest destruction of Muslim cemetery

By Anat Shalev, May 17, 2008

The posters were put up in protest against the decision to destroy a Muslim cemetery in Jaffa's Tel-Kabir neighborhood and build a commercial center in its stead.

A legal debate over the property has been going on for 35 years, ever since the board approved the sale of the cemetery's land to a private party.

Recently the High Court determined that the sale was legal, and demanded that the Waqf transfer the graves to another location. The verdict caused rage to break out among the Arab population in the area.

Sergei Courtyard to be handed over to Russia

By Ranit Nahum-Halevy, Haaretz May 15, 2008

The government will hand over ownership of the Sergei Courtyard site on Heleni Hamalka Street in Jerusalem to the Russian government in July, following extensive discussions between the two governments.

The Sergei Courtyard is named after Sergei Alexandrovich, the heir apparent of Czar Nicholas II.

…Last week the Russian press reported that Vladimir Putin had allocated 10 million rubles (about $430,000) for the renovation and preservation of the Sergei Courtyard, and that the prime minister is coming to Israel in June or July to sign the final agreement.

The Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society, a Russian-Palestinian organization, will be responsible for the renovation work.

War and peace over Russian properties

By Ranit Nahum-Levy. Haaretz May 19, 2008

Attorney Nurit Mazower-Rez, whose expertise includes real estate law and the Tenant Protection Law, claims that in recent years there has been an increase in suits against protected tenants by churches that purchased land in Jerusalem in the 19th century.

The Ethiopian church tried to evict protected tenants on Ethiopia Street, and the Greek Orthodox and Armenian churches have filed petitions against tenants on Shlomzion Hamalka and Yoel Solomon streets (the pedestrian mall), on Nevi'im St. and in the Old City.

The awakening of the churches concerning their properties has aroused fears among Jewish tenants, who until now had enjoyed peace and quiet.

Some of the churches rent the properties at realistic prices to interested Jews, but others are considering bringing in foreign elements.

Thus, for example, it is still unclear what the Russian government will do with the Russian Compound, although it will probably be used for diplomatic or consular purposes.

Religion and State in Israel

May 19, 2008 (Section 2) (continued from Section 1)

Editor – Joel Katz

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