Monday, July 14, 2008

Religion and State in Israel - July 14, 2008 (Section 1)

Religion and State in Israel

July 14, 2008 (Section 1) (continues in Section 2)

Editor – Joel Katz

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

U.S. Jewish group urges Olmert to help solve conversion crisis

By Anshel Pfeffer, July 14, 2008

"Few crises have so divided Israel from the North American Jewish community," the letter stated, signed by the chairman of the UJC Board of Trustees, Joseph Kanfer, and the UJC president, Howard Rieger.

The Diaspora Jewish community fought for almost 30 years for the freedom of Soviet Jewry, and now that they are in Israel "we must provide them with full acceptance," said the letter, describing an "untenable instability that has characterized the conversion system in Israel over the past few months."

UJC calls for Olmert's input on conversion

Rabbi Seth Farber, director of ITIM:

"The chaos that characterizes the conversion system in Israel over the last few months is simply untenable."

"We have received more than 800 calls in the last couple of months from individuals who are either in the process of conversion or who have completed conversion, who are struggling to determine their status as Jews."

Regarding the newly-established committee, Farber asked, "How we can ever expect them to hire a director if they can't even decide the membership of the committee?"

US Jews to Olmert: Intervene in Druckman case July 14, 2008

Vice-President and UJC Israel Director-General Nachman Shai:

"We hope that the prime minister’s personal treatment of the issue will help in solving the dispute and this will promote the conversion process.”

Cabinet secretary proposes plan to end conversion crisis

By Haaretz staff, July 8, 2008

Cabinet Secretary Oved Yehezkiel is working out a plan aimed at resolving the conversion crisis. Many local authority rabbis, on the advice of ultra-Orthodox religious leaders, are refusing to recognize conversion certificates and refusing to register converts for marriage.

According to the Yehezkiel proposal, registration regions would be canceled, allowing converts concerned their local municipal rabbi might not recognize the validity of their conversion to register for marriage at a religious council that has shown more openness.

Shas ministers have opposed the proposal and complained Yehezkiel is creating a registration "market" allowing people to pick their rabbis.

Conversion Confusion, Even After a Deal

By Michele Chabin, July 9, 2008

Advocates for converts in Israel were fuming this week when the Chief Rabbinate insisted that Josh Klein, 27, a former Albany man who had an Orthodox conversion 18 years ago, prove his Jewishness anew — on the eve of his wedding.

The Chief Rabbis’ Office didn’t recognize Klein’s Jewishness (his mother, a convert, had a Conservative conversion; he had an Orthodox one at 9).

“This case highlights the fact that not enough has been done to guarantee the status of past converts,” Rabbi Seth Farber, ITIM said.

A tale of two converts

The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra'anana.

What is true of conversion in the Diaspora is not necessarily applicable in Israel.

Over "there," Judaism is a separate garment in which we clothe ourselves, one which often clashes with the culture around us. To be a Jew abroad is to be different, and we rightly do a double-take at the thought of anyone taking on this new and difficult challenge.

And so while we might good-naturedly scoff and shake our heads at the Diaspora's would-be convert, here he or she is already immersed in Jewish life and accepted as a Jew with little or no fanfare.

Such individuals - who are committed to Israel and will almost invariably marry Jews - deserve a kinder, gentler path to formal conversion.

Indeed, halachic giants such as Rav Moshe Feinstein and former Chief Rabbi Isser Yehuda Unterman wrote responsa urging a "fast-track" conversion for Israelis of non-Jewish lineage who express a sincere desire to embrace our faith.

Government proposes standardizing marriage process

A new government initiative spearheaded by Cabinet Secretary Ovad Yehezkel aims to improve the processing of issuing marriage licenses by standardizing the process nationally.

Rabbi Seth Farber, director of the Jewish Life Information Center (ITIM):

"Having one marriage registration would in a sense put a significant amount of pressure on the system to create a standard, which could be a positive thing. It could get rid of the ill practices and corruption.

On the other hand, depending on who would be making the [standards], it could be a greater problem for a significant number of people in this country."

Mazuz: Chief Rabbi Metzger cannot serve as rabbinic judge

By Tomer Zarchin, July 9, 2008

Attorney General Menachem Mazuz yesterday told the High Court of Justice that Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger should cease to serve as a dayan (rabbinic judge) on the Supreme Rabbinic Court.

Mazuz added that the committee charged with selecting rabbinic court judges was also responsible for ending their tenures.

Mazuz said:

"In view of the nature and substance of the position of the dayan and the norms of behavior that are expected of him, these findings were not refuted in the course of the discussions that were held by the rabbinic court judge selection committee with regard to the matter of Metzger, and the explanations that were given on behalf of Metzger for these findings did not lessen their severity."

Mazuz added that these acts "raise quite a few question marks about whether he is suited to serve in the lofty position of chief rabbi and as a rabbinic judge on the Supreme Rabbinic Court."

Challenging the Rabbinic Authority

By Larry Garber, Opinion July 9, 2008

The conversion issue has again become a matter of intense controversy within Israel.

…Sadly, beyond a few courageous voices like Rabbi Angel, the response of the Orthodox rabbinate in Israel and the US to this latest effort to establish an extreme fundamentalist position on such a critical issue has been muted.

Cause of Action against Family of Get Recalcitrant Husband

By Susan Weiss, July 13, 2008

The Center for Women's Justice sued a mother, 2 brothers, and a sister, as well as a husband, for damages because of get refusal.

The husband has gone "underground" for the past 3 1/2 years and his family, in addition to "helping" the husband's case in various ways, refuses to tell us where the husband is. The family claims that they do not know. We don't believe them.

On July 3, 2008, the Hon. Nili Maimon of the Jerusalem Family Court confirmed that Israel tort law allows for a cause of action against the family for aiding and abetting get refusal even if there is no formal rabbinic court "order" against the husband to deliver a get.

On July 8, 2008, we had a hearing on the merits. Will keep you informed.

Four 'Chained' Women are Unshackled

By Hillel Fendel, July 11, 2008

Rabbis of the Israel Prison Service have succeeded in freeing four women from their "agunah" status in the past six months.

A new arrangement that could help is being pursued, in the form of a special room in the prison where rabbinical court representatives will be able to arrange a get. This will avoid the trip to the courtroom in which prisoners sometimes change their minds.

Barren woman forced to divorce

The Haifa rabbinical court has forced a woman to accept a divorce because her proven infertility is preventing her husband from fulfilling the commandment to "be fruitful and multiply," reports Yediot Haifa.

The court ruled that the husband had the right to create a family of his own. "From the perspective of Halacha (Jewish law) and factually, there is cause to obligate this woman to accept the divorce," the rabbis said.

They ordered the man to pay an unstated amount of compensation to his ex-wife.

Jerusalem Municipality funding Shas events?

By Ronen Medzini, July 10, 2008

City Hall has been funding the event for three years. The event's brochure features the photo of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef – Shas' spiritual leader – a total of 14 times. Simchayof – who is a city councilman for Shas – is featured in the brochure 12 times.

Another prominent feature is an introductory blessing by Rabbi Yosef, praising the party.

Corruption alleged in J'lem funding of Shas event

Four months before the Jerusalem mayoral elections, Deputy Jerusalem Mayor Eli Simhayof of Shas has authorized a NIS 550,000 cultural event in which top party officials are prominently advertised, despite a memorandum sent by the municipality's legal advisor forbidding the use of city funds for any event that may be perceived as part of an election campaign, city officials said Thursday.

Brand new Beit Shemesh community breaks new ground

By JJ Levine, July 10, 2008

For many North American Jews, the concept of the rabbi at the center of synagogue life is almost self-evident, but in Israel the vast majority of congregations are not serviced by rabbis; rather, rabbis who have a paid government position service entire neighborhoods or cities.

Rabbi Shalom Rosner hopes to change this as he leads a brand new community in Beit Shemesh called Nofei Shemesh.

"Beit Shemesh can today be considered a haredi city, with haredim making up 40 percent of the city two years ago, and their numbers having certainly grown drastically since," says Dr. Lee Cahaner, a Haifa University researcher.

Cahaner surveyed Beit Shemesh last year, finding that 50% of haredi men there were declared "Toratam umanutam" (Torah scholars with no other profession) and that a large percentage of haredi women were housewives.

Sharon Raanan is a Nofei Aviv resident who formed the Committee Against Violence last summer after a number of "very negative" incidents occurred in the city.

"Beit Shemesh is at a crossroads. We can either become Bnei Brak or Ra'anana - and the right mayor will determine that," she says.

Givat Shmuel singing contest causes division in Bnei Akiva

By Kobi Nahshoni, July 10, 2008

Hundreds of Bnei Akiva movement members’ parents sent the organization’s Secretary-General Benny Nechtailer a letter protesting the local annual singing contest expected to separate between boys and girls completely this year.

“Parents who are interested in a separatist movement are more than welcome to send their children to Ezra, the ultra-Orthodox youth movement instead.

To begin with, we would like to request a normal, mixed singing contest where everyone will listen to each other,” said the parents.

Rabbi Bigman: Women can sing 'in innocence'

By Kobi Nahshoni, July 14, 2008

"Restrictions can be eased on listening to a woman singing when there is a clear assessment of innocent listening to innocent song," Rabbi David Bigman, council head of the religious Kibbutz Ma'ale Gilboa has determined, following the separation of girls and boys during the Bnei Akiva singing contest held in Givat Shmuel.

Religious Zionist emissaries to spread word

By Abe Selig, July 10, 2008

Four hundred religious Zionist emissaries will be sent around the world to promote aliya and love of Israel, all within the framework of Torah and the observance of mitzvot.

The Jewish Agency's Religious Zionist Shlichut Center [is] an umbrella organization uniting different organizations from within modern Orthodoxy.

Among the groups participating are Torah Mitzion, Ben Ami, Bat Ami, World Bnei Akiva and the Jewish Agency.

IDF Chief Rabbi freezes process declaring abducted soldiers dead

By Barak Ravid and Yuval Azoulay, July 9, 2008

IDF Chief Rabbi Avichai Ronsky has decided to freeze the process of declaring Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, the two soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah, dead.

Army sources said that he froze the process, which he launched two weeks ago, because the recently approved prisoner exchange with Hezbollah is expected to take place soon, and that makes it unnecessary to try to determine in absentia whether the two are alive or dead.

The defense establishment's assumption, however, is that the two are no longer alive.

Declaring a soldier dead in absentia involves meeting with senior intelligence officials to obtain all available intelligence on the soldier's situation, and then evaluating it to decide whether it meets the criteria set down by Jewish law for determining that someone whose body has not been found is nevertheless dead.

Grave discovery halts work on hospital's emergency center

Construction on a 200-bed underground emergency facility at Ashkelon's Barzilai Medical Center, which began in March and was speeding ahead amid concerns over a resumption of violence from the Gaza Strip, has ground to a halt after the discovery of ancient graves at the building site.

The hospital is now negotiating with the Religious Services and Health Ministries over how to proceed, Barzilai's deputy director, Emile Hay, told The Jerusalem Post.

Ashkelon was the heart of Christian and pagan life in the Byzantine era, and it is unlikely that the graves are Jewish, Dr. Haim Goldfus added.

School separating Ashkenazi, Mizrahi kids may lose license

By Yair Ettinger, July 9, 2008

The Education Ministry is threatening to withdraw the license of the Beit Yaakov girls' school in Immanuel unless it halts its policy of separating Ashkenazi and Mizrahi students.

Until recently the ministry tended to accept the position of the Independent Education Center, to which the school belongs, according to which the separation is a "new track" based on educational and religious, not ethnic, factors.

Not everything is rotten

By Yair Sheleg, Opinion July 9, 2008

The religious Zionist groups, whose members study Torah and work in low-income areas across the country, boast a membership of about 1,500 families.

The approximately 60 groups are not cooperative, and their income does not necessarily come from education or welfare projects.

Most of the members combine social action with the advancement of their careers. In addition, the members' activities are not just social, but also semi-political:

They want to get across the notion that religious Zionism is about more than settlements, even though most members of the groups identify with the political right.

Foreign airlines outranked El Al in a kashrut ranking by ultra-Orthodox rabbis

By Yair Ettinger, July 11, 2008

The Rabbinic Commission on Transportation Matters, which was established about a year ago on behalf of rabbis from all streams, published an extraordinary document in the two official ultra-Orthodox newspapers, Yated Ne'eman and Hamodia.

The commission established three rankings for airlines in accordance with their in-flight movie policies.

In first place are the airlines that do not show films at all, such as British Airways flights to London or Swiss International Airlines flights to Switzerland.

In second place are the companies that have individual screens "that can be turned off, but it is still possible to see the screens of other passengers, and therefore travelers are advised to equip themselves with a 'folding curtain.'"

The third-ranked airlines also offer individual screens, but sometimes bring in planes with large cabin screens when demand is high.

Haredi rabbis rank airlines' modesty

By Neta Sela, July 12, 2008

The Israeli airlines did not win much praise in the haredi committee's ranking. El Al was included in the third category in flights to the US and London, while Israir and Arkia did not even make it to the list of "permitted" airlines.

According to the rabbis, Israir and Arkia "severely breach the fences of modesty and desecrate the Shabbat and one must not travel with them at all."

Passenger: El Al waited 90 minutes for tardy rabbi

By Zohar Blumenkrantz, July 9, 2008

A group of ultra-Orthodox passengers delayed for about 90 minutes the takeoff of a scheduled El Al flight from Kiev to Ben-Gurion Airport last month because their rabbi was late in getting to the airport, according to a passenger on the flight. El Al and its Ukrainian partner have a monopoly on the route.

According to the passenger who spoke to Haaretz about the incident, about 35 minutes after the scheduled takeoff time the pilot announced that after consulting with Tel Aviv he was instructed to wait for the rabbi, who arrived about an hour later with two or three other ultra-Orthodox men.

The rabbi, a man in his 70s, according to the witness, took his seat and told his fellow passengers, "Every delay is for the best."

Unilever May be Next on Chareidi Boycott List

By Yechiel Spira, July 8, 2008

Unilever, unlike most other brand names in Israel, does not seek to promote its name in Israel.

Many of the firm’s products are found in chareidi homes, including Telma, B & B products, Clik chocolate products, BluBand, Vered HaGalil, Klean detergent and much more.

As such, most shoppers are unaware they are purchasing Unilever products, perhaps permitting the ad campaign to move ahead without most shoppers making the connection.

According to one marketing study, in 2007, Unilever ranked number two in the chareidi sector, indicating a nationwide chareidi boycott as was seen against Shefa Shuk and others will indeed have an impact on the company.

Jewish Taliban Ax ‘Axe’ in Nude Niki-Tizzy

By Richard Silverstein, July 9, 2008

What particularly incenses me is the Taliban rabbis who are insisting that Unilever must apologize not just to Haredi but to secular Jews as well.

Secular Jews don’t want or need an apology. What they need is the freedom to live in peace without Haredi interference.

What this alleged secular apology would do is put the secular community on notice that the Haredi are acting as moral police on their (secular Jews’) behalf.

Thank you, but no thank you is what I’d say.

Shefa Shuk boycott continues, despite Shabbat-observant suitors

By Nathan Cohen, July 9, 2008

The Shefa Shuk supermarket branches in Jerusalem's religious neighborhoods remain relatively empty months after a committee of haredi rabbis instituted a herem, or boycott, on the chain.

It looks like Weissman won't be getting kosher certification to sell off Shefa Shuk even if the new owners don't operate on Shabbat, according to Rabbi Yitzhak Goldknop, secretary of the committee.

Even though there are several parties who don't operate on Shabbat who are interested in buying Shefa Shuk branches, haredi leaders said they would continue to boycott the stores.

Ultra-Orthodox Tel Avivians abandoning secular ship

By Moti Katz, July 9, 2008

At the height of its flourishing, in the 1960s, there were 20 Hasidic groups living here.

The abandonment began some years ago, when the admors (spiritual leaders) passed away or left the city to live in large ultra-Orthodox centers like Jerusalem or Bnei Brak., and their disciples followed them.

Of the many Hasidic courts only a very few remain, and many synagogues and educational institutions have shut down for lack of demand.

"Times have changed. The secular have become even more secular and the religious have become more ultra-Orthodox. There used to be mutual respect. It used to be that the Kedoshei Antopol Synagogue on Oliphant Street was full on Friday nights and holidays, and nowadays it is sometimes hard to find a minyan.”

Belz Hasidic Court logs onto web

By Neta Sela, July 13, 2008

A first-of-its-kind agreement between Belz Hasidic Court and the internet provider Rimon may soon enable Belz followers to subscribe to the "kosher" internet.

Though "kosher" internet has been available for quite some time, the Belz version is expected to be different, as Rimon has pledged to put to use one of its newest technological developments to block any content even remotely suspected as inappropriate at the supplier's level, thus blocking any such content even on pre-approved sites.

Dead Sea hotel goes Haredi for weekend, but forgets to tell secular guests

Click here for VIDEO

By Haaretz Staff and Channel 1, July 7, 2008

Secular guests at the Golden Tulip Hotel at the Dead Sea were surprised last weekend to find the views from their rooms blocked by plastic sheets.

Even more disconcerting was the fencing off of the sea, with the hotel's beach suddenly divided to separate to male and female bathers.

The surprises didn't end there. A curtain had been erected in the lobby, blocking the view of the pool, which was also unexpectedly closed to coed swimming.

It emerged that several months ago, an ultra-Orthodox travel agency in Bnei Brak reserved 400 rooms in the Golden Tulip, making very specific demands, which the hotel accepted. But it seems they forgot to notify the other guests.

Class struggles

By Peggy Cidor, July 10, 2008

"It is much easier for them [haredi city councillors] to request [the use of] buildings [in areas] where registration is dropping. In so doing, they obtain two results: ready-made buildings and more secular residents who flee to other neighborhoods or leave the city," says attorney Ze'ev Landner.

Landner, who some 10 years ago led the battle for suitable schools in Ramot, is today a candidate on the list headed by city councillor Meir Turgeman, who supports the struggle against handing over to haredim the plot behind the Boyer School (on the border between Kiryat Hayovel and Bayit Vagan), which began a few weeks ago.

Religion and State in Israel

July 14, 2008 (Section 1) (continues in Section 2)

Editor – Joel Katz

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