Monday, January 12, 2009

Religion and State in Israel - January 12, 2009 (Section 1)

Religion and State in Israel

January 12, 2009 (Section 1) (continues in Section 2)

Click here to read ONLINE

Editor – Joel Katz

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

IDF Rabbinate uses scriptures to boost soldiers' morale

By Matthew Wagner January 8, 2009

In what some called the theologizing of warfare and others called a boost to Jewish battle morale, 10,000 MP3s with recorded sermons of encouragement by the chief rabbis of Israel were prepared this week for distribution to combat soldiers - religious and secular, Jewish and gentile - presently serving in Gaza.

…The recording of the rabbis and plans for the distribution of the MP3 were organized by the IDF's Jewish Consciousness Field (JCF) [Tchum Toda'ah Yehudit], a division of the IDF's Rabbinate.

An anonymous donor or group of donors provided the IDF with the MP3s free of charge.

In addition to the MP3s, the JCF also distributed to IDF rabbis in the field in Gaza a pamphlet entitled "Jewish Consciousness Emphases for Cast Lead."

…In the past, [OC Chaplaincy Brig.-Gen. Avichai Ronzki] has rejected criticism to his attempts to expand the influence of Jewish Consciousness.

In a letter that he wrote to IDF rabbis at the beginning of November in response to a series of investigative articles that appeared in Haaretz about the JCF, Ronzki defends the IDF rabbinate's right to "imbue soldiers with Jewish spirit and consciousness."

In the letter, portions of which were published in Haaretz, 

Ronzki admitted that "recently there has been dispute between the Education Division and us [the rabbinate] but it is clear that we, as military rabbis, are supposed to deal with helping soldiers to internalize Jewish values, spirit and consciousness as presented in Jewish sources. This is our main function as rabbis."

Family of IDF soldier who fell to friendly fire: 'Everything that happens must be for the better'

By Matthew Wagner January 11, 2009

Rabbi Amos Netanel, whose son Capt. Yonatan Netanel was killed by friendly fire last week in Gaza, told the IDF tank crew that fired the fatal shot he wasn't angry.

"You did not kill Yoni," Netanel told them. "Yoni sanctified God's name at the exact time that it was decreed in the heavens. 
You were the sacred messengers who carried out God's will. Better that your pure hands kill him and not the defiled enemy hand. Evildoers could not have hurt him."

At Rabbi Netanel's request, the IDF Chaplaincy helped him contact the tank crew, currently fighting in Gaza, before Shabbat.

… [Netanel's son-in-law Gilad Bartal] added that it was the Netanel family's faith and dedication to Torah study that helped them overcome the natural tendency toward bitterness for losing a loved one in a military accident.

"Years of Torah learning and fostering a faith in God help a person reach the realization that God directs everything in this world, and [that] therefore everything that happens must be for the better," said Bartal, 21.

"That's what enables us to say to the tank crew 'we love you.' We cannot control what happens in this world. We can only control how we react."

Bartal, who has postponed his IDF service to dedicate himself to learning Torah at Har Hamor Yeshiva, said that faith and Torah scholarship were also what made religious Zionist young men such good soldiers.

…Yonatan Netanel dedicated three years to Torah study at the pre-military yeshiva academy at Eli. He was enlisted in the elite Maglan unit, which during the Second Lebanon War operated deep in Lebanese territory. At the end his training he was named the most outstanding soldier in his battalion.

Religious Zionism has not disengaged

By Yair Sheleg Opinion January 11, 2009

Photo courtesy of Mira Curzer

Despite the disinclination to delve into the social distribution of fallen soldiers, it is impossible to ignore the chilling coincidence:

The first five troops felled in the Gaza ground operation last Monday and Tuesday included one Druze, Yusuf Muadi, and four men - Dvir Emmanueloff, Nitai Stern, Jonathan Netanel and Dagan Vertman - from the religious Zionist community. Two of the four lived in settlements. 

The tragic fact that more names will be added to the monuments slightly diluted the harsh, almost brutal significance of this state of affairs, but it is still difficult to ignore.

A person not familiar with the religious Zionist community, whose only source of information is the media, may be amazed:

How does their significant presence on the front lines jibe with all the talk of dropping desire to enlist, assaulting officers and such since the disengagement? 

They've buried Yonatan

By Yehezkel Laing Opinion January 8, 2009

They buried Yonatan on Tuesday. He was only 27 years old and married for just over a year. Just a couple of months ago, when I was at his house on Shabbat, I watched as he covered his firstborn baby with her blanket as she lay in her cradle.

…Yonatan studied at the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva High School, the same school targeted by terrorists a year ago - when eight young boys were murdered. Since the terrorists have discovered the place from which the Jewish people derive their strength, they seek to destroy it, not realizing that our true strength lies in the unbeatable souls of those who learn there.

…I am left standing outside alone with Yonatan's father, Rabbi Amos, and what am I going to say? Anything I can think of is just going to demean the worth of their beautiful child. But thank God the tears come and I break down and he holds me. So instead of me comforting him, he comforts me.

"God does not give us trials we cannot withstand. The ways of the Redemption are hidden from us, but it's still the Redemption."

The lead isn't always cast

By Shahar Ilan Opinion January 11, 2009

The fighting in Gaza has diverted attention from the very disturbing figures that the state gave the High Court of Justice in its reply to the petition opposing the extension of the Tal Law on military service for the ultra-Orthodox. 

…It took quite a bit of nerve to extend the law by five years - the maximum extension period permissible. 

Five years is long enough for the Knesset to forget about the problem while it is allowed to worsen.

A law so unjust, so twisted, needs to reviewed by the Knesset and perhaps by the High Court of Justice as well, and state its case every year anew. 

Therefore, it is not the Tal Law that the High Court of Justice needs to scrap, but its five-year extension, which is disproportionate and unreasonable.

'Shas broke law with prayer for soldiers'

By Gil Hoffman January 6, 2009

Shas violated election laws that forbid distributing amulets when it gave out thousands of flyers with a prayer for IDF soldiers, officials in secular parties said Tuesday.

The flyers included pictures of deceased Sephardi sages like the Baba Sali and Rabbi Yitzhak Kadourie and a blessing intended for the soldiers, alongside the Shas logo.

"Our soldiers give their souls and without them we would not be able to learn Torah," the flyers read. "Therefore, everyone must pray for them."

…Meretz is expected to file a complaint with the Central Elections Committee over the flyers.

Children Pray for Soldiers

Click here for VIDEO January 2009

Children from Tel Aviv pray on behalf of the soldiers fighting in Gaza and former Chief Rabbi Yisrael Lau, Tel Aviv-Yafo Chief Rabbi

Kotel Prayer for Safety of IDF Soldiers

Click here for VIDEO January 2009

Thousands participated in special prayer rally at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Lau on Strengthening Am Yisrael

Click here for VIDEO January 2009

Former Chief Rabbi Yisrael Lau, Tel Aviv-Yafo Chief Rabbi

El Al to launch kosher flights for haredim

By Kobi Nahshoni January 12, 2009

Israel's largest airline company is currently in negotiations with representatives of the ultra-Orthodox sector on operating special flights for the haredi public with full separation between men and women, male flight attendants and no movies during flights.

Several months ago, the "Rabbinic Committee for the Sanctity of the Shabbat" and the "Council for the Purity of the Camp" approached El Al and asked that the company operate special flights during the sector's busy seasons, starting this Passover.

The rabbis told the airline that during Pesach tens of thousands of yeshiva students studying in Israel return to the United States to visit their families, while many haredi families arrive from abroad to spend the holiday in Israel.

They demanded that the company introduce "kosher flights" that would be suited for the needs of the ultra-Orthodox public.

El Al to Launch Mehadrin Flights

By Yechiel Spira January 11, 2009

A mehadrin flight would be staffed by male cabin personnel, would not air movies and would take other measures towards accommodating the religious sensibilities of chareidi travelers.

…El Al is also considering possibly allocating a section on board regular flights from Eretz Yisrael towards the end of Adar as well as the same accommodation at the end of Nissan from North America to Israel.

This would accommodate the many yeshiva and seminary students making their way from Israel to N. America and back to yeshiva after the yomtov.

This they explain would compel most flights to adhere to the needs of chareidi travelers during the peak season travel period.

Investigation Launched Against HaMevaser Newspaper

By Yechiel Spira January 5, 2009

As a result of a complaint filed with his office, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss has launched a clandestine investigation into the new chareidi newspaper HaMevaser, a project of Meir Porush.

According to allegations, the project of launching the new newspaper may be the result of unauthorized involvement of government since opponents of the paper explain Porush, a MK, turned to potential advertisers asking them to support the paper, which they explain represents his unauthorized or possibly illegal acceptance of favors and accepting bribes or abusing his political influence.

Trial by Jewry

By Dareh Gregorian January 8, 2009

A $500 million landmark Upper West Side building might be heading into foreclosure unless its dueling owners can quickly find a rabbi they both consider kosher.

Lev Leviev and Maurice Mann had agreed to settle their differences over the management of the storied Apthorp building before a mutually agreed-upon rabbi in a beth din - essentially a Jewish arbitration court.

…Leviev, a diamond dealer and one of the richest men in Israel, has been pushing for a rabbi from the well-established Beth Din of America to preside over the case, court papers show.

Mann doesn't want one of the rabbis from that group because they, like Leviev, are Orthodox, and he's concerned that could give his foe a distinct advantage, the source said.

Leviev's side contends that Mann's pick, a rabbi from a conservative beth din affiliated with the Jewish Theological Seminary, isn't experienced in complex real-estate matters and wouldn't be able to work as fast as necessary.

I'm not in the radical right - Interview with Prof. Ruth Gavison

By Shahar Ilan January 9, 2009

The Gavison-Meidan covenant between religious and secular that she co-authored in 2000 with Rabbi Yaakov Meidan, head of the Har Etzion yeshiva, also made waves…

In 2005, she founded the Metzilah Center, which has survived its initial growing pains and is now ready to come out with a series of publications. 

…One part of her effort to create a united Zionist movement has been the Gavison-Meidan covenant.

"The idea that two different population groups that wish to live together should make a covenant seemed like a wonderful idea to me. I don't feel any need to apologize for this document," she explains. "It can only improve things."

In the name of the secular public, you gave up the right to shop on Shabbat. 

"I didn't give up anything because I don't represent anything. If the public doesn't want it, it won't adopt it. It's not the public that's pushing the matter of shopping on Shabbat, but interested parties who want the profits. 

I'd like there to be one day in which the experience of the entire state is different, a day that is more spiritual and less focused on consumption. A common day of rest seems to me like an incredible thing. Not only do I see no need to apologize for it. I'm all for it. I hope the next Knesset will adopt this law." 

…She reached agreements with Rabbi Meidan, but the ultra-Orthodox public is another matter.

"I wouldn't give any sector a monopoly on any social service, like kashrut and burial and things of that kind. I think it’s unhealthy and invites corruption," she says, adding, "coalition legislation of the type involving child allowances and exemptions from the core curriculum are among the worst legislative acts in the Knesset." 

Gavison warns against a return to a system of "child allowances like there was in the past, when large families were encouraged by allowances that increased along with the number of children."

One conclusion of Metzilah's demography paper is that if Israel wants to continue being a developed nation it must improve the ultra-Orthodox and Arab populations' ability to break the cycle of poverty and join the labor market. 

"Child allowances are not the right way to achieve these goals," she explains. "It's impossible to overstate the importance of this issue for the welfare of all of Israel's sectors." 

Would you be prepared to clash with the ultra-Orthodox over the core curriculum? 

"I very much hope that it will be possible to reach an agreement among the large parties that will say that there are things in this country that are nonnegotiable. One of them is the core curriculum. Absolutely. I'm surprised that you're surprised."

It will cause a severe social rift. 

"A more severe rift than the rift between left and right that we don't make any fuss over?" 

They'll view it as religious persecution. 

"Yes, I've seen the kind of statements they make. I don't want to force them, but I don't want to continue to finance them to such an extent. You want a separate kind of private education? Fine, just not at our expense. 

Not because I'm stingy, but because I want the state to develop a common citizenship for all its citizens and I want them to be a part of it. 

If they don't want it, I won't put anyone in jail, but I'm not obliged to finance an education system that isn't ready to include a core program. They can't hold the rope at both ends.

Rabbi David Hartman receives honorary doctorate at Weizmann Institute

Click here for AUDIO January 12, 2009

The Weizmann Institute in Israel gives Rabbi Prof. David Hartman an honorary doctorate.

Rabbi David Hartman gives a brief, funny and moving talk about his life in Jewish thought, and his move to Israel.

Posen Foundation hit by Madoff fraud

By Lior Dattel January 9, 2009

The huge fraud perpetrated by Bernard Madoff has claimed another financially savvy victim. Felix Posen, a former business partner of commodities trader Marc Rich, has reportedly lost part of his Swiss-based philanthropic fund through investment in funds linked to Madoff. 

Posen, who lives in Britain, is deeply involved in philanthropic activities in Israel, and is considered one of the central contributors to Jewish culture worldwide.

He serves as the president of the Posen Foundation, which is managed by his son Daniel.

The fund, which is financed by the family, donates millions of dollars to educational institutions in Israel every year and to projects that promote the concept of Jewish secular culture all over the world. 

…Among its many projects in Israel, the Posen Foundation has contributed to funding the establishment of the Center for Study of Anti-Semitism at the Hebrew University and was one of the founders of Alma Hebrew College in Tel Aviv and Meitar in Jerusalem, which operates school programs for the study of Jewish identity.

The Center for Cultural Judaism

The Posen Foundation’s program for the Study of Secular Jewish History and Cultures is designed to support the development of courses on the varieties of Jewish secularism for students in North America and Israel.

An Orthodox Feminist Revolutionary

By Jessica Ravitz January/February 2009

Tova Hartman is the co-founder of Shira Hadasha, an Orthodox synagogue where women can read from the Torah and lead services—in front of men.

…That women could read from the Torah at Shira Hadasha set off a chain reaction of rulings in the world of Orthodox Judaism, where changes in women’s status have been slow in coming, especially in Israel, where religious matters are overseen by an Orthodox rabbinate.

Orthodox women there are now educated at Torah study centers, give advice to fellow women as rabbinical advocates and, thanks to a 1988 Israeli Supreme Court ruling, serve on religious councils that oversee community religious services. But many barriers remain much harder to break.

One on One with Ruth Gavison: Preserving identity, promoting pluralism

By Ruthie Blum Leibowitz January 8, 2009

It often seems as though the haredi and secular communities are in some kind of inadvertent cahoots with one another when it comes to accepting different streams of Judaism - with many Israelis following the saying, "The synagogue I don't attend is Orthodox." Do you agree?

Yes, and it touches on fundamental questions relating to religious and cultural pluralism in general, and how they affect different aspects of life in Israel. 
But it's not new. It has accompanied the Zionist movement and Judaism throughout contemporary history - with each side believing that it is the one with the correct interpretation of history, and that the others are either superficial or doomed.

Metzilah is committed to the idea that there are multiple ways of interpreting Judaism, and that the Orthodox way is an important one, albeit not the only one. 

But there are secular people in this country whose response to the apparent Orthodox-held monopoly on Judaism is to want to disconnect Judaism from the Jewishness of the state altogether - to make Israel a state which adheres to a vision of separation between religion and state. 

Some want Israel to be a Jewish nation state; some are willing to give up on that notion as well.

I don't believe that cultures and traditions can make such radical disconnections. I object to the Orthodox monopoly on marriage and divorce

I am proud that in the Gavison-Medan Covenant [a document drawn up in 2002 by Gavison and Rabbi Ya'acov Medan, dealing with issues such as the Law of Return, citizenship, conversion, marriage and divorce, Shabbat and kashrut observance and burial], we both proposed an arrangement that would eliminate this monopoly.

But cultural issues and issues of national solidarity - of a partnership of fate - are a different story. They can't be determined legally.

Expelled pastor returns to Israel for Yad Vashem seminar

By Etgar Lefkovits January 12, 2009

An American evangelical pastor who was ordered to leave Israel in August 2007 by the Interior Ministry amid allegations of missionary activity has returned to Jerusalem for a three-week Holocaust seminar at Yad Vashem.

Ron Cantrell, 60, is a vocal supporter of the Jewish state.

He now lives in California and is one of three Christian educators brought to the International Winter Seminar by the Jerusalem-based Christian Supporters of Yad Vashem, in partnership with the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, a prominent evangelical organization.

…At the time, Cantrell said the allegations of missionary activity were baseless.

Cantrell, who used to run a small Jerusalem-based ministry, Shalom Shalom Jerusalem, after previously working for an evangelical organization in the city, Bridges for Peace, could have continued living in Israel if he had left the country at least once every three months to renew his visa, but choose not to.

The Shalom Shalom Jerusalem Web site said then that the couple "encourages Christians and Messianic Jewish believers in their understanding of the prophetic Scriptures" and "encourages believers to participate in God's end-time plans by being involved in positive support for the nation of Israel and Jewish communities worldwide... in the regathering of the Jewish people to their homeland."

Masorti Matters: Asking the hard questions

By Rabbi Andrew Sacks Opinion January 7, 2009

Recently I received a call from a polling organization asking me, among other questions, to categorize my religious leanings. I was given three choices: Dati (religious), masorti (traditional), and secular.

Wow! How to respond? Secular I am not.

The word "masorti" as opposed to the "Masorti" (Conservative) Movement would describe the legions of Jews who, say, may attend synagogue on Shabbat morning and then drive to the soccer game. Or those who, say, do not watch television on Shabbat unless it is a really important game. That too is not me.

The third option is Dati.  Indeed I observe Shabbat, keep the dietary laws, put on Tefillin each morning. By most objective measures I would be "Dati." But in Israel "Dati"[religious] is just another word for "Orthodox." I do not want to be counted in a survey as Orthodox. 

Indeed one can be Reform, Conservative/Masorti, or even non-observant (Chofshi) and at the same time be a religious person.

So answering this question presents a dilemma.

Conversion to Judaism: Halakha, Hashkafa, and Historic Challenge

By Rabbi Marc D. Angel January 5, 2009

Rabbi Marc D. Angel is Founder and Director of the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals, and Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Shearith Israel

Hakirah: The Flatbush Journal of Jewish Law and Thought, Volume 7, Winter 2009

Click here for Conversion to Judaism: Halakha, Hashkafa, and Historic Challenge (pdf)

The current policies of the Orthodox rabbinic/beth din establishment are causing anguish to thousands of would-be converts and their families; are turning would-be converts away from Orthodoxy; 

are preventing an untold number of Jewish children from being born, due to drawn out conversion procedures for women in their 30s and early 40s; are de-legitimizing Orthodox rabbis and converts who do not subscribe to the "establishment" positions; 

are causing thousands of halakhic converts to fear that their and their children's halakhic status will be undermined. 

We must ask ourselves some serious questions:

1. Are these current policies relating to conversion absolutely required by halakha, or are there other valid views that must be considered?

2. Are current efforts to "raise standards" focusing on ritual mitzvoth, while actually "lowering standards" of mitzvoth relating to maintaining Jewish families, treating converts and potential converts with compassion, and other moral considerations?

3. If the current policies are halakhically and morally deficient, how should we be addressing the issue of conversion to Judaism?

…The halakha provides leeway and multiple views about the nature of the conversion process.

Halakhic Judaism should not be constricted to only one halakhic view, and certainly not to the most rigid and restrictive view. 

It must be recognized that different legitimate halakhic positions are available just as there are different legitimate hashkafic opinions.

At this period of historic challenge, the Orthodox rabbinate can either rise to greatness or shrink into self-righteous isolationism.

Thus far, the rabbinic/beth din establishment has chosen the latter course.

It is not too late to turn things around. The honor of God, Torah and the Jewish people are at stake.

i-rox: Where Zionism, religion, and crisis meet and thrive

By Tali Heruti-Sover January 7, 2009

Walking into the offices of i-rox Software Products, you might be forgiven for thinking it's a ghost town.

Silence reigns at this company, utter silence. No voices are raised, no phones ring.

But the rooms of this company, which develops software for other firms, are manned - by dozens of ultra-Orthodox women, bewigged and seated in front of computers.

There is no glittering state-of-the-art high-tech kitchen and nobody takes a leisurely hour-long lunch break.

At most they use the glatt kosher microwave oven or eat their sandwich from home sitting in front of their flickering computer screens. 

The two women behind i-rox are co-CEO Rutie Margalit, 29, an ultra-Orthodox woman from Bnei Brak, and Yehudit Swissa, 44, a secular woman from Shoham

…i-rox is a play on the words Internet and Orthodox, and it isn't the first company in Israel to take advantage of ultra-Orthodox women's eagerness to work.

Israeli programmers design management system for Palestinian Hospitals

By David Shamah January 12, 2009

"The women who work here are all from the ultra-Orthodox community, nearly all from Bnei Brak," Suissa says. "All our programmers are college-educated, and some even have advanced degrees." 

 "Many of the women who work here are the chief breadwinners for their house, with their husbands in many cases learning or teaching in Yeshiva," says Suissa. "It's a perfect solution for members of the ultra-Orthodox community, who would not feel comfortable working in a secular environment."

"A few years ago, you had maybe 20 women a year who graduated from programming training course. But today, because of i-Rox and a few other companies who employ Haredi women, over 160 women will get degrees in programming this year," he adds. 

New Call Center to Bring 150 Jobs to Modi'in Illit

By M. Green January 8, 2009

A major ceremony was held at the Illit Business Center in Modi'in Illit to mark the opening of a customer service phone center operated by Cal (Israel Credit Card Company) and slated to employ 150 local women, bringing to fruition Mayor Rabbi Yaakov Guterman's latest initiative to boost employment in the city.

…At the height of the economic crisis, Cal responded to a proposal from the Mayor by setting up a new call center in Modi'in Illit.

The modern, 7-million-shekel facility will employ 150 phone representatives, mostly working mothers.

Cal is working to adapt the work environment to meet the needs of chareidi women, including convenient work hours and accommodations for the special spiritual requirements in the city.

Charedi Officials Hold Emergency Meeting on 80% Budget Cut to Yeshivas January 8, 2009

UTJ Knesset members and Shas government ministers met for an emergency meeting on Monday evening to discuss Israel's current operating budget, which cuts 80% of funding to Yeshivas and Kollels.

…Shas chairman Eli Yishai noted at the meeting that experience has proven that in a budget crisis, the Yeshiva world is the first to be hit.

State funding of Yeshivas is not protected by law and is subject to the whims of the treasury budget directors.

Rabbi Naamah Kelman Appointed Dean of Reform Movement’s HUC-JIR/Jerusalem January 8, 2009

Rabbi David Ellenson, President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) has announced the appointment of Rabbi Naamah Kelman as Dean of HUC-JIR’s Jerusalem School, effective July 1, 2009.

Rabbi Kelman currently serves as Associate Dean at HUC-JIR/Jerusalem.

“The College-Institute has a unique mission in Jerusalem: to be that bridge that brings Reform Jews to active engagement with and concern for the Jewish people in Israel; 
to inspire and shepherd Israeli Jews to become participants in the Jewish tradition; and to foster a Jerusalem that embraces the plurality of the Jewish experience, and be a place for coexistence and healing,” says Rabbi Kelman.

Rabbi Kelman is very involved in Jewish and Zionist Pluralism and Renewal in Israel as a founder of Panim: Jewish Renewal in Israel and has served on its Board. 

She serves on the Boards of Rabbis for Human Rights, Melitz-Centers for Israeli-Jewish Education, and the Tali Education Fund of the Seminary of Judaic Studies (Machon Schechter), and is a past Board member of the Women’s Network.

Birthright is not broke

Regarding "Birthright CEO: 'We are broke,'" by Ranit Nahum-Halevy, January 4, 2009 Letters to the Editor January 7, 2009

Taglit-Birthright Israel is not "broke" and will continue to provide trips to Israel for 14,000 participants this winter season. 

My mention of not having one dollar left was taken out of context and refers to Taglit's policy of using every dollar we receive, to provide as many young people as possible with the gift of an educational trip to Israel.

Every dollar from the $110 million budget allotted for 2008 was utilized to meet our goal of bringing the largest number of youths from around the world to Israel - to mark Israel's 60th anniversary…

Gidi Mark

CEO of Taglit-Birthright Israel

Religion and State in Israel

January 12, 2009 (Section 1) (continues in Section 2)

Click here to read ONLINE

Editor – Joel Katz

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