Monday, February 16, 2009

Religion and State in Israel - February 16, 2009 Israel Elections (Section 1)

Religion and State in Israel

February 16, 2009 Israel Elections (Section 1) (continues in Section 2)

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Editor – Joel Katz

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

Conversion controversy threatens to thwart Likud coalition cobbling

By Yair Ettinger February 16, 2009

Last year's High Rabbinical Court decision to invalidate thousands of conversions conducted in Israel could become a major issue in coalition talks.

Members of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party asked Likud yesterday to clarify its position on the matter after Yisrael Beiteinu requested recognition of conversions and accelerated activity in the special conversion courts, which the ultra-Orthodox do not recognize.

UTJ has said its coalition talks with Likud are contingent on the party's rejection of Yisrael Beiteinu's requests.

A new Jewish state

By Anshel Pfeffer Opinion February 15, 2009

What Lieberman envisages is a state-rabbinate relationship very similar to the one existing between Vladimir Putin's Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church.

One in which the clergy is given respect as the guardians of the nation's heritage, but expected to understand that they are there to serve the state, not the other way around. 

If Lieberman will be a major player in the coalition that emerges from this week's chaotic election results, it can certainly be expected that he will push through legislation liberalizing marriage laws and a comprehensive reform of conversion procedures, and with that a significant erosion of the powers of the rabbinate, but his vision is far from that of liberal Judaism.

Can Neeman bridge the ideological gulf between Lieberman and Shas?

By Matthew Wagner February 12, 2009

Disputes between Shas and Israel Beiteinu over state-religion issues seemed to be a main factor in the decision by Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu to appoint Prof. Yaakov Neeman as his lead coalition negotiator.

…Shas and Israel Beiteinu are split on the issue of civil unions in lieu of marriage. 

Israel Beiteinu is pushing to break the Chief Rabbinate's monopoly over marriages, which are presently conducted in strict accordance with Halacha.

Shas claims that any change to the religious status quo would be strictly forbidden and tantamount to apostasy. It has vowed to fight any attempts to alter this status quo.

But Israel Beiteinu is resolved to end the present situation in which tens of thousands of citizens are unable to marry here. 

The party also argues that there are leading religious Zionist rabbis who support the concept of civil unions in principle.

Israel Beiteinu is also interested in reforming the state-controlled conversion process to make it easier for non-Jews to convert to Judaism. 

Shas, in contrast, is strictly opposed to any leniency in the conversion process.

Progressive Jews worry over coalition

By Allison Hoffman February 13, 2009

Reform and Conservative Jews in the US are watching nervously from the sidelines as Likud negotiates between partnering with Kadima in a national unity government or building a narrow coalition with Avigdor Lieberman's Israel Beiteinu and Shas.

A deal on the Right could erase modest gains made in recent years by the more liberal branches of Jewry - and would come just as disputes over the power of the Chief Rabbinate are coming to a head amid calls from the Conservative rabbinical association for the rabbinate's dissolution.

Naomi Paiss, communications director for the New Israel Fund:

"The exclusion of non-Orthodox Jews is a slap in the face to the American Jewish public that does support Israel," Paiss added. 

"You don't have to be in the position of making aliya to resent that our community, which supports Israel in so many ways, is viewed as suspect by the self-appointed guardians of Judaism in Israel."

Yet others said the focus should be on forcing change within religious bodies, rather than through the backdoor of politics.

"I would hope that Lieberman's approach does not divert people from understanding the real challenge, and that is to break the monopoly of the chief rabbinate," said Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

Shas, UTJ join forces for coalition negotiations

By Matthew Wagner February 13, 2009

Shas and United Torah Judaism are planning to work together in government coalition negotiations, Shas chairman Eli Yishai announced Thursday.

Yishai added that the two parties would cooperate to protect common interests such as budgets for haredi educational institutions and maintaining the religious status quo on issues such as marriages and conversions.

…Both parties are concerned that the religious status quo will be upset in a coalition in which Avigdor Lieberman's party is dominant.

Israel Beiteinu is pushing to bust the Chief Rabbinate's monopoly over marriages in Israel by promoting legislation that would recognize a form of civil marriage called "partnership unions."

Shas and UTJ have warned that the move would result in intermarriage between Israeli citizens who are not Jewish according to Orthodox standards.

Shas and National Union Strike a Deal

By Yechiel Spira February 13, 2009

Yaakov Katz (Ketzaleh), who heads the Ichud HaLeumi [National Union] list, on Thursday reached an agreement with Shas leader Eli Yishai which details how the two parties address certain issues.

It was decided that matters o Torah and Halacha will be decided by Shas while matters pertaining to Eretz Yisrael will be deferred to Ichud HaLeumi. 

Lieberman gets a cool welcome from Western Wall worshippers

By Nadav Shragai February 11, 2009

Wearing a skullcap and a contemplative look on his face, Lieberman chose to spend a few seconds at the Western Wall - 12 hours before the opening of the ballot boxes. 

One of the women recommended that they say a few prayers so that Lieberman will fail in the election.

An older yeshiva student complained that Lieberman's presence there was disrespectful. "He came here to be photographed," he said. 

Ultra-Orthodox men called him "a hater of Judaism," language used recently by Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. 

Only one elderly Haredi man spoke in Lieberman's favor. 

"His daughter has become religious," he said. "He loves Israel and will help us all. May God bless him."

Why we have failed to change the system

By Menahem Ben-Sasson Opinion February 13, 2009

The writer was chairman of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee in the outgoing Knesset

The heads of the Shas party…supported the move from the outset, for the most part.

Then, on the eve of the vote, they changed their position on increasing the percentage of the vote needed for a party to enter the Knesset because of pressure from the small ultra-Orthodox parties.

These parties later hinted that if they did not win the required percentage they would join up with Shas, along with their rabbinical establishments, threatening Shas' rabbinical establishment. 

Religious Zionism lost

By Yehudah Glick Opinion February 12, 2009

The author is the director of The Temple Institute.

We lost these elections and we lost big.

We, the religious and Torah-observant public in Israel, lost.

We, the national religious public, lost. 

We the religious Zionists, lost. 

We lost because we were not smart enough to unite. The parties attacked one another; and the man on the street is really not interested in who or what is responsible for the divide, Uri Ariel, Yaakov Amidror or the politics of Zevulun Orlev.

We lost because we were perceived as irrelevant. Habayit Hayehudi did not manage to generate the customary public search for a traditional Zionist home; and the National Union did not manage to present itself as an alternative to the large group of lovers of the Land of Israel, who do not pray in the synagogues of Ofra and Beit El. 

And Chabad's winner is... National Union

By Cnaan Liphshiz February 13, 2009

Unlike most Israelis, Jews in Brooklyn, New York, had been spared weeks of exposure to posters of Israeli parties and politicians. 

That is, until Sunday, when a small group of former Israelis put up dozens of election flyers for the Zionist, far-right National Union party all over the Chabad bastion of Crown Heights. 

…Asked whether the Chabad support worries him, National Union's Detroit-born Uri Bank - who is number five on the list - admitted that it did concern him. However, he stressed that National Union has no anti-Zionists in its ranks. 

"There has been positive movement within Chabad in terms of the attitude to Israel and I hope this partnership will help move them in this direction," he added.

Religion and State in Israel

February 16, 2009 Israel Elections (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.

Religion and State in Israel - February 16, 2009 (Section 2)

Religion and State in Israel

February 16, 2009 (Section 2) (continued from Section 1)

Click here to read ONLINE

Editor – Joel Katz

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

Conservative rabbis call for official dissolution of Israel's Chief Rabbinate

By Shlomo Shamir and Raphael Ahren February 13, 2009

A body of Conservative rabbis passed a resolution yesterday calling upon the government of Israel to "privatize the Israeli Chief Rabbinate and dissolve it as a governmental organization."

The motion was approved at the annual convention of the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative Movement, known in Israel as the Masorti movement, which this week convened in Jerusalem. More than 300 rabbis participated in the four-day convention, most of them from the United States. 

In the first initiative of its kind by a respected American rabbinic institution representing the second-largest stream in American Jewry, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel is described as "a structure that is outmoded and unnecessary" and one that "misrepresents the nature of Judaism to the world at large, even to Jews." 

The resolution further asserts that "for many, Israel's chief rabbinate fails to represent the majority of Israel's Jewish population." 

It also argues that politicization of the process of choosing the chief rabbis "has created a general antipathy to Judaism and its practices." 

Rabbi Lau Seeks to Amend Law of Return Original Source February 15, 2009

Rabbi Yisroel Meir Lau, Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv-Yaffo and director of the Yad Vashem Council, was a guest columnist in this week’s edition of the Makor Rishon newspaper.

When Rabbi Lau was asked which law he would first change on the statute books, he replied that he would amend the definitions of the Law of Return.

The law, which was first enacted in Adar 5730/1970, states, “A Jew is anyone born to a Jewish mother who has no other religion, or who has converted.”

“I would add the words ‘according to Jewish law,’” stated Rabbi Lau.

“This would prevent many problems. Apart from changing the actual law, I think the enforcement of existing legislation should be stepped up.”

Alternative solutions for civil unions

By Ruth Eglash February 13, 2009

A new telephone help line, offering alternative solutions and practical advice to thousands of couples unable to get married in Israel due to the strict Orthodox Jewish laws governing life cycle events, will be launched this weekend by those who oppose the current system.

Yuval Yavne, New Israel Fund:

"The hot line is aimed at those who are not interested in getting married in an Orthodox Jewish ceremony but who are looking for an alternative option."

Conservative rabbis on conversion, marriage, Shabbat

By Shlomo Shamir and Raphael Ahren February 13, 2009

One resolution calls upon the Israeli government to recognize "conversions performed in Israel by Masorti rabbis as confirmation of Jewishness for citizenship (according to the Interior Ministry) and proof of Jewishness on a par with Orthodox rabbinic conversions for the registry of life cycle events and status." 

The resolution condemns "the rabbinical establishment [that] has exerted its power to prevent and discourage conversion from being completed including refusal to recognize conversions performed outside of Israel." 

Another resolution on marriage in Israel asserts that "the current climate established by the Orthodox religious authorities in Israel leads unfortunately to a large number of Israeli couples to seek alternatives to the mitzvah [commandment] of chuppah [coming under the marriage canopy] and kiddushin [nuptial blessings]."

The resolution calls upon the government of Israel "to grant license to rabbis of all branches of Judaism to officiate at weddings" as well as to allow non-religious alternative arrangements. 

After a passionate discussion, the convention also passed a resolution on "Shabbat in the Public Sphere in Israel."

The proposal seeks "common ground and not coercion in matters relating to Shabbat observance," and the Rabbinical Assembly expresses its "support for the various efforts to establish an agreed pattern of public observance of Shabbat in the Jewish sector of Israel, which would curtail commercial activities on Shabbat, while allowing cultural activities."

Police detain 4 in Jerusalem neighborhood after Friday eve 'eruv' spat

By Yair Ettinger February 16, 2009

Police detained four people after violence erupted again on Friday night between Orthodox and secular residents of the Jerusalem neighborhood of Kiryat Hayovel.

The clash occurred when two non-Orthodox residents allegedly attempted to vandalize the eruv - the string or wire delineating the area within which observant Jews may carry objects outside their homes on the Sabbath. 

…On Friday night Danny Mandler, one of the main opponents to the eruv, allegedly attempted, with another man, to break the wire, after which a fight ensued and police had to be called to the scene. 

Mandler, who did not deny vandalizing the wires, told Haaretz that about 30 ultra-Orthodox men showed up and "tried to kidnap" his friend.

The police detained two ultra-Orthodox men along with Mandler and his friend - who had called the police in the first place. 

Professor Caught Red-Handed Cutting Jerusalem Eruv

By Gil Ronen February 15, 2009

According to the reports, religious Jews had been conducting a stakeout in order to find the people who have been vandalizing the Jerusalem eruv – a boundary marker which delineates the area in which religious Jerusalemites may carry things during the Sabbath. 

Study: 50% of national-religious city residents support 'refuseniks'

By Nadav Shragai February 16, 2009

Half of all national-religious city residents support the right of soldiers to refuse orders to evict Jews from settlements, according to a Bar-Ilan University study. 

The vast majority of the respondents who said they supported refuseniks said they supported it as an act of conscientious objection, and not a action which draws from the rulings of rabbis and halakhic authorities.

All three groups seemed to agree that prominent state bodies - not including the IDF - were hostile to the national-religious public and its various institutions.

Some 60 percent of city residents define the attitude of the Supreme Court to religious Zionists as hostile to very hostile.

More than 80 percent of respondents said that the media was hostile to the national religious, and 70 percent said the cultural elite was hostile to them. 

Religious schools to teach history of Gaza settlements, from settlers' perspective

By Or Kashti February 16, 2009

Some 400 schools will today teach the history of the former Gaza settlement bloc of Gush Katif from the perspective of the settlers evacuated during 2005, as part of a program initiated by a committee representing the former residents of Gush Katif. 

The educational initiative was approved by the Education Ministry's religious education administration as part of Gush Katif Day, which takes place today. 

About 90 percent of the schools marking Gush Katif Day are state-run religious schools, and some pre-military academies will also be marking the day, Berger said. 

Sanhedrin calls to abolish laws that contradict Torah

By Kobi Nahshoni February 12, 2009

[The Re-established Sanhedrin] stipulate what should be done in the field of Torah based legislation:

"Basic Law: The Torah, which states that any legislation or ruling that goes against the Torah is null and void; 
making the Chief Rabbinate independent from politics and politicians and turning it into a supreme court for the entire Jewish people; 
a law of return to the lands – stating that land under Jewish sovereignty within the borders of the Land of Israel is a part of the State of Israel."

The rabbis also suggested amendments to Basic Law: The Judiciary, revising the authorities of the attorney general, the High Court of Justice and the procedures of appointing judges.

Jesus for Jews

By Larry Derfner February 12, 2009

Jews for Jesus, which has been operating here since the 1980s, has an office in Tel Aviv with 15 paid staffers.

Its main work is one-on-one Bible study with people who take a leaflet or see an ad or otherwise get interested in Jesus and want to know more.

…Messianic Jews have a terrible name in this country. Israelis who don't know any of them personally tend to be afraid of them.

The community is widely viewed as a secretive cult that picks off vulnerable Jews and converts them to Christianity.

…In terms of identity, those born and raised Jewish are Jews. Beyond that, they're all passionate Zionists and Israeli patriots, with army service being very important to them.

But their religion is indistinguishable from evangelical Christianity; they speak of themselves as "Messianics" or "believers" more than as "Messianic Jews."

They pray in evangelical Christian churches and evangelical Christians pray in their congregations - they prefer not to use the term "synagogues" - with no changes in text or ritual necessary.

…Calev Myers, a Jerusalem attorney who represents many Messianic Jews, said the Interior Ministry is still heavily staffed with Orthodox Jewish bureaucrats appointed during the years when Shas was in control, and these clerks work hand-in-glove with Yad L’Achim to get around the law and deny Messianic Jews their rights.

Tel Aviv: Haredim enraged by Centennial Committee

By Yoav Zaitun February 16, 2009

Tel Aviv's Centennial Year Committee has ruffled plenty of feathers recently – first those of the homosexual community, whose budget for the city's 100th anniversary celebrations was drastically reduced, and now those of the ultra-Orthodox community.

One of the scheduled events is a mass prayer rally, set for April 4, in the city's Great Synagogue, located on Allenby Street. The bottom of the brochure announcing the event, however, sports the AM:PM logo.

So what is the ruckus all about? 

The AM:PM chain is an all-hours chain store, and as such it keeps its stores open on Shabbat. Moreover, there is a store right across from the Great Synagogue, and anyone attending Saturday morning services cannot help but notice it.

Security cameras lead to Shabbat profanation?

By Uri Gilhar February 16, 2009

The Jerusalem Municipality's plan to place security cameras in various spots around the city spurred anger among the capital's ultra-Orthodox residents, who fear the cameras' activation could lead to Shabbat desecration.

According to the plan, surveillance cameras will be hung in Sacker Garden, Liberty Bell Garden, Pisgat Ze'ev, Gilo Park, the Rose Garden and the Sanhedria neighborhood, among other places.

Notices warning against the city's new project were posted in Jerusalem's synagogues last week. 

The major concern is that once a person passes by one of the cameras he will create an electric response on the screen, thus indirectly causing Shabbat desecration.

In light of this, the notice advised parents to prevent their children from visiting areas in which cameras have been placed.

Israir to compensate couple over lack of glatt kosher meal February 13, 2009

A rabbi and his wife were awarded NIS 3,000 (about $742) in damages from the Israir airline after a mistake on the company's part left the pair without food during a flight from New York to Tel Aviv, and an accidental fall left the woman bruised and embarrassed.

The couple ordered glatt kosher meals on an Israir round trip to the United States, but on the flight back, the pair did not receive their meals, as the company claimed their names were not on the glatt kosher menu list.

Justice Gideon Barak of Rehovot Small Claims Court ruled that Israir failed to provide sufficient evidence that, according to its contract with the passengers, it is not obligated to provide any type of meal and/or specific food such as glatt kosher.

The judge also rejected Israir's argument that the plaintiffs could have eaten the regular kosher meal instead of a glatt kosher meal, and said Israir cannot take the liberty to substitute a meal that was ordered with any other dish.

"The defendant should have been prepared with enough glatt kosher meals and should not have put the plaintiffs before the halachic dilemma of whether to eat what was available – even if it's regular kosher and not glatt – or not to eat at all until arriving in Israel," the judge wrote in his verdict.

A formula for change

By Peggy Cidor February 13, 2009

Edna Friedman never planned to become a member of the [Jerusalem] city council. 

After many years of political activity - as a student of the Hebrew University and in Habayit Hayehudi [Jewish Home] - she just happened to be the next one on the list.

Though her party has only three seats on the city council and she is No. 6, one of these seats is reserved for a woman. Not that she is not happy about it - she is. And she has plans and means business.

…In addition to her participation in the committees for the status of children, youth and students, she plans to turn the Jewish heritage committee into a resource for anyone who wants to know more about the Jewish legacy.

"We need to feed those who have no knowledge - but are interested in acquiring it - about our roots so that we all know why we are here. That was the main purpose of the creation of the Habayit Hayehudi party," she says.

Future Shock

By Raphael Ahren February 13, 2009

During Operation Cast Lead, author Roy S. Neuberger, who divides his time between Jerusalem and New York, was thinking about ways to support the Israeli troops.

When he realized that his new book, "2020 Vision," which had just been translated from English into Hebrew, could provide the soldiers with "chizuk" (morale-boosting), he decided to distribute more than 1,000 copies of the Hebrew version in military bases in the South.

"The whole point of the book is to encourage the Jewish people," the 66-year-old told Anglo File.

 "We went through so many things, so many difficult phases in our history, but we survived everything. We'll also survive this, and in the end everything is going to be good."

"2020 Vision" takes place in a messianic future and describes a group of American Jews trekking to Israel in the aftermath of a global Islamic terrorist attack.

Putting immigration on the map, kind of

By Raphael Ahren February 13, 2009

The Conservative Movement's Rabbinical Assembly, which convened in Jerusalem this week, launched a new campaign to boost aliyah - immigration to Israel.

Under the slogan "A Call to Action - Putting Aliyah on the map," the new campaign aims to double the numbers of North American Conservative immigrants, which have been slightly rising recently but still well below their Orthodox compatriots. 

Rabbi David Golinkin, president of Jerusalem's Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, maintained that "one should make aliyah because living in Israel is a mitzvah in and of itself as well as a preparatory act which enables one to observe all of the mitzvot and to live a full Jewish life by living in a Jewish state."

Haredi paper suggests chicken noodles for Shabbat, with cheese

By Nissan Strauchler February 10, 2009

Members of the ultra-Orthodox community opening the weekend edition of haredi daily Hamodia in search of a recipe for a good Shabbat meal last week were shocked to find a recipe for stir-fried chicken noodles with none other than dairy Feta cheese - a combination that is against the rules of kashrut and is strictly forbidden.

An abuse of belief

By Judy Siegel-Itzkovich February 16, 2009

Abuse of women, children and the elderly in the religious Jewish community was long denied, on the grounds that observance of the Torah and Talmud prevented it. 

Physical, sexual, emotional, economic and other types of maltreatment of the weak, claimed this sector, occurs among secular Jews, but "not in our camp."

But this has been disproven by infamous cases of child abuse reported recently in the general media, and the opening of shelters for battered women in haredi neighborhoods.

The recent ninth Jerusalem conference of ATEM Nefesh-Israel - an organization of observant social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists and other therapists - had several sessions devoted to this topic.

Although all the 200 or so participants were religious (most of them women), the public nature of the conference at the Bayit Vegan Guesthouse constituted a welcome airing of the religious community's "dirty laundry," though some rabbis still insist on hiding it.

The organization of religious therapists was founded by Shaare Zedek Medical Center neuropsychologist Dr. Judith Guedalia and geriatric social worker and Melabev founder Leah Abramowitz

Keeping Haredim in the picture

By Maxim Reider February 15, 2009

Menahem Kahana is presenting his exhibition of photos of the haredi community at the Eretz Israel Museum starting Sunday.

Not that Judaism was strange to Kahana. Born 50 years ago in Ashkelon to a family of observant Romanian Jews, he attended a religious school and later a yeshiva.

After serving in the Golani Brigade, he was discharged from the IDF and settled in Jerusalem. At that time, he abandoned religion and became a secular man.

Click here for Exhibition Slideshow

Yeshiva Embraces Women's Ambitions

By Sarah Bronson – February 9, 2009

The Chabad-run Mayanot Institute for Women in Jerusalem

“My understanding is that most women in the Chabad movement don’t go to college, but at Mayanot they understand the women coming here are very active in the secular world,” she said.

“They are open and encouraging about it, and give us skills to access our spirituality in the context of our jobs.”

Religion and State in Israel

February 16, 2009 (Section 2) (continued from Section 1)

Click here to read ONLINE

Editor – Joel Katz

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