Monday, March 9, 2009

Religion and State in Israel - March 9, 2009 (Section 1)

Religion and State in Israel

March 9, 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.

Lieberman: Civil Marriage May Take Time March 9, 2009

Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman admitted Monday morning during an interview on the radio network Reshet Bet that he may be unable to implement his civil marriage proposals for a while.

He said that his party may have to settle with a solution which would only provide civil marriage for non-Jewish couples.

Shas: Chacham Ovadia Agrees to Civil Marriage Bill Compromise

By Yechiel Spira March 8, 2009

Chacham Rav Ovadia Yosef Shlita has agreed to a proposal put forward by Rishon L’Tzion Rav Shlomo Moshe Amar Shlita, who is willing to compromise and permit a civil wedding ceremony for couples classified as ‘unmarriageable’ by the Rabbinate, namely non-Jews.

Rav Ovadia met with Shas faction leaders and announced his willingness to accept the compromise which Shas hopes will suffice to reach a deal permitting Shas and Yisrael Beitenu to enter into the same coalition government.

Rabbinate to discuss civil marriage for first time

By Kobi Nahshoni March 4, 2009

The Chief Rabbinate's Council will convene on Thursday to discuss the subject of civil marriage, Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger said on Wednesday. 

This will be the first time that the Rabbinate will discuss halachic solutions for non-religious marriage.

Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger promised that in any case, the council will not support mixed marriages, and said:

"They (the Yisrael Beiteinu party) want a Jew and a non-Jew to be allowed to marry, and this will certainly not be permitted by anyone.

It's inconceivable to have mixed marriages approved by a rabbi in Israel. We will do everything in order to keep the spirit of Israel holy.

"If God forbid we will do something against the Halacha or without the consent of the great sages of Israel – we will be dividing the nation," he added.

Rabbi Lau: Jews plagued by mixed marriages

By Kobi Nahshoni March 4, 2009

On Monday, at the opening of the convention, Tel Aviv Rabbi Yisrael Lau harshly criticized Avigdor Lieberman's civil marriage drive and said that mix marriages were "the terrible catastrophe that is plaguing the people of Israel in the world today."

He warned that "in addition to this, there are those who are trying to open the gates for this phenomenon in Israel as well. We don't need this import."

Rabbi Lau suggested that anyone wishing to wed in a civil marriage will do so abroad.

"You want to introduce pluralism, liberalism, reforms? There are enough countries who claim to exercise this. There are 192 democratic states, but only one Jewish state," he concluded.

Rabbis to meet faction heads on civil marriage

By Kobi Nahshoni March 7, 2009

Chief Rabbis of Israel Yona Metzger and Shlomo Amar have decided to meet with the various faction heads in the Knesset next week, including those of the secular parties, in an attempt to broker an acceptable compromise on the highly charged subject.

The only halachic solution currently considered acceptable by the religious establishment is the one suggested by Rabbi Amar, namely to allow only non-Jews living in Israel to wed in a civil ceremony.

Former Chief Sephardi Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi Doron, however, holds the minority view saying civil marriages in Israel should simply be allowed.

Rabbi Bakshi Doron surprised the ultra-Orthodox community several years back, when he published as essay condoning civil marriages.

A Marriage of Inconvenience

By Michelle Chabin March 4, 2009

Months after their civil marriage in Prague and just two weeks before a planned second marriage (performed by a Reform rabbi) in Israel that will have no legal standing with the state, the Shrifels are still angry they had to leave Israel in order to have their marriage recognized by the government. 

“…We both feel 100 percent Jewish in our hearts, but we were treated like second-class citizens.”

If one of the two so-called “civil marriage” bills now being considered by the newly formed Israeli government is approved by the Knesset, Israelis who cannot — or who do not want to — be married by the Rabbinate, in an Islamic court or a Christian church, for example, could have other alternatives. 

While civil marriage laws have been proposed in the past, fervently Orthodox religious parties — fearful of weakening the religious establishment’s sole discretion over Jewish life-cycle events — have always quashed them. The parties have made the defeat of such laws a precondition for joining a coalition government. 

Religious parties up their demands in coalition talks

By Zvi Zrahiya and Yair Ettinger March 8, 2009

Benjamin Netanyahu's government will increase funding for religious seminary students by 30 to 50 percent, senior officials from ultra-Orthodox parties told Haaretz yesterday, following negotiations on the formation of a coalition with Likud

The increase in funding would apply to married yeshiva students aged 18 and over, and single adult students of higher education yeshivas, the politicians said, adding they would not join the coalition if their demands are not met. Senior officials in Shas said the ultra-Orthodox parties are united in this demand. 

The additional cost to the budget is estimated at the vicinity of NIS 130 million. One Shas official said the budget hike that the religious parties are demanding "in not below NIS 1 billion." The entire budget for ultra-Orthodox yeshivas in 2008 was NIS 680 million. 

Lieberman meets with Religious parties

By Gil Hoffman March 3, 2009

Lieberman met with the heads of the four haredi and religious-Zionist parties on Monday and discussed matters of religion and state with them. United Torah Judaism head Ya'acov Litzman told Lieberman that two rabbinical judges would check what flexibility the party could show on the matter to allow a coalition to be built.

"The appointment of the rabbinical judges is a big achievement," Lieberman said after the meeting. "I never felt such an effort being made by the haredim before to reach a common ground."

International Agunah Day

By Greer Fay Cashman March 5, 2009

Marriage does not have to be a prison is the compelling social message on a series of tote bags sold by Israeli fashion house Comme il Faut known for its promotion of human rights and social justice as International Women's Day comes around the corner next week.

The promotion is in cooperation with ICAR, the International Coalition for Agunah Rights, which brings together Jewish organizations working to draw attention to the problem of agunot and mesuravot get and to promote solutions that are compatible with Halacha.

The bags, which are made out of recycled materials by people who are mentally and physically challenged and are working under the aegis of Meshakem, are being sold for NIS 10 each.

The proceeds of the sale will be used to continue ICAR's work in freeing women who are anchored in marriages which exist in name only, but which prevent the victims from marrying anyone else and bringing children into the world.

Aside from carrying the message, the bags are also environmentally friendly, like those sold in most supermarkets to replace the nylon bags. 

The difference is that instead of advertising a particular supermarket chain, the ICAR bags will create awareness of the injustice perpetrated against Jewish women who want to opt out of a marriage.

The Prenuptial Agreement to Avoid Get Refusal 9, 2009

One enters into a marriage in love and harmony, expecting that the joint future will also be based on these principals.

A prenuptial agreement to avoid get refusal is not a financial agreement! It is a declaration that the couple intends to conduct their marriage on an equal basis and to ensure that if, g-d forbid, they separate, this too will take place in an honorable, fair and equal manner.

We believe that it is better to sign this type of document out of love, reciprocity and belief that it will not be necessary, than to search for solutions at the time of separation, that is often painful and very sad.

Religion and Revolution

By Netty C. Gross March 3, 2009

A decade after its establishment 'no one is laughing at Kolech or at Orthodox feminists anymore'

"When the revolution comes, we want to be ready," says Dr. Chana Kehat, a 49-year-old mother of six, teacher of Jewish bible studies and resident of Neve Daniel in the Etzion bloc in the West Bank.

Today, [founding member Prof. Tova Cohen] says, the organization "aims to improve the status of women within Orthodoxy and in general, while adhering to the strictures of Jewish law."

In this way, Kolech - which means "your voice" in Hebrew, and is a deliberate reference to the various religious rulings that a woman's voice should not be heard in public - differs both from movements which use a liberal interpretation of halakha to create gender-equal ritual and from traditional Orthodox women's organizations, such as Emunah, the women's auxiliary of the National Religious Party, which have long eschewed the feminist label.

Online comic breaking chains: 'Get' this empowering tale of a young Jewish woman

March 4, 2009

This past June, following a protracted struggle spanning several years for her emancipation, 28 year old Ariella Dadon managed to receive a get (a Jewish divorce) from her violent, abusive husband.

"Unmasked: The Ariella Dadon Story" is the poignant story of Ariella, a courageous woman who continues her struggle for the assisting of agunot and mesoravot get (women denied a Jewish divorce). 

The cartoon is inspired by the genre of political cartoons, such as: "Waltz with Bashir," "Maus" and "Persepolis". 

By utilizing this medium, the creators of this cartoon, Inbal Freund-Novick and Chari Pere, wish to bring to light Ariella's story to an audience that had previously not been exposed the issue of such women who are in need of assistance.

"Ariella described her story to us in a lucid and inspiring manner, which led to the birth of the cartoon presented before you – a cartoon that calls for increased public awareness of the subject of mesoravot get," says Freund-Novick.

"The comic discusses the finding of viable solutions for this problem, the signing of premarital agreements for the prevention of get refusal and the encouraging of women in this situation to seek help from professional organizations".

The cartoon, which is being distributed in preparation for the International Day for Agunot that occurs on the fast of Esther, incorporates motifs from the holiday of Purim and encourages people "to remove their masks" and discuss the issue of mesoravot get in Israel. "I enjoyed every moment working on this project", says Pere. 

"I hope that our comic sparks a greater cause and a greater awareness of Ariella's story."

IDF Rabbinate Corp Appoints First-Ever Female Officer March 3, 2009

Captain Ofra Guttman has been appointed as the first-ever female officer in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Rabbinate Corps.

The appointment follows pressure from NIF grantee Kolech – Religious Women’s Forum and other Orthodox Feminist groups.

Captain Guttman said, “This new position has been created because very few of the tens of thousands of women serving in the IDF seek counsel from the Rabbinate Corps in comparison to their male counterparts. 

There are many subjects for which it is very difficult for young women to talk to a rabbi and which it is much easier for them to speak about with another woman.”

Kolech Executive Director Chana Pasternak welcomed the appointment. "Jewish women serving in the army finally have somebody they can turn to on religious and spiritual matters," she said.

In addition to personally addressing the individual inquiries of female soldiers, Captain Guttman will arrange seminars and courses to train a cadre of young women serving in the IDF to act as advisors for Jewish and spiritual matters in the various units of the Israeli military.

Rabbi Disqualifies Army's Torah Scrolls

By Hillel Fendel March 3, 2009

Rabbi Yaakov Yosef has caused a stir in the rabbinic world, ruling that a watermark on Torah scrolls in the IDF renders them unfit for use. Other rabbis disagree.

He wrote that the identifying watermark - the words “IDF property” imprinted on the scrolls - disqualifies them for use.

An official at Machon Ot, a non-profit organization that has developed a unique method to identify Torah scrolls based on the distances between letters, told Israel National News that watermarks have traditionally been accepted as a kosher means of identification.

“Writing on the back of the parchment is considered OK, as are watermarks visible on either side,” he said.

Machon Ot’s computerized technique has been used by Israel Police, Interpol, New York Police Department and others to identify stolen Torah scrolls. The cost is only 150 shekels per scroll, and is often subsidized by insurance companies.

We have 15,000 scrolls on file,” the official said, “nearly half of them from Israel. If we would double this number, we would be able to end the scourge of Torah scroll theft.”

IDF Responds to Rabbi Who Disqualified Torah Scrolls

By Hillel Fendel March 5, 2009

The IDF Spokesman responded that the facts in the ruling are not correct.

“The imprint is fashioned not out of ink or color, but rather by pressure [making a raised mark],” the response stated.

The Spokesman, in conjunction with the Chief Rabbinate of the IDF, added that the new ruling “maligns the late Chief IDF Rabbis Shlomo Goren and Gad Navon, who were quite familiar with Jewish Law and formulated the solution.”

Rabbi Yosef based his ruling on precedents set by his father Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef in his work Yechaveh Daat, and by the late Rabbi Ovadiah Hadaya in his work Yaskil Avdi.

However, sources in the IDF Rabbinate say that the former citation deals with an ink imprint in between sentences, whereas the imprints in the current case do not involve ink and are placed on the margins of the parchment.

Chabad Cheers Up the Troops in Nachal Oz March 4, 2009 Source:

This week, IDF soldiers at the Nachal Oz army base bordering the Gaza Strip received an injection of spirituality when Chabad volunteers and a group of supporters from the United States visited them with gifts of Chumashim, Siddurim, and other seforim for the base’s shul.

Israeli Rabbis Reject Digital TV [Purim Spoof] March 4, 2009

A coalition of 33 Orthodox rabbis in Israel declared this week that the government’s plan to switch all television reception to a digital signal is forbidden and unacceptable.

“It requires converter boxes,” said group spokesman Rabbi Lazer Disk, “and we don’t recognize the converters as kosher.”

Rabbi Disk identified the two companies hired by the Israeli government to handle the conversions as the Conservative Engineering Corp. and the Television Reform Network.

“I’m sorry,” said the rabbi, “but we cannot accept digital conversions by the Conservative and Reform firms. We must draw the line somewhere. Otherwise, what will be next--a wireless eruv?”

Despite nixing the proposed signal conversion, the 33 rabbis did approve a marriage this week between two TV antennas.

“The ceremony wasn’t that great,” said Rabbi Disk, “but the reception was amazing.”

Court Orders Dismantling Chabad Mitzvah Tanks Non-Profit

By Yechiel Spira March 2, 2009

Due to debts amounting to over NIS 1 million, the Nazareth District Court has responded to a request to dismantle the organization responsible for the Chabad “Mitzvah Tanks” in Eretz Yisrael.

This week, the court ruled that in order to cover the debt, the non-profit will be dismantled. The court added that the heads of the organization admit they were not in compliance with the law, failing to submit the annual reports to the registrar of non-profits and other papers.

Prosecution seeks maximum sentence for 'Modesty Squad' offender

By Aviad Glickman March 4, 2009

The Jerusalem District Prosecution has signed a plea bargain with Elhanan Buzaglo, who was charged with assaulting a woman in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in the capital.

Buzaglo, a member of the so-called '[Modesty] Squad,' beat and threatened a woman who did not meet the squad's standards of modesty.

The prosecution claims Buzaglo was a mercenary doing the bidding of the '[Modesty] Squad', a group attempting to violently impose their ethical code on those who stray from it.

Israel Electric Co. Technicians Attacked by Chareidim in Bnei Brak

By Yechiel Spira March 6, 2009

Israel Electric Company reports technicians who came to Bnei Brak to repair a transformer on Thursday were attacked by chareidim, compelling them to leave the area, which now remains without electricity.

It appears residents feared the transformer was being replaced by a more powerful unit that would release dangerous emissions.

IEC officials state the technicians were trying to repair the unit, not replace it, adding the electricity to the area will not be restored until the transformer is replaced. No timetable was mentioned. The technicians were uninjured.

Jerusalem City Hall Allocates Funds for Shuls

By Yechiel Spira March 6, 2009

NIS 2.1 million was allocated to shuls in Yerushalayim after the funding was approved by the city council.

A total of some NIS 7 million was allocated to shuls, with the latest payment of NIS 2.1 million approved this week. The funds were earmarked for 20 shuls in various stages of construction.

Technion rabbi: Remove mezuzot from gay couples' rooms

By Eitan Glickman March 6, 2009

The study routine at the Technion, Haifa's Institute of Technology, has been disrupted in recent days over a decision allowing homosexual and lesbian couples to live in dorms designed for married couples.

Following the decision, the Technion's rabbi demanded that demanded that the mezuzot be removed from the rooms where the gay couples are slated to reside.

Rabbis urge frugal gift baskets for Purim

By Yair Ettinger March 5, 2009

Senior Sephardic rabbis issued a religious ruling calling on observant Jews to limit spending on mishloach manot, traditional gift baskets given to friends and family during the Purim holiday next week.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and the Council of Torah Sages called on their followers to "refrain from wastefulness on sweets and precious items."

The rabbis have urged their followers to be frugal in light of the economic downturn. Yesterday they suggested filling the gift baskets with foods with a longer shelf life and a higher nutritional value than candy.

Nazareth Illit Trying to Draw Chareidi Residents

By L.S. Wasserman March 5, 2009

Nazareth Illit officials are formulating a new plan to settle some 10,000 Chareidim in the city.

The municipality is hoping to allocate land in the city's Har Yonah Gimmel area for the construction of thousands of housing units for the Chareidi sector.

Mayor Shimon Gapso says that Chareidim constitute a high-caliber population group and the local population does not object to an increased chareidi and religious presence.

Against all odds – Jerusalem Synagogues

By Peggy Cidor March 7, 2009

On one issue at least, deputy mayor David Hadari (Habayit Hayehudi) achieved some success.

As chairman of the powerful Finance Committee, he managed to approve a decision to provide NIS 2 million for the construction and restoration of synagogues in the city for 2009.

In a gesture of generosity, Hadari made it clear that the rule will apply to religious Zionist and haredi synagogues.

For those of you who are wondering if Conservative or Reform synagogues are included, the answer is no. Don't push it - there's a limit to prices to be paid, even in politics.

Hetzi Hinam lost kashrut certificate - and no one knew

By Nati Toker March 8, 2009

The Hetzi Hinam supermarket chain has been operating for two months without Kashrut certification, but customers were never notified. 

A senior official in the Rishon Letzion Rabbinate said yesterday: "We put an advertisement in the local newspapers saying we had revoked our Kashrut [certification], but the chain continues to sell. We hope that we will reach an agreement with them next week and their Kashrut certificate will be returned." 

Against all odds – Jerusalem Carta Parking Lot

By Peggy Cidor March 7, 2009

During his term as leader of the opposition, Mayor Nir Barkat often made a point of stressing the importance of listening to the needs of the residents and making sure that the administration of the municipality took those needs into account.

One of those issues was former mayor Uri Lupolianski and his haredi coalition's opposition to having the Carta parking lot (under the Mamilla Alrov Mall) open on Shabbat.

During the time they served on the city council, the bid to open the parking lot on Shabbat was an issue raised by Meretz leader Pepe Alalu, as well as Barkat himself.

Religion and State in Israel

March 9, 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.

Religion and State in Israel - March 9, 2009 (Section 2)

Religion and State in Israel

March 9, 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.

Report on rule tightening for Diaspora converts raises alarm bells among Reform

By Raphael Ahren March 6, 2009

The Israeli Reform movement threatened this week to return to the High Court if the Interior Ministry goes ahead with reported plans to implement new and more rigid rules for Diaspora converts who want to immigrate to Israel. 

Last week, the New York Jewish Week reported it had obtained a copy of secret interior ministry documents outlining a plan to require converts seeking to immigrate to spend at least 350 hours studying Judaism in a "recognized" Jewish community and spend 18 months in the community in which they are converting - nine of them after the conversion - to prove their sincerity.

The new rules are to be approved before the new government is installed, the newspaper said. 

"This is an ongoing saga," said Rabbi Gilad Kariv, head of the local Reform community.

"It goes back to [March] 2005, when the High Court deemed illegal the interior ministry's policy to demand of converts to stay in the communities where they had converted for at least 12 months. 

But unfortunately, it seems the ministry prefers to set criteria unilaterally, instead of engaging the different religious denominations in an ongoing dialogue.

If they will actually make the proposed new guidelines official, we will go back to the Supreme Court." 

Bridging Jewish divides through study of Torah

By Gil Hoffman March 5, 2009

The Pluralistic Beit Midrash study session was the highlight of the 120th annual convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Reform movement’s organizational body.

United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ was the event’s main sponsor and helped make the shidduch between the CCAR and the network of Israeli Jewish study centers that came together for the session.

“In the group now,” Hayut said, “a Reform rabbi asked why I listened to him. I said I’m Orthodox but also pluralistic. 
I think Orthodoxy is correct but I believe there is more than one way to be a Jew, and it’s important for me to learn about them. I let them speak because I want to learn from them, not to attack them.”

UJC MetroWest NJ Israel operations director Amir Shacham said the study session was a great accomplishment for a federation committed to promoting religious pluralism in Israel.

Netanya Residents Fuming Over Plans to Allocate Land for Reform Synagogues

By L.S. Wasserman March 5, 2009

Chareidi and traditional residents of Netanya protested strongly a municipality plan to approve land allocations for a Reform synagogue despite the acute shortage of facilities for botei knesses in the city. As a result, the city backed down on its plans to approve the Reform request.

In most of the new neighborhoods built in Netanya in recent years residents have been left without botei knesses.

In one new neighborhood, Galei Yam (Neveh Oz), there are no botei knesses in the entire area.

After two high-rise buildings were constructed in the neighborhood recently, a large hall inside was donated for use as a beis knesses, but local Reform Movement activists actually filed a legal petition, preventing it from opening.

During the recent election campaign period, cornerstone-laying ceremonies were held for several new botei knesses, but construction cannot get underway because of Reform- sponsored petitions that resulted in temporary restraining orders.

The municipality must now respond to the petition against it. In the meantime it had scheduled a new proposal to allocate land for Reform facilities.

The proposal stirred heavy controversy in the city, even within the general population in view of the Reform behavior.

Rabbonim and public figures note that the chareidi and religious councilmen strongly opposed the proposal and threatened to join the opposition.

Many residents said they would rather pray outside in the street than see the city council approve construction of Reform synagogues.

The difference between us

By David Breakstone Opinion March 7, 2009

The writer is the international vice president of Masorti Olami, the worldwide association of Conservative communities, and a former chairman of the Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel.

I have every intention of continuing to play and explore with my Reform friends, cooperating closely as we traverse streams together, hand in hand.

God knows (and I use the term intentionally) that there are numerous obstacles that we must resolutely face together in our struggle along the path toward equality in this country so that it might indeed become worthy of its designation as "the Jewish state."

But as I do so, I will not forget who I am and what I believe in. I will also continue reaching out to and forging alliances with my fellow travelers who are Orthodox (knowing full well that there are others who will always reject me), and I will never relinquish my entitlement to claim that what I am doing, living, breathing and transmitting is indeed authentic Judaism.

Rabbi David Hartman: The Rise of Religious Extremism March 9, 2009

Click here for VIDEO

Rabbi David Hartman talks about how Jewish religious extremism and even “mainstream” Orthodoxy have grown in modern times as more modern, rational movements have struggled.

Prof. Aliza Lavie: A Jewish Woman's Prayer Book March 9, 2009

Prof. Aliza Lavie describes young Israelis’ search for Judaism in Israel and the inspiration behind A Jewish Woman's Prayer Book

Click here for VIDEO interview

Secular Israelis forge new ways to connect with Judaism

By Dina Kraft March 3, 2009

The founders of the first secular-oriented spiritual community in the country, Nigun Ha’Lev in Nahalal, a town in the Jezreel Valley, say they drew inspiration not just from their Israeli surroundings but from the popular New York City synagogue B’nai Jeshrun, celebrated for attracting younger Jews with energetic and musical services.

“They see us as their Israeli branch,” joked Shay Zarchi, a leader of Nigun Ha’Lev.

…Instead of tapping into the small pool of Reform and Conservative congregations in Israel -- which they say they have trouble connecting to -- the secular Israelis set out to form their own communities focused on a mix of the Jewish, Israeli and Zionist experience.

The communities are independent and non-denominational. Until recently they were scarcely even connected to each other.

Meretz seeks to breathe new life into secular burials

By Miriam Bulwar March 5, 2009

Ra'anana's Meretz faction is demanding that Mayor Nahum Hofree come up with a schedule for the creation of a secular burial section in the city's cemetery,

Meretz made its demand after seeing that no action seems to have been forthcoming to create the section, despite the council's having agreed one month ago to allow secular burials.

According to the report, the party has been worried because although the council decided that the city's cemetery should be enlarged and that 10 percent of the space should be reserved for secular burials, it also decided that the Hevra Kadisha Orthodox burial society should be responsible for the creation of the secular section.

The party wrote a letter to Hofree urging that the section be created "with the greatest speed," and that if the Hevra Kadisha did not meet the time frame, other organizations should be allowed to create the section.

The letter also said the elements of a secular burial should be spelled out, with burials permitted in coffins (as opposed to the shrouds of Orthodox burials), and with funerals to be conducted by anyone chosen by a bereaved family, and not only those approved by the Hevra Kadisha.

Lost Jews group shifts focus to Galilee

By Cnaan Liphshiz March 6, 2009

Following criticism from left-wing politicians, the immigration-assistance group Shavei Israel has stopped settling immigrants in the West Bank, directing them to the Galilee instead. 

"We did it to stop ideological issues from blinding people to our cause," says Michael Freund, the U.S.-born founder and president of the nongovernmental organization, which focuses on bringing back lost Jewish communities around the world into the fold of Judaism.

"The last 450 Bnei Menashe we've brought have all gone to live in Ma'alot, Karmiel and Upper Nazareth," says Freund. But the previous 1,000 Bnei Menashe who arrived went to live in settlements. 
"We got flack for this," he says. "Most of our problems have come from certain people on the left." 

According to Freund, placing Bnei Menashe in settlements was a purely pragmatic decision. "While studying here for a year for their conversion, the Bnei Menashe are on a tourist visa and not eligible for any government assistance or support," he explains.

The only places willing to offer support, Freund says, were settlements. 

"We tried in places like Dimona and Mitzpeh Ramon. They were happy to have more people, but they didn't have the resources to take them in."

First Time: Chief Rabbinate Meets in Shomron

By Hillel Fendel March 5, 2009

For the first time ever, the Chief Rabbinate held a council meeting in the Shomron (Samaria).

It happened on Thursday in Elon Moreh, one of the oldest Jewish towns in Samaria.

Rabbi Metzger Hopes that Government will Support Yesha Towns

By Avraham Zuroff March 5, 2009

At a tour of Israel’s rabbinate in Shomron (Samaria) communities on Thursday, Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger said that he hopes that the new government will be more sympathetic to new communities in the Shomron.

Rabbi Metzger also addressed Shomron outlying communities which have not yet received government recognition. 

Click here for VIDEO interview

Hebrew Date Leads to Acquittal

By Hillel Fendel March 5, 2009

The Traffic Court in Nazareth acquitted a young man who drove four passengers - because he was 21 according to the Hebrew date

Judge Ilona Arieli, a daughter of State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, accepted the point, and acquitted Frankel of all charges.

Attorney Faloch, a hareidi Jew himself who also serves as the Deputy Chairman of the Transportation Committee of the Israel Bar Association, said he plans to recommend that the Bar take action in the direction of upgrading the status of the Hebrew date in Israeli law. Reported by Yediot Acharonot.

Akko Municipality permits Arab businesses to open on Shabbat March 3, 2009

The Akko Municipality has cancelled regulations that prohibit Arab-owned businesses from opening on the Jewish Sabbath.

The new regulations follow a petition to Israel’s Supreme Court by veteran NIF grantee Adalah: Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.

In May 2007 Adalah petitioned the Supreme Court arguing that the municipal regulations contravene the Knesset laws governing weekly days of rest and closure of businesses for religious minorities.

The Adalah petition said: “The primary legislator (the Knesset) has enacted laws to govern the weekly days of rest and closures of businesses on Saturdays.

Israeli law stipulates an obligation that the days of rest for each religious group should be determined separately.”

Change the framework of Israel-Diaspora relations

By Ze’ev Bielski Opinion March 2, 2009

The writer is a newly elected Kadima MK and the outgoing chairman of the Jewish Agency.

It is necessary to institute a fundamental change in Israel-Diaspora relations. It's no longer the Jewish communities who are the contributors while Israel is the recipient of contributions.

Today we must build a true partnership on behalf of the two major historic missions that await us - guaranteeing the future of the Jewish people in the Diaspora and the continued construction and prosperity of Israel.

To accomplish this, the sporadic enlistment by the government in response to an emergency case or the individual distress of any Jewish community will not suffice. What is needed is a joint program by the government and the Jewish people.

We are talking of a long-range plan with copious resources. The Jewish Agency, which has always served as a bridge between the Jewish people in the Diaspora and the State of Israel is best suited to advance that plan.

If in the past the Jewish Agency provided a platform for the Jewish people to establish and consolidate the State of Israel, it must today function as the platform of the government and the Jewish communities throughout the world in leading this critical initiative.

Back to its roots - Hadassah

By Ruth Eglash March 4, 2009

Interview with Hadassah national president Nancy Falchuk

Hadassah has made other cutbacks too, with Young Judaea, North America's only pluralistic Zionist youth movement, having its funding reduced by some $2m., and the Hadassah College of Technology also suffering losses. 

Most recently, Hadassah put two multimillion-dollar Jerusalem properties - one utilized by Young Judaea and the other by its alumni branch, Hamagshimim - onto the market.

"We are not actively trying to sell them but will, of course, accept offers on them," said a spokeswoman for Hadassah in Israel

"If we do sell them, Young Judaea will move its operations to another location in the capital. For us, it's the programs that are important not the physical buildings they are housed in."

Falchuk believes these steps need to be taken, not only to help Hadassah move forward during the recession but as a chance for the organizations it supports to find their own independence.

"Young Judaea has had to do the same thing that we did - reorganize," she says. "Hadassah has been supporting Young Judaea to the tune of $8m. and it was wonderful, but at a certain point they needed to become more self-sustaining. 

If you have the expectation that someone will cover you for x amount of dollars then you are not going to even think about making cutbacks."

And, Falchuk says, she has already challenged the youth movement to utilize its vast database of alumni, many of whom are very active in the North American Jewish community.

"If the youth movement wants to succeed, then these alumni really need to step up to the plate," she says.

A new type of aliyah March 5, 2009

Brian Chaim Becker, a young man from the United States who arrived in Israel this week, is the latest oleh to make aliyah through a unique program for young religious men aged 18 to early 20s.

After landing in Tel Aviv Chaim travelled directly to the Golan Heights where his new home, Mechinat Keshet Yehuda, is located.

The mechina is a pre-military academy that adheres to the philosophy of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook zt"l, the first chief Rabbi of Israel and the leading force in the creation of the national religious movement.

US Recession Prompts Surge in Desire for Aliyah March 6, 2009

The deepening recession in the United States has spurred a surge in interest of young Jewish couples wanting to “make aliyah”.

The number of applications to the Nefesh B’Nefesh organization is double the usual rate, indicating there will be a further increase in new North American immigrants this year.

Young Georgian woman gets new liver and life

By Judy Siegel-Itzkovich March 3, 2009

A 19-year-old Jewish woman from the former Soviet republic of Georgia was fortunate that Wilson disease, a rare genetic liver disorder she didn't even know she had, caused a sudden life-threatening attack while she was touring here.

Miriam Kishishvili, who was here on a birthright program, became an Israeli citizen and three days later underwent a free liver transplant here that constitutes a cure for the rare disorder.

Now, with a new liver, she has decided to remain here, as has her 17-year-old brother.

…The government agreed in a race against time to make her a citizen on the spot and give her health insurance coverage, as she was very unlikely to survive if she returned without a healthy liver to Georgia.

Vatican chooses Nazareth venue for papal mass

By Jack Khoury March 4, 2009

The large mass that Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate during his May visit to Israel will be held in Nazareth, and not in Haifa, as had been proposed. Haaretz has learned that the Vatican made the decision last weekend following a visit by a Vatican delegation that met here with representatives of the two cities.

The Christian historical associations with Nazareth tipped the scales in its favor despite some Vatican preference for Haifa. 

The Nazareth mayor indicated that Precipice Mountain will be the venue for the mass; it was prepared for such an event in 2000, when John Paul II visited Israel. 

Papal visit may bring $60 million

By Irit Rosenblum March 9, 2009

The visit to Israel of Pope Benedict XVI in May may revive the languishing tourism industry and bring in up to $60 million in revenues. The industry is suffering from the double whammy of the security situation and the world economic crisis. 

Some 40,000 pilgrims and tourists are expected during the week of the Pope's visit, May 8 to 15. 

Hotels in Jerusalem, Nazareth, Tiberias, Tel Aviv and at the Dead Sea are expected to be full for most of the visit.

Archbishop Angered over Pregnant Nun in Nazareth March 9, 2009

A 17 year-old Jewish girl from Nazareth Illit who dressed up as a pregnant nun for Purim told police Monday that an Archbishop and his wife poured out their wrath on her in a mall in the area.

According to the girl, the Archbishop scorned her choice of costume while his wife spat at her. The police are investigating the charges.

Religion and State in Israel

March 9, 2009 (Section 2) (continued from Section 1)

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Editor – Joel Katz

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