Thursday, November 1, 2012

Religion and State in Israel - November 1, 2012

Religion and State in Israel

Editor – Joel Katz
Religion and State in Israel is not affiliated with any organization or movement.
*Special edition on Women of the Wall & Anat Hoffman's arrest coming soon

By Yizhar Hess

A well-known dictum cultivated by generations of politicians and Orthodox party functionaries argued that the synagogues which secular Israelis do not attend are Orthodox – that is, seculars do not go to synagogue, yet if they did, it would be to a “real” and “authentic” synagogue, that is, an Orthodox one. 

This was convenient and made it possible to create the impression that non-Orthodox Jewish streams are irrelevant to Israeli reality; as though they are an import, a foreign element.

It was a patronizing statement, replete with authoritarianism, provinciality, and sectarian chauvinism, yet it mostly absolved the heads of the Orthodox sector - the haredim and religious Zionists – from coping with the pluralistic Jewish doctrine, which characterized and still typifies most Jews living outside of Israel.

However, this era has come to an end.

"The ultra-Orthodox enjoyed the fact that the fights were over the opening of a parking lot on Shabbat, because then the secular people's spiritual truth is the opening of a parking lot," El Ami says. "Desecrating the Sabbath isn't the issue, and whether we have to use an amp isn't interesting - the main thing is that Shabbat becomes meaningful."

Coalition activists plan for this kind of Shabbat to become a regular event once a month. They don't expect strong opposition from the ultra-Orthodox community because most events will take place in public spaces and in synagogues. They won't require the opening of businesses on Shabbat.

"They're not involved," says Ayalon, referring to the ultra-Orthodox. "I'm not doing it because of them or against them, but for our own lives. The secular public is living other people's lives. We have to stop thinking constantly about what the ultra-Orthodox will say."

A grassroots effort in Jerusalem that is identifying restaurants that describe themselves as being kosher but do not pay the Rabbinate for certification will host an inaugural event on Friday called “The Mashgiah [kashrut supervisor] isn’t Coming.”

The party, a riff on the popular Shalom Hanoch song “The Moshiach [Messiah] isn’t Coming,” is the first public effort by the city’s Yerushalmim Party to draw attention to the issue and publicize a community-based volunteer kashrut supervision program that is currently in the planning stages.

Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich said that in her view, one of the most positive developments in Israeli-Diaspora relations this past year was the decision to allow Reform and Conservative rabbis in Israel to receive salaries from their respective municipalities.

"I have a great deal of respect for Orthodoxy," she said, "but we must allow for free religious expression for other streams of Judaism as well. This decision was a victory for freedom of religion."

“According to the ultra-Orthodox, anyone not trained and deemed kosher by them is not a rabbi. 

They are accusing me of doing the same thing as if I put up a shingle as a physician — Dr. Miri Gold — without any training. For them, JTS and HUC do not exist,” she said, referring to the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary and the Reform Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, from which she received ordination.

Prof. Suzanne Last Stone, academic counsel to JPPI, said the conference was designed to approach challenges to the Jewish people in a more holistic fashion.

One of the overarching challenges, she said, was the importance of building “mutual understanding” to develop and improve Israel-Diaspora relations.

One focus of misunderstanding between the two communities was the lack of understanding among US Jewry regarding the matter of religion and state in Israel.

“The Israeli way of arranging religion and state is strange and troubling for US Jews, and part of a larger set of differences between Israel and the Diaspora,” Last Stone said.

“There are no easy and immediate solutions, but the goal of this conference is to put the issues on the table and bring both communities to understand each other’s positions.”

Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, UTJ: "Nowhere is it written that males need to work. It's good enough if the wife works." 

And when it comes to Haredi adult males who engage in religious studies rather than working, Litzman said: "There is an ironclad rule that says someone who wishes to study must study." It's impossible to change that world view, he explained.

Many state-funded ultra-Orthodox schools don't teach the state's core curriculum - something that is seen as a threat to the economic future of the country. 

When asked about this, Litzman said: "Really? So take myself as an example. I didn't study core subjects. So what? Is that bad? Did [Knesset Finance Committee Chairman Moshe] Gafni [UTJ] study core subjects?"

If the haredi “utopia” brings hunger for its members and bankruptcy for those who unwillingly bankroll it, how did it come into existence? 

Most Israelis would answer that the haredi community is what’s left of traditional eastern European Jewish society from before modernity intruded. 

That’s a fallacy. Ultra-Orthodoxy is a modern creation, and the Israeli haredi lifestyle, with its lifetime students, is an innovation formed in the Jewish state, largely a result of the short-sighted decisions of secular politicians.

The political landscape is being changed by the arrival of new Haredi players, who are threatening the old order.

In our engagement with the modern world, each of us must decide how fine is to be the filter we place for ourselves and for our children.

Despite the official rationale for the policy – overcrowding in the park – the municipality’s actions raise suspicion that its true purpose is to exclude ultra-Orthodox Jews from the neighboring city of Modi’in Illit.
See also: ACRI letter (Hebrew)

Secular Israelis are snapping up apartments in Harish at bargain prices before the Haredim move in.

IDF says it expects number of exemptions for ultra-Orthodox to continue rising, unless government decides to draft them; in 2011, a quarter of all draft-eligible Israeli males received exemptions from military service for various reasons.

The elite company would be attached to an armored brigade and composed of outstanding members of the already existing Nahal Haredi battalion.

New station is expected to go on air at the end of 2012, and will feature programming in line with religious Zionist outlooks.

The ultra-Orthodox film industry is flourishing and is set to receive state funds to further its ambitions, much to the chagrin of mainstream filmmakers.

But the Puah Institute, an infertility support center in Jerusalem that provides counseling to Jewish women and Jewish families around the world, refuses to counsel unmarried women about fertility treatments. Instead, Puah recommends that they freeze their eggs to buy themselves more time.

“Our guidance tells us to only help married people because a child should be a product of a husband and wife,” said Rabbi Gideon Weitzman, director of Puah’s English-speaking Department for Fertility and Medicine.

So, what bothered me about it? If I were secular, and picked up a brochure meant for women in my town providing a listing the local women's health services, I would be bothered by the religious content. 

In fact, I am NOT secular and am bothered by it. Women's health services should be provided to all women, without the advertisement for religious practice.

My mikve idea remained dormant until this month, when I learned that academic women in Jerusalem who had never heard about my idea had launched two years ago a small and much-less-comprehensive but expanding voluntary project for making mikve visits more pleasant and “providing a platform for the interface of Jewish law and women’s health.” 

Called The Eden Center the project has built coalitions of voluntary and public bodies and gives free health education courses to bath attendants, including how to identify problems and refer women for help.

Efrat, which receives a large share of its funding from organizations and donors overseas, last year launched a rather controversial publicity campaign, featuring TV and radio ads, as well as huge billboards around the country that play up Israelis' fears when it comes to demographics. The billboard read: “Ultimately, the birth rate will determine our existence as a Jewish state.”

The Supreme Court in Israel recently delivered a decision which strikes a blow to unfettered jurisdiction by the Beit Din –the Rabbinical Court – and to the notion that any document entitled “divorce agreement” does in fact lay within the parameters of what is to be considered a divorce agreement.

By Anshel Pfeffer

Still, it is intriguing to think what a real plan for better use of Jewish resources would look like if it was being drawn up with no axes ground, no bread buttered, no kosher pork barrels cast upon the waters and no metaphors mixed.

Celebration of the Taglit-Birthright Israel program’s “bar mitzvah year” is a propitious moment to consider whether Taglit participants have chosen to make their Jewish identities a central part of their lives.

As the founder of educational tour company Roots of Faith, Joel Rosenfeld provides a challenging experience to trip participants.

Anglo rabbi and political activist Dov Lipman, of Beit Shemesh, refused to confirm or deny rumors that he will be running for the Knesset on the Yesh Atid list.

"I have announced my support for Yair Lapid and his party," Lipman told Haaretz . "When I have any further news to report I will do so."

Lipman, educator, author and community activist is head of Yesh Atid's branch in Beit Shemesh, where he lives with his wife and four children.

Members of Israel, Overseas Committee of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto greet 240 new immigrants at Ben-Gurion Airport

Members of the Bnei Akiva national-religious youth movement have hit out at the organization’s secretary general Danny Hershberg for agreeing to attend and speak at the October 27 ceremony for Rabin.

By David Newman
The writer is dean of the faculty of humanities and social sciences at Ben-Gurion University and editor of the International Journal of Geopolitics. The views expressed are his alone.

The Rabin remembrance has become no less a religious ritual than are the prayers which are recited at Rachel’s tomb.

By Nadav Shragai

Israeli police and Muslim officials say the prayers at the Temple Mount-Al Aqsa mosque site are a provocation. Others call them a basic human right.

By Yisrael Medad

By Daniel Seidemann & Lara Friedman

Editor – Joel Katz
Religion and State in Israel is not affiliated with any organization or movement.
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