Thursday, December 13, 2012

Religion and State in Israel - December 13, 2012

Religion and State in Israel

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

Leading national-religious personality Rabbi Yuval Cherlow has called for state recognition of non-Orthodox Jewish denominations as a means of preventing their alienation from the Jewish state.

Cherlow added, however, that this recognition should be political in nature and not on the basis of Jewish law.

Leading national-religious personality Rabbi Yuval Cherlow has called for state recognition of non-Orthodox Jewish denominations as a means of preventing their alienation from the Jewish state.

Cherlow added, however, that this recognition should be political in nature and not on the basis of Jewish law.

Cherlow proposes creating separation between the position of rabbinical law and the policy of the state of Israel. 

On the part of the state, he talks about “a willingness to recognize” the non-Orthodox streams including their conversions and including funding for them in accordance with their size and more. 

He brings up a proposal – which has also been raised during the past two years both by the movement in Israel and by the Orthodox Ne'emanei Torah Va'Avodah movement – to fund the provision of religious services by the method of the free market and competition among the steams for the hearts of believers in Israel.

Tzohar released a statement saying it "opposes any official recognition of Reform Judaism by the State of Israel, in terms of conversions or its general way." 

The organization added: "It should be noted that the topic was addressed in an internal discussion in the yeshiva, and does not necessarily reflect Cherlow's views or interpretation of halakha."

By Shmuel Rosner

The rabbi's reasons for wanting to change the way religion and state affairs are handled in Israel are mixed, and not always cohesive.

Cherlow’s position is the right one – it is his reasoning that is wrong.

By Rabbi Uri Youdovin

End government approved discrimination against the non-Orthodox religious streams. I never cease to be amazed by how many Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionists remain fiercely loyal to an Israel that rejects the legitimacy of the Judaism they practice. […]

My suggestion is that the Knesset enact laws ordering the Interior Ministry to enter into the official registry marriages and conversions conducted in Israel under non-Orthodox auspices; enact measures to establish per capita funding parity between the Orthodox and liberal streams; and put an end to abominations such as denying women the right to pray and wear tallitot at the Kotel.

Uri Regev, a Reform Israeli rabbi who heads Hiddush, which calls for religious freedom and equality in the Jewish state, said that while the Tzohar rabbis are “more enlightened and moderate,” they also oppose non-Orthodox forms of Judaism in Israel and should not be in a position of authority.

Elana Sztokman, the new executive director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA), said that “gender is the elephant in the room” and charged that the Chief Rabbinate “has total control” of the Jewish lives of women, who have “no exit power in marriage” and whose “bodies are watched, guarded and nitpicked.”

She said that “Orthodoxy” should include Orthodox women, not just men, and cautioned that the days of “the polite revolution” among Orthodox feminists may be ending.

In order to balance the inherent inequality of the Committee to Appoint Rabbinic Judges, Weiss continued, it is not enough to settle for one female representative. 

“Symbolic representation is not enough,” she insists. “There must be at least four women on the committee. This situation is a disgrace to justice in Israel and demands immediate change.” (November 27, 2012)
High Court extends freeze in permanent appointments of rabbinical judges by five months, urges Knesset to advance legislation promoting proper representation of women on committee appointing judges

An alternate model of a Chief Rabbinate may be its transformation into a largely ceremonial and ritualistic office embodying the Jewish nature of the State of Israel resembling the British model of an Archbishop of Canterbury. 

The Archbishop possesses no tangible political power. Precisely given that the Archbishop does not invoke the coercive power of the state, his office may serve as moral conscience of the state. 

Transforming the office of the Chief Rabbinate from state actor to the moral teacher it should be does alter the “religious status quo” agreed to in 1948 by religious and secular bodies alike. 

Yet, in the 21st century, a coercive Chief Rabbinate has become, at best, an anachronism, and, at worst, a force dividing the Jewish people and corroding Israel’s international standing.

The polarization of religious life in Israel, and the growing power of Haredi ultra-Orthodoxy, undoubtedly has complex origins, and can surely not be laid to the existence of state religious courts alone.

But the religious court system, and the autonomous power of the religious establishment” in Israel, have certainly not stopped the drift towards religious extremism in the Orthodox rabbinic world, nor prevented the estrangement of Jews of various religious tendencies from one another, both in Israel and abroad.

By Rabbi Andrew Sacks

Lee studied at a religious high school in Israel for four years. He prepared for conversion during this period. But he was not converted in the end. None of the students from Kaifeng were converted. Our Rabbinate does not, in the overwhelming majority of cases, convert people of color. [...]

But time is running out for Lee. He may soon be forced to return to China. His file, with the recommendation of the Jewish Agency that he be granted a visa to make Aliyah, is sitting on a pile of files in the Interior Ministry. Each week we are told that maybe there will be an answer next week. But no answer seems imminent.

A Jew wishing to fulfill the Mitzvah of Aliyah. The Jewish State is the obstacle. Just absurd.

Michael Freund, who created Jerusalem-based Shavei Israel to aid anousim descendants seeking to reclaim their religious identity, initially praised the offer as a symbol of “modern day Spain’s efforts to make amends.”

But when he learned more about the criteria, gratitude turned to gloom about limiting the decree to Sephardic Jews while excluding bnei anousim.

It’s “as if to say that there is no need to right the historical wrong that was done to forcibly converted Spanish Jews,” he said.

“This is an outrage, and it goes against the spirit of reconciliation which the Spanish government claims to cherish. How sad that instead of utilizing this opportunity to send an unequivocal message of contrition, Spain is choosing to heap further insult on injury.”

So the triumph of this week's ruling was side-stepping the Rabbinate altogether and getting the civil courts to settle the issue. 

Practically speaking, this means that gay divorce has preceded gay marriage in Israel, which is kind of comically ironic.

The question now is whether this case can be applied to matters of marriage for all couples, regardless of religion or sexuality. 

Now that a precedent has been set, some legal experts are saying, it may open the door for a heterosexual couple to do the same. And once civil divorce has been achieved, as backwards as it seems, then maybe civil marriage will follow.

“It was basically fight or flight,” Rachel Azaria says in the summer interview. “We either know where we’re going and we’re leaving or that we’re staying and we’re fighting. What’s been happening lately is that people in Jerusalem aren’t willing to give up anymore.”

Rabbi Dr. Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi: While I have been critical of Women of the Wall in the past, because I believe we have many more important issues to confront, I now better understand why it has captured the minds and souls of Jews worldwide: Because it symbolizes the sacred desire of the entire Jewish people to be equally at home in the Jewish State. It is but one example of the refusal to accept the silencing of non-Orthodox voices.

Yossi Klein Halevi: There is no chance whatsoever that the area that is now considered the “main” Kotel will be shared in any fashion with non-Orthodox prayer. But Robinson’s Arch is no less “the Kotel” than the area controlled by the Orthodox.

By Naomi Lakritz

Menachem Rosensaft, vice-president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, questioned the silence of Israeli politicians about Hoffman’s arrest.

“But why has there not ... been a massive outpouring of indignation on the part of Israeli public figures, in particular those political and moral leaders who purport to promote civil and political rights for all of Israel’s citizens?” Rosensaft asked.

Under the tradition of oppression, segregation between men and women in the public sphere is becoming more and more common. No! We will not tolerate this!

Under the tradition of oppression, when a woman asks for a Jewish divorce, rabbis and dayanim decide her fate, and mostly side with the man - even if he was violent. No! We must break free of this twisted, disgraceful law.

The expiration of the Tal Law last August was meant to change the situation on the ground, however since, no alternative law has yet been put into legislation.

In light of this legislative vacuum, the IDF's Manpower Directorate has put on hold both the widespread enlistment of haredim and the dispatch of letters to 16 and 17-year-old ultra-Orthodox teens , inviting them to begin their screening process. The actualization of either scenario seems very unlikely.

MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) was quoted by Maariv on Sunday saying she believed the next coalition could be built without including the ultra-Orthodox Shas party (currently 11 seats strong and expected to maintain approximately that number in the next government) hinting that a coalition sans Shas could push forward universal draft legislation without fear.

“A certain elite should be allowed to continue their Torah study” but a universal draft for the remainder of the ultra-Orthodox is necessary, she said. “There is only one way to achieve that: Don’t give Shas any power.”

By Esty Shushan

Haredi political parties would do well for themselves if they would understand that their sector is experiencing a mood shift and that the issue of women's status is becoming more relevant than ever. [...]

This demand can only come from haredi women themselves, with the consciousness that it will only emerge if it is talked about publicly.

As Israel contemplates the prospect of a war against Iran or a renewed conflict in Gaza, the country faces an equally troubling conflict from within. 

Tensions are growing between secular Jews and the ultra-Orthodox, who believe life should be based on the Torah and the ancient texts of the Talmud.

Today, Achiya provides educational and developmental intervention for learning-challenged children in the Haredi community who study in mainstream classrooms.

A careful reading of the ministry's detailed presentation of the test results shows that not all is rosy, however. 

Consider the implication of the following sentence: "The sampling framework [for the exam] is parallel to that of previous research cycles (without the ultra-Orthodox and without special education schools)." 

That's apparently the only ministry comment on the question of who gets tested - and who doesn't.

… Given the forecasts regarding the continued growth of the Haredi educational system, it could be that celebrating the improved achievement of Israeli pupils is somewhat self-delusional.

The ultra-Orthodox Shas party issued a campaign poster on Monday depicting Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who has championed many causes that counter the ultra-Orthodox platform, wearing a traditional ultra-Orthodox black kippah.

Another poster in the Shas campaign depicts Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with the slogan: "Only a strong Shas will protect the weak."

But ironically, the party was forced to remove the posters from buses, due to their modesty demands.

A sign ordering women to "wait for their husbands in a concealed area" has caused a stir among activists working against the exclusion of women from the public sphere in Israel.

The latest sign, one of a series of similar billboards in ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhoods, was placed opposite a synagogue and reads: "A request and demand."

"Wait for your husband behind the white van and such places so that you won't serve as an obstacle to those praying," the sign says, according to a picture of the sign published by Channel 2 News.

Lev Malka officials believe that the reason for the increase in blood donation was the separation between ultra-Orthodox men and women arriving to donate blood.

After a decade away from politics, Aryeh Deri is back as a leader in the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party. But will he help the Israeli peace camp?

Dr. Jeffrey Woolf, a senior lecturer in Talmud at Bar Ilan University and an expert in halakha and modernity, sees the Festigal phenomenon as part of a deliberate move on the part of “certain elements in academia and the Ministry of Education to dejudaize the school curriculum and Israel’s public spaces.”

Woolf explains that while the secular Zionists who built the country seized on Hanukkah as a role model to fight for freedom and found the historical Hanukkah story inspiring and a way to link Jews to their ideological roots, today the historical and religious significance of the holiday has diminished.

“Part of the reason for that is the failure of the religious community to establish a common language with secular Israelis,” he charges.

Another group getting into the Hanukka spirit is the national-religious association of “religious start-up communities” that have sprung up across Israel. 

The startup community in Lod, the biggest in the country, with 500 families, will be conducting a series of activities in the city during the festival.

Women say that while waiting in transit camps in Ethiopia they were coaxed into agreeing to injections of long-acting birth control drugs.

David Yaso, director of the Immigration Ministry’s Ethiopian Department, flatly denied that women were told that in Israel they were forbidden to have large families and coerced to take contraceptive shots against their will.

MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz), for one, does care. Following the airing of Gabai’s report, he submitted an official request to Israel’s attorney general Yehuda Weinstein for the launching of a criminal investigation. 

Gilon emphasized that the women were exposed to drug and hormone related side effects, of which they were not made aware. 

“It cannot be that the serious news of this invasive interference with the rights of Ethiopian immigrant women’s control over their own bodies will go without redress,” he wrote.

We should note one surprising point that the pollsters have found. In recent years, the steady decline in attachment to Israel — the percentage of non-Orthodox respondents saying they feel “very close” to Israel — shows signs of reversing itself in the youngest age group.

That is, Jews between ages 55 and 65 are less attached than those over 65, those between 45 and 55 still less so and those aged 35 to 45 even less. But Jews under 35 are markedly more attached. They look more like the 55-year-olds.

By Prof. Shaul Magid

The three instances mentioned at the outset may or may not point to a definitive shift in the way American Jews understand the complex relationship between their commitment to Zionism and the policies of a Jewish State they love but often disagree with. 

The “pro-Israel” camp would like to collapse the two, arguing that one’s Zionist credentials are determined exclusively by one’s uncritical support of Israeli policies (and often basing that support on a “historic right” that ignores the equally valid “historic right” of the Palestinian people), but the American Jewish community may well be considering alternatives.

“This is how we change the game, by doing what’s never been done before,” commented Lisa Barkan. 

“It’s a different way to do Shabbat if you’re not religious, but it doesn’t feel overly religious for those who don’t usually do Shabbat. It’s allowing you a way out of your bubble, but in an atmosphere that offers a certain comfort level for all.”

In keeping with its annual tradition, KKL-JNF will once again be distributing Christmas trees to local churches, monasteries, convents, embassies, foreign journalists and the general public as the holiday approaches.

Finally, it took a meeting between Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, and Israeli President Shimon Peres to get the water company to waive the 9 million shekels and the church to promise to start paying for water.

By Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz

While the insensitivity of missionaries [calling themselves “Messianic Jews”] needs to be addressed seriously, this situation should be handled by the police, and book burning is never appropriate.

Rabbi Nissim Karelitz, a hareidi-religious authority on Jewish law has ruled that it is forbidden to say Shema' Yisrael for the last breath of a child who is being removed from life-support systems at the request of his family, although the doctors did not suggest doing so. 

The ruling came last week in response to the query of a family of a child who was suffering from cancer.

New Web portal allows public to receive real-time data on cases heard by regional rabbinical courts without having to visit courthouse.

This year, the Schechter Institutes provided pluralistic Jewish education to over 45,000 Israelis- men, women and children throughout the country, as well as Jewish communities in Ukraine; connecting them to their Jewish heritage. 

VIDEO: Israeli musician Yonatan Razel

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