Friday, January 25, 2013

Religion and State in Israel - January 24, 2013 – Special Knesset Elections Edition

Religion and State in Israel

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


"We tripled our power from previous elections," Bennett said. 

"We united. On all issues of religion and state there has been a status quo for decades. I think it's time to open up all the issues of religion and state, to sit and have a dialogue about them, with mutual respect for all the factions, to find a new, complete way to deal with this matter."

Bennett's campaign will be carefully studied in the future, but Election Day has already highlighted his major achievement. He managed to maintain the traditional religious Zionist base while drawing in many secular voters.

HASHMONAIM – On the surface, it appears that one candidate is king here, and his name is Naftali Bennett. 

A big sign that greets cars entering the road to this Anglo-Saxon stronghold situated just barely over the Green Line reads: “Yes to Habayit Hayehudi, no to a Palestinian state.”

Indeed, an overwhelming majority of voters questioned at the local polling station this morning said they had cast their ballot for the right-wing religious Zionist party in its new incarnation with Bennett at the helm.

Jewish Home Party leader Naftali Bennett was attacked by a large group of hareidi Jews on a visit to the Western Wall Monday. 

As he attempted to say prayers at the Kotel, Hareidim began pushing him and yelling at him. A riot nearly broke out between many people at the Kotel who support Bennett and the hareidi groups who were attacking him.

The difference is that in Bennett those ideas have an assertive mouthpiece, a spokesman not content with accepting religious Zionism as his own personal philosophy, but who believes it should be the dominant belief structure of the entire Israeli polity. 

He is the main attraction, not the extra in someone else’s production, and his message is resonating far beyond self-identified religious Zionists: Polls released this week show that 43 percent of Bennett’s intended voters are secular.

"There will be an over-representation of the religious and ultra-orthodox – around one in three members of the Knesset, according to the latest polls," said Ofer Kenig, of the Israel Democracy Institute. About one in five members of the last Knesset were religious or ultra-orthodox, he said.

"This is a very significant change. The explanation is not necessarily the demographic growth of this sector but the success of religious parties in attracting support from secular and traditional voters."

The sounds emerging Tuesday night from Shas’ headquarters in Jerusalem were mostly sighs of relief rather than shouts of joy. Although the election results being beamed into the events hall showed some sense of achievement for the party – 11 seats, the same as in 2009 - that achievement’s significance remains unclear.

Shas, which even by the lowest estimate has retained its strength, should be grateful for its good luck. It managed to ride out the numerous troubles that beset it in recent months, both internally and externally. These troubles threatened destruction.

Deri also roundly denounced Haim Amsalem and Rabbi Amnon Yitzhak for running against Shas and accused their respective parties, Am Shalem and Koah Lehashpia, of causing Shas to drop two seats, despite the fact they neither of them passed the electoral threshold.

"The second thing is the issue of religion and the state, including the Tal Law. We need to reach an understanding, since I don't want them to pull the 'divide and conquer' [trick] on us. We know the methods of negotiation."

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post last week, Amsalem dismissed Deri’s advocacy for Israel’s poor and in particular for Sephardim as insincere, saying that he had done nothing for the poor Sephardi community in 30 years.

“What has he done so that there shouldn’t be unemployed Sephardim?” Amsalem asked. “Nothing. He continues to talk about it and will talk about it in the next elections too.

“But he hasn’t allowed Sephardim to study. They need to study the core curriculum in order to be able to integrate into the work force, but how can they study when they’re sent to yeshiva to study only Torah?” he said.

By Asaf Lieberman

My family name put me on the list of Ashkenazim, and I didn't even know I was one. 

Suddenly I'm also part of Deri's election campaign, as he insists on maintaining the ethnic division between Ashkenazim and Sephardim. After all, Shas is a Sephardic party, and if the Sephardim don't know that they're Sephardim, how can the Sephardic party continue to exist?

“They call them the ‘Jewish Home’ but this is not a home for Jews; it is a home of goyim [gentiles],” Yosef said. “They want to uproot the Torah, to institute civil marriage. It’s forbidden to vote for them. These are religious people? Anyone who votes for them denies the Torah.”

“They are all wicked, haters of Torah and mitzvot. They want to institute public transportation on Shabbat,” Yosef charged. “A Jew who wants to marry won’t have to go to the rabbinate — have you heard? How can they call themselves religious? How can we be complicit in this?”

In one of the polling stations in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Bayit Vegan in Jerusalem, voters complained that the station supervisor was immodestly dressed in pants instead of a skirt, which disrupted the process as local residents were unwilling to approach her, Maariv reported.

The Central Elections Committee on Sunday ordered an ultra-Orthodox party to remove from campaign material references to blessings that will be bestowed on its voters.

The struggle between Israel's ultra-Orthodox party gained momentum on Sunday, when books of religious law written by the venerated Sephardic rabbi and Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef were burned at a major intersection in Or Yehuda.

The Chairman of the Central Elections Committee, Judge Elyakim Rubinstein, has asked the Attorney General and Legal Advisor to the Government, Attorney Yehuda Weinstein, to look into complaints that Shas is distributing amulets as part of its election propaganda.

Yahadut MK Moshe Gafne, who heads the Knesset Finance Committee, has turned to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and Central Election Committee Chairman Justice Elyakim Rubinstein demanding legal action. 

Gafne is angered over the use of the word “bloodsucker” in the description of the chareidi tzibur in a non-frum publication.

Shas, the largest ultra-Orthodox party and a key partner in the outgoing coalition, is bracing for such an eventuality.

"There certainly is such a fear," said party spokesman Asher Gold. "The reason Shas historically was in all coalitions was not because they liked Shas, but because of its political power."

Opinion polls predict that religious politicians will end up with a record 40 of parliament's 120 seats after Tuesday's vote, compared with 25 in the outgoing assembly elected in 2009. Two decades ago only a score of lawmakers were religiously Orthodox.

By Elya Tzur 

Unlike the Jewish Home party, whose political manifesto is narrowed down to a more friendly version of the saying “The land of Israel to the people of Israel according to the Torah of Israel,” Rabbi Haim Amsalem, the leader of the Am Shalem party, represents leadership that overcomes incoherence between religion and morality.

Am Shalem party leader MK Haim Amsalem has accused Shas politicians and strategists of ignoring the rulings of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader, on the issue of conversion which the party has brought front and center in its election campaign.

Shas is an Ashkenazi party with an Ashkenazic character. So they should stop painting themselves as real Sephardic Jews. The moment the public will come to their senses, Shas will be finished and it will happen. Shas leadership continues to grovel in front of Ashkenazim. 

They send their children to study in Ashkenazic institutions, and the common-folk children to Shas schools. I come and tear off the mask from their faces. I tell the Shas electorate, "they are deceiving you, wake up."

By David Landau

You, Ashkenazi Haredim, election victors just like Lapid, should wise up, too. You should look to Lapid, to his eclectic list (two kosher lemehadrin rabbis), to his so-unmessianic constituency, as the up-and-coming political force to which to hitch your wagon.

Lapid’s plan to eliminate military draft deferments for the haredim and boost their labor participation could be foiled if Netanyahu decides to bring the ultra-Orthodox parties into the new coalition he wants to assemble, said Itzhak Galnoor, a political scientist at Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

“The dramatic change would be if they would be left out,” he said. “If Mr. Lapid will be part of the coalition, the question is if it will be possible at all to have them as coalition partners.”

UTJ expects to take in the Haredi vote because of its constituents’ blind obedience to their rabbis. 

The community’s natural growth is estimated at 4.5 percent a year, compared with 1.5 percent for other Israelis. This means the Haredi electorate was supposed to rise 18 percent (this does not include children under 18). 

But UTJ increased its vote total 28.5 percent. This time around the Haredi leaders brought more voters to the polls and urged other communities like the Breslau Hasidim to vote for UTJ.

Senior Lithuanian leader, Rabbi Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman, instructed a yeshiva student to exercise his right to vote although it is his wedding day, and the same ruling was issued by the Belzer Rebbe.

Shas' spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, ruled that a person mourning the death of a relative must cast their vote, despite the fact that according to Jewish mourning laws a mourner must not leave the house during the seven days of "shiva."

One the eve of the Knesset election, the religious parties are ratcheting up their efforts to woo a large group of voters at the edges of Haredi society: Ultra-Orthodox Jews who work for a living. Members of this group – some who are studying for college degrees and others who are serving in the Israel Defense Forces – are known colloquially as the "new Haredim."

As usual, ultra-Orthodox politicians left the important decisions and the big surprises to the last possible moment of the campaign: Wednesday night, two key rabbis met in Jerusalem – the Admor of Gur and Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach – to forge an alliance that will change the balance of power within the Ashkenazi Haredi party, United Torah Judaism, and perhaps even influence the party’s conduct when conducting coalition negotiations to enter the next government. 

Specifically, the alliance strengthens the faction of UTJ that opposes any compromise over the issue of drafting yeshiva students.

The about-turn by Auerbach appears to be a promise by Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman to the rabbi that he would be consulted regarding any proposals relating to the enlistment of haredi men into national service.

More than 10,000 people attended a reception rally organized by the Eda Haredit faction on Sunday for the Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Yekutiel Yehuda Teitelbaum.

Thousands of haredi men and women gathered at Kikar Shabbat in Jerusalem’s ultra- Orthodox Mea Shearim neighborhood to greet and listen to the grand rabbi of the Satmar hassidic dynasty Zalman Leib Teitelbaum, on Sunday night.

Reform Rabbi Uri Regev, the director of the NGO Hiddush and a religious rights advocate, commented that he believes that “either Satmar just wanted attention and did not intend to go through with their offer or they were scared off by all of the negative publicity.

“There is no doubt in my mind as to the illegality of offering money for not voting,” he said. “It now looks like Satmar understood that as well.”

U.S.-born Dov Lipman, the Beit Shemesh rabbi who was written off as having an unrealistic spot on Yesh Atid’s Knesset list, was poised as of last night to ride Yair Lapid’s wave into parliament.

I actually had to pull my son out of the haredi system so he could have Torah together with general studies, so he could serve in the army, and so he could be a proud upstanding religious Jew without feeling like he’s a second class citizen.  But, it made me realize the depth of the problem that we have here and in terms of the system, even just over the next 8-10 years.  

The ultra-Orthodox community is reproducing at an average of 8-10 children per family and from a base level, even economically; the system can’t work where joining the work force is considered the wrong thing.  I also feel it’s wrong, I don’t feel that’s what Torah was ever about.  I was always on the lookout for some opportunity to express that, do something about it, but it’s not very simple because it’s a close knit community, very highly controlled, and there’s very little you can do.

Fending off a frenzy of political criticism over a 2011 speech in which he appeared to speak with relish of the theoretical prospect of the Dome of Rock being “blown up” and a new Jewish Temple being built in its stead, prospective MK Jeremy Gimpel claimed in a TV interview on Sunday that he had actually been telling a joke meant to “parody” the extremists who want to destroy the 1,300-year-old Muslim shrine

Jeremy Gimpel: "I want to make clear that I unequivocally oppose any violence at any holy site, whether it be the Kotel Plaza, the Temple Mount, or sites sacred to any other faith. Anyone who knows me knows that I have devoted my life to bringing people of faith together through love, education, and mutual respect."

Gimpel added that Bayit Yehudi is against the formation of a Palestinian state and opposes dividing Jerusalem, but "no one in the party calls for violence at the Temple Mount or to blow it up."

Speaking at the Fellowship Church in Florida in 2011, Gimpel - an ordained rabbi who lectures widely - reads from the book of Ezra then adds: “Imagine if the Golden Dome - I’m being recorded so I can’t say ‘blown up’ - but let’s say the Dome was blown up, right? And we laid the cornerstone of the Temple in Jerusalem. Can you imagine? None of you would be here. All of you would be like, ‘I’m going to Israel, right?’ No one would be here, it would be incredible!”

"I stand by all the great folks in my party list. I don't disown anyone,” Bennett said. “You took a segment of the clip and made it into a headline that he [Gimpel] wants to have it [the Dome of the Rock] blown up. He did not call for any such thing."
He then praised Gimpel, touting his service in the Israel Defense Forces and his efforts to make Israel's case among Americans. "I am proud of Jeremy Gimpel," Bennett said.

Until Friday, Jeremy Gimpel was just a name on a list. To be precise, he was number 14 on the list of Knesset candidates for Habayit Hayehudi, the new incarnation of the National Religious Party headed by Israel’s new political rock star, Naftali Bennett.

Gimpel was born in Atlanta and moved to Israel with his mother when he was 11. He is a natural performer who first honed his message on Israel National Radio and then on a popular television show called “Tuesday Night Live in Jerusalem,” which he hosted with his friend Ari Abramowitz. 
Together, the two launched, where they post podcasts and short films to “educate people from all backgrounds about the truth and beauty of Israel.”

Would-be MK says he was joking about ‘blowing up’ Muslim shrine

Center-left party leaders Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid castigated Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party on Saturday as including dangerous extremists. 

“The controversy is ridiculous,” Gimpel said. “In order to make the lecture more lively I made a few jokes and you clearly hear the audience laughing. This is a cheap political attack and I would urge anyone to watch the video in its entirety and decide for yourselves.”

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Israel’s outgoing Ashkenazi chief rabbi, Yona Metzger, has proposed a mechitzah with one-way glass.

According to a report in the Yeshiva World News, “this he explains does compromise tznius at the Kosel. This is especially true when there is a simcha, such as a bar mitzvah when women wish to see the chosson bar mitzvah.”

The Yeshiva World News article doesn’t say how tall a mechitzah Rabbi Metzger would like. Perhaps he thinks it ought to be as high as the Kotel itself, which at the Western Wall Plaza rises approximately 62 feet according to the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, whose chairman, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, is the kotel’s chief rabbi.

Shas triumvirate leader Arye Deri said on Thursday of Yesh Atid's plan for increasing haredi enlistment in national service that “it will not be established and will never happen.”
Speaking on haredi radio station Kol Berama, Deri said that the party was willing to increase the number of haredim enlisting but was opposed to establishing quotas for the number of yeshiva students able to receive exemptions for full-time study.

Leaders of the ultra-Orthodox community warned Thursday of the "danger of joining the army." The call came as thousands of Haredim attended a gathering held by United Torah Judaism in Jerusalem's International Convention Center.

"Here in the Holy Land, we're in exile among Israelis who act like goyim," said the Belzer Rebbe, one of the Haredi world's leaders, about the possibility that yeshiva students will be forced to join the IDF.

In a decision that marks a major victory for secular activists fighting over the future of a new city in the making, the Israel Lands Administration tender committee on Thursday disqualified 12 bids by Haredi associations seeking to purchase lots in the northern town of Harish, on the grounds that they were acting as a cartel.

Rabbi Uri Regev, head of Hiddush - Freedom of Religion for Israel, called the ILA's decision a victory. But he warned that "even after the disqualification, there's a fear that only one out of every five apartment purchasers will be non-Haredi."

“There is a suspicion that one source coordinated between the different proposals,” the group said in a statement, according to Ynet. “The tenders committee of the ILA called a hearing for the NGOs and their legal reps and decided to disqualify … them.”

The tenders for four plots, targeted for 319 housing units, will be run again at a later date, the committee said after the groups were excluded  It was not clear if the 12 groups can resubmit their bids.

The Israel Land Authority tenders committee has disqualified bids for residential lots filed by Haredi charities in the planned town of Harish. The decision could have far-reaching consequences on the character of the town.

By Uri Regev

To advance their case, the Tzohar rabbis adopted a disturbing and telling approach: While in Israel they based their campaign on demonizing Reform and civil alternatives, they left this part out of their appeal to the non-Orthodox leadership in the United States when asking them to help apply pressure to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In Israel, Stav announced that if Tzohar rabbis were not granted this authority — “the damage to the Jewish People would be indescribable…. Israeli Jews will [choose Reform or civil marriage in Cyprus], pushing them [and all their descendents] out of the Jewish people… causing apostasy and a split.”

Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar issued a groundbreaking ruling on Wednesday, stating that anyone who damages public funds is obligated under Jewish law to bear the cost.

Additionally, business tycoons owning both financial companies as well as those involved in trade and services should not invest publicly deposited funds from their finance interests into other businesses and firms under their control, the chief rabbi wrote.

Center officials reportedly say that they have reason to believe that Rabbi Yair Ben-Menachem was ordered by Israel’s state-sponsored haredi-controlled chief rabbinate, which runs the state’s rabbinical courts, to boycott the conference due to what it onsiders to be an assault on the rabbinical court system by women’s groups like the Rackman Center which are upset by the courts’ treatment of women in divorce cases. 

An Israeli-born rabbi has been named chief rabbi of Finland. Simon Livson, 30, the Israeli-born son of Finnish immigrants, was officially installed as chief rabbi on January 13, taking over from Rabbi Moshe Edelman.

In high-tech, the average ultra-Orthodox employee’s salary is significantly lower than the overall industry average, according to a survey conducted by Machon Lev, an organization that offers Haredim financial and technological training.

It’s a first for Israel — a high-tech conference designed specifically for haredim, or ultra-Orthodox Jews. 

Yitzik Crombie, who initiated the Haredi Hi-Tech Forum, says
about 10,000 haredim work in high-tech, 75 percent of them women. 

Although they may lack basic math and science skills, advocates say their intense, methodical study of ancient religious texts provides tools that are oddly applicable to computer programming.

Two ultra-Orthodox women graduates of the Jerusalem College of Technology’s Lustig Institute in Ramat Gan have helped develop a microchip produced by Verisense, a leading Israeli semiconductor design company, for a defense industry company that will place it in a space vehicle.

Itamar grew up as a devout member of the Haredi community and made the controversial
decision to leave religious school and enroll in secular university.
He gives us an insider's perspective of the insular Haredi neighborhood Me'a Shearim, and his own thoughts on how the community has evolved.

In the first part of a new series, we meet a sex therapist who helps religious Jews achieve intimacy

By Avital Chizhik

“We’re Haredi. We’re not modern.” They tell me how they want to lead isolated lives, separated from anything modern; I’m amused and think about how they know more of American films than I do. The duality here is dizzying, and tonight, when I argue with the rabbinical student, he tells me simply, “Listen, in this country, things are black and white. At the end of the day, I’m Haredi.” But what does it mean to be "Haredi" anymore, I wonder. 

If you are a religious deaf man in Israel, the traditional doors to Jewish learning have been in so many ways closed to you.

But Yosef Tolidano—a young deaf man descended from a long and distinguished line of Sephardic rabbis—has pulled open those doors, making it possible for the deaf to immerse themselves in the Talmud, which along with the Mishnah is known as Judaism’s “oral law.” 

Susan Weiss, founding director of The Center for Women’s Justice, offered a riveting analysis of the issue of mamzer. She asserted it is an overused and esoteric concept in matters of divorce and conversion, used primarily to punish women who are perceived by as being “uppity” or non-conforming. “The issue of mamzer is at the heart of today’s agunah problem and is in fact a legal fiction with ambiguous origins,” she said. “So we have a situation in which real women’s lives are sacrificed in order to protect an esoteric concept of human status and social hierarchy.” She cited the fact that the Israeli rabbinate has a “blacklist” of four thousand mamzerim who cannot get married in Israel and added. “We are all mamzerim.
By Anshel Pfeffer

American Jewish leaders are not going to get their members to immigrate. They probably don’t really want that to happen anyway. Better to redirect their efforts and money to their own community’s needs; at least there they may be able to change something. Israel is in deep trouble, but your good intentions, your wise words and even your dollars cannot save us, when American Jewry’s real gifts to Israel are Bibi, Bennett, Gimpel and Marzel.

The vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Italian Chamber of Deputies, Fiamma Nirenstein, on Thursday announced her decision to make aliya.

Overall, Jewish immigration to Israel stood at 18,691 in 2012 compared to 19,289 in 2011, according to an annual analysis by the Jewish Agency for Israel of figures for aliyah, or Jewish immigration to Israel. Of those, 2,432 came from Ethiopia – a 16 percent drop in immigration from that country compared to 2011.
By Harold Berman
If we really believe in the power and the God-given nature of the mitzvot, then we must start viewing the mitzvot as the solution rather than the problem. The problem lies elsewhere – in political power grabs on the one hand that shut the door in the convert’s face, and in our collective failure on the other to present Judaism to potential converts in a spirit of awe rather than a spirit of compromise.

Mirna Singsit, 18, from the state of Manipur in northeast India, is the 2,000th Bnei Menashe member to make aliyah to Israel.
She arrived in Israel last week along with 53 other Bnei Menashe community members from Manipur on a group flight facilitated by the Shavei Israel organization.
Editor – Joel Katz
Religion and State in Israel is not affiliated with any organization or movement.
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