Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Religion and State in Israel - October 22, 2007

Religion and State in Israel
October 22, 2007
Editor: Joel Katz

The plan: Reform converts will also be recognized
By Uri Yablonka, nrg.co.il

The Reform and Conservative (Masorti) movements in Israel are in accelerated negotiations with the government to recognize non-Orthodox conversions for the purpose of the "Law of Return", according to nrg.co.il.

Progress was reportedly made between Cabinet Secretary Oved Yehezkel and representatives of the Reform and Conservative Movements in a meeting held on Wednesday (October 17, 2007).

State Attorney representative Yochi Gnessin and Rabbi Gilad Kariv [Associate Director, Israel Religious Action Center] participated in the meeting.

It was agreed that leaders of the non-Orthodox movements and the government would request a postponement of the Supreme Court hearing on the issue.

Rabbi Kariv stated that the remaining issue is for Reform and Conservative conversions conducted entirely in Israel to also be recognized by the State for purposes of the Law of Return.


Zionist rabbis consider independent conversions
By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz

Forty-five rabbis from the national-religious movement have agreed to serve in proposed independent conversion courts that would operate without the recognition of the Chief Rabbinate.

This challenge from within the Orthodox establishment to the Rabbinate's control of the process of converting to Judaism in Israel is a response to a long-standing perception that the rabbinical establishment is in thrall to the ultra-Orthodox tradition of making conversion difficult.

Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar opposes the idea of the volunteer judges, on the grounds that they will not be rabbis vetted by him and operating in accordance with his directives. Justice Ministry officials, meanwhile, argue that volunteers cannot hold official judicial positions.

Chief Rabbi Amar to demand stricter conversions during U.S. visit
By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz

Amar is visiting the U.S. in order to approve the appointment of religious court judges (dayanim) to the conversion courts of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA).

Amar is actually considered to be more lenient in conversion matters in Israel, but he is under strong pressure from ultra-Orthodox rabbis who want to severly restrict the number of conversions, and who are demanding that all converts keep a strict Orthodox lifestyle.

Lieberman: State lacks courage to fix systemic conversion issue
By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz

Minister of Strategic Affairs Avigdor Lieberman, speaking at a panel dealing with the Law of Return and conversions, supported the position that no change should be made to the Law of Return.

"As it is there is no one rabbinical authority, no-one agrees with each other so we need a political solution," he said.

Kadima MK challenges rabbinate authority in new bill
By Matthew Wagner, JPost.com

"Tzohar rabbis apparently do not understand that if they open up an alternative kashrut to the existing one, the next step will be the legitimization of Reform Judaism," the source said.

"Tzohar and other religious Zionist rabbis think they are still living back in the good old days when they were in the same coalition with Shinui and were able to freely destroy religious services."

"The Chief Rabbinate has failed in its mission to provide kosher supervision and marital services to the entire Jewish nation," said MK Menahem Ben-Sasson in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.

"For the sake of Orthodox Judaism, we have to take away the rabbinate's exclusive control over kashrut and marriages."

The sabbatical is just the beginning
By Yair Sheleg, Haaretz

"If the move succeeds," says Rabbi Rafi Feuerstein [Tzohar], "we will work to expand to other areas as well," and even states that conversion will be the organization's next focus.

The rabbi warns, if the [shmita] crisis is not quickly resolved, it is likely to intensify within a month.

Women's groups, progressive rabbis bid to overturn rabbinic judge appointments
By Matthew Wagner, JPost.com

Secular women's rights groups Thursday joined forces with progressive Orthodox rabbis and religious women's organizations to petition the High Court to overturn the appointment of 19 new rabbinic judges last month.

Kolech, rabbis of the religious kibbutz yeshiva on Ma'aleh Gilboa, the Na'amat women's organization, The Women's Lobby, Ne'emanei Torah Ve'avoda, Mavoi Satum, and other groups argued in their petition that the appointments of the judges, who will deal almost exclusively with divorce law, were tainted with nepotism, political pressures and procedural flaws.

The petitioners claim that if not for nepotism and inordinate haredi influence, new, more progressive rabbinic judges would have been chosen.


Peres reaches out to leader of British Reform Jews
By Daphna Berman, JPost.com

During the half-hour meeting at the President's Residence, Peres addressed delegation leader Rabbi Dr. Tony Bayfield as "rabbi," according to participants. Bayfield heads the Movement for Reform Judaism in the United Kingdom.

"If rabbis have a right to decide who is a Jew, the Jewish people have a right to decide who is a rabbi," Peres reportedly told the group.

The president also said that he was "troubled" by attempts to narrowly define Jewishess. "We are a disappearing people," he said.

"We are not the Chinese. There are only 14-15 million of us. We need to be more careful, generous and understanding."

Reform Reflections: Nouns and adjectives
By Rabbi Michael Marmur, JPost.com

The vocabulary of Jewish life in Israel has been impoverished by what I am calling the binary approach to Jewish identity.

The fundamental problem is not that our rabbis cannot officiate at state-recognized weddings (they can't), nor that our institutions are starved of state funding (they are).

The main problem is that the attempt to ignore adjectives has helped create huge divisions.


Haredi youths assail woman on bus
By Etgar Lefkovits, JPost.com

A haredi woman was attacked on a Beit Shemesh bus by five haredi youths Sunday for refusing to move to the back of the bus, police said.

The woman, who was seated at the front, asked an IAF soldier to sit next to her for protection. The attackers then turned on the soldier.

"They started beating me murderously," the soldier said in an interview.

The midday attack on the Egged 497 bus culminated in a clash between several dozen haredi men and police.

During the melee, the suspects fled and the rioters were dispersed by police. There were no injuries reported in the incident, but the tires of a police vehicle were punctured.

High stakes
By Peggy Cidor, JPost.com

Recently, this once quiet quarter has been undergoing changes.

The arrival of a large number of haredi families, for whom the neighborhood offers both more affordable housing and proximity to the relatively expensive religious areas of Har Nof and Bayit Vagan, has many of Kiryat Hayovel's veteran secular residents up in arms.

Even as the influx has raised real estate prices in the area, locals fear the changes the haredim pose to the neighborhood's character.

The demographic shift began last year after a group of haredim tried to erect an eruv (symbolic religious enclosure) around the neighborhood without a permit. Shortly afterward, haredi rabbis gave the area their seal of approval and their adherents started moving in.

Degel Hatorah city council member Shlomo Rosenstein:

"Perhaps after Kiryat Hayovel becomes a haredi quarter, [the municipality] will understand that the only solution is to build more quarters for us, like Ramat Shlomo."


Shmita fight yields showdown between Zionists and haredim
By Dina Kraft, JTA

"The story is not shmita," said Bar-Ilan University sociologist Menachem Friedman, an expert on Israel's religious communities.

"The story is Zionism -- a confrontation between Zionism and the haredi world. And the question is if the Jewish state can survive without a real and vital agricultural economy."

In reversing the blanket approval of the heter mechira loophole, Israel's current Ashkenazi chief rabbi, Yona Metzger, is "spitting in the face of [Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, who eventually became the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi in prestate Israel]," Friedman said.

The haredim "see this as the expression of a historic victory," Friedman explained. "In a sense they see themselves correcting the 'incorrect' approach of Rabbi Kook."

Jews turn to Palestinians for kosher vegetables
By Reuters

Farmer Dror Maimoni, who, like many Israelis "sells" his land to non-Jews during shmita years, has scaled back production because his produce is not deemed kosher under the stricter rules.

"We have reduced the amount of produce to the minimum possible because our sales are not like every other year," Maimoni said.

London Beth Din: Avoid products grown in Israel during 'shmita'
By Matthew Wagner, JPost.com

A decision by the London Beth Din, the largest kosher supervision operation in Britain, would effectively translate into a situation in which the British Jewish community hurt Israeli Jewish farmers' business during the shmita [sabbatical] year.

The Beth Din posted an announcement Tuesday night on its Internet site stating that "it is preferable to avoid products grown in Israel" during the shmita [sabbatical] year.

Rabbi Rafi Feuerstein, chairman of Tzohar, an Israeli organization of Modern Orthodox rabbis who recently launched a pro-heter mechira campaign, pointed out that the London Beth Din's decision ignored the plight of the Israeli farmers who depended on Jewish consumers both in Israel and abroad to buy their products.


Cartoon spat sends Shas packing from Knesset religious lobby
By Yair Ettinger, Haaretz

A new crisis has erupted between the Ashkenazi and Sephardi ultra-Orthodox over the usual bones of contention: racism, money, and politics. The quarrel resulted yesterday in Shas announcing its resignation from the religious lobby in the Knesset.

The current round began when Shas' spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, saw a cartoon in Yeted Ne'eman, the flagship journal of Degel HaTorah, the "Lithuanian wing" of the Ashkenazi Haredim.

Shas maintains that the conflict lies elsewhere. They point to their decision to support a Hasidic candidate as mayor in Beitar, an ultra-Orthodox city, against the Lithuanian candidate.

A struggle in Beitar is a struggle for Jerusalem
By Yair Ettinger, Haaretz

In a week and a half, there will be elections in Beitar Illit, and in this ultra-Orthodox settlement south of Jerusalem there is a war going on, which does not involve their Palestinian neighbors. It is entirely a war by Jews against other Jews.

The current mayor, Yitzhak Pindross (Degel HaTorah), and his deputy, who until recently was also his political ally, Meir Rubinstein (who is supported in part by Agudat Yisrael and Shas), are facing off. They are more or less even.

The results at Beitar will have an impact, according to experts, on the mayoral elections in Jerusalem and Bet Shemesh next year, and on the struggle between Haredi parties in the Knesset.

The struggle in Beitar is also contributing to an escalation of the confrontation between Degel HaTorah and Shas over the state budget, and this follows the decision of the Sephardi ultra-Orthodox party to back Porush and Rubinstein, rivals of the Lithuanian Haredi faction.

Porush has a similar agreement for the mayor's position in Jerusalem, but for now says "first we will finish in Beitar" and then he promises "we will talk about Jerusalem."


Ben-Sasson drafts constitution - 'Jewish,' but not 'equal'
By Sheera Claire Frenkel, JPost.com

The Knesset Law and Constitution Committee's panel began its work with a document that was drafted by the committee during the previous (16th) Knesset.

Led by MK Michael Eitan (Likud), the previous committee drafted more than 1,000 pages that included three versions of the constitution proposed by the Israel Democracy Institute, the Institute for Zionist Strategy and the Israel Religious Action Center.

To achieve the consensus he seeks, Committee Chairperson Menahem Ben-Sasson (Kadima) has already had to remove any mention of the Law of Return.

The current draft evades the issue by including a general statement that "every Jew is entitled to immigrate to Israel."

Another topic being debated is any mention of the word "equality," as there are arguments between secular and religious Jews, and with Arabs, over how that term should be defined.

The definition of Israel as a "Jewish and democratic state" has created another hurdle for the committee, as many Arab parties object to the word "Jewish," while religious parties object to the word "democratic."

It's time for Jews to grapple with the 'real' Israel, flaws and all
By Naomi Chazan, JTA

The struggle to impede the theocratic objectives of religious parties continues, with progressives working hard just to prevent further encroachment on what should be a firm religion-state divide.

Americans, whether Jewish or not, deserve more than a sound-bite understanding of what Israel is and where it may be going. Beyond the heartfelt support that most Americans feel for Israel are real dilemmas for the only fragile yet working democracy in the Middle East.

Most Israelis see the threat of religious ultra-nationalism, minority repression and economic inequity all too clearly.

It is time for true democrats in both Israel and the United States to challenge themselves with the reality of Israel in its 60th year: a vibrant, thriving country still striving for ideals not yet attained.


Religious Affairs: In a class of their own
By Matthew Wagner, JPost.com

While Ran Erez led the Secondary School Teachers Organization (SSTO) in a massive nationwide strike this week, effectively paralyzing more than a thousand secular junior high and high schools, at many state religious schools it was business as usual.

Rabbi Haim Druckman, chairman and spiritual mentor of about 60 Bnei Akiva yeshiva high schools and ulpanot, issued a directive to teachers in his schools that while all secular studies should be discontinued in accordance with the SSTO strike, all religious studies should continue as usual.

As a result, about 17,000 10th, 11th and 12th graders in religious schools continue to learn, albeit for fewer hours.


Kashrut-Monitoring Law on its Way to Legislation
By Hillel Fendel, IsraelNationalNews.com

Shas MK Chaim Amsalem wishes to plug up holes in the supervision of Jewish dietary laws (Kashrut) in Israel.

His bill, addressing problems warned about by various bodies including the State Comptroller and the now-defunct Religious Affairs Ministry, passed its preliminary Knesset reading last week.

"This bill is designed to implement the various recommendations that have been made," Amsalem concludes, "but which have not yet been manifested.

The current situation is harmful to both the status of the Chief Rabbinate's Kashrut authorizations around the country, and to the Chief Rabbinate itself. This bill comes to remedy that."

"This legislation will not cost the State additional expenses," the bill's [draft] copy states."

The costs for courses and salaries will be paid by outside bodies that will then charge the businesses, and yeshivot and Torah institutions will be able to generate revenue and jobs by training Kashrut supervisors."


Back to the aliya dark ages
JPost.com Editorial

On Sunday, the cabinet voted to transfer the power to approve entry into Israel for mass conversions and aliya from the hands of the interior minister to the government as a whole.

From now on, those wishing to convert and make aliya as groups - such as the Bnei Menashe tribe of northeast India - will need their entry visas approved at the weekly meeting of the entire government before they can enter the country to begin the conversion process.

Are Sheetrit and his colleagues worried about foreign-looking dark-skinned people running around the country? Surely not.

Are they worried by the potential arrival of a few thousand religious, perhaps right-wing, voters? Again, surely not.

Since no other explanation is forthcoming from the cabinet - the government has tried to slip this decision through without mention - we suspect that less-than-legitimate reasons lie behind it.

Why, then, would a country nervous about its collapsing demographics take steps to keep out those who have already proven that they are committed Jews and Israelis? Enlighten us, please.

Consensus found on bill to define brain death as rabbis reach breakthrough
By Ran Reznick, Haaretz

A breakthrough has recently occurred in the long-standing efforts to forge a broad rabbinic consensus on how to determine the time of death, which is necessary to obtain rabbinic support for organ donations, MK Otniel Schneller said.

Schneller told the subcommittee, which had invited him to present the progress of his negotiations with the rabbinic establishment, that the leaders of both the Ashkenazi and Sephardi ultra-Orthodox communities have now consented to his bill, as have the Israel Medical Association and the Chief Rabbinate.

ADI, Reform Movement launch 'book of life' project

(September 2007)

The Reform Movement and the National Transplant and Organ Donations Center (ADI) have launched a unique project called Book of Life, aimed at encouraging people to sign organ-donor cards.


The Sy Empire
By Zev Chafets, NYTimes.com

This affair nearly caused a schism in the Syrian community, which officially regards Rabbi Yosef as the world's most authoritative Talmudic scholar. A group of dissident rabbis later met at the summer enclave in Deal, N.J., and accepted the conversion as valid: she could marry.

They reasoned that it was wrong to humiliate Ovadia Yosef. They also reasoned that accepting this case as precedent would actually have a deterrent effect: how many other converts could expect the chief rabbi of Israel to go to bat for them?

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who, despite his softness on converts, has found financial backers for his theocratic Shas Party.

Jakie Kassin claims, in fact, that the party's seed money was raised in his living room in Deal, N.J., in the early '80s.

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

Please send your comments or suggestions to ReligionandStateinIsrael@gmail.com