Monday, January 7, 2008

Religion & State in Israel – January 7, 2008

Religion & State in Israel
January 7, 2008
Editor – Joel Katz

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

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Much ado about nothing?
By MATTHEW WAGNER, Jan 7, 2008

Rabbi Gilad Kariv of the Israel Religious Action Center, the legal arm of the Reform Movement in Israel, in commenting on the reinstitution of the ministry, admitted that very little headway had been made toward a more pluralistic approach to state-funded religious services since 2003, when the Religious Affairs Ministry was dismantled.

MKs vow to monitor new Religious Services Ministry

Rabbis and officials from the Progressive (Reform) Movement who took part in the committee discussion seconded Beilin's words, adding that it was their belief that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert intended to transfer a number of additional powers to the new ministry in the coming months.

"We could easily see a situation where each time the prime minister needs to strengthen Shas's support for the coalition, he hands another power over to the ministry," said one Reform rabbi.

Religious Affairs Ministry

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, legal adviser to the Israel Religious Action Center (Reform), warned that transferring authority to Cohen would set the stage for corruption.

Said Kariv: "As soon as Cohen receives full powers, he will no longer be supervised. Norms of public management will be thrown by the wayside. The temptation to use the portfolio to arrange jobs for his cronies will be irresistible."

Kariv added that Shas's complete control over the religious affairs portfolio would also be bad for Reform Judaism in Israel.

"There can be no dialogue between us and Shas," Kariv said.

"Until now we had a common language with the professionals in the PM's office. We reached agreements regarding the allotment of state-sponsored synagogues for non-Orthodox congregations. But now the situation is hopeless."

Rabbi Barry Schlesinger, president of the Masorti (Conservative) Movement's Rabbinic Assembly in Israel, said the religious affairs ministry had an obligation to provide services to all streams of Judaism.

"But from past experience we know that the public's tax money was spent to provide for only one segment of the population."

He added: "If the ministry is reinstated, we have to make sure that it will provide funding for all religions and all streams of Judaism. If Orthodox institutions receive funding, so should non-Orthodox ones."

More old talk, and new problems

American Jewish groups will not be interested in the technical aspects of the change.

The explanation that the promotion of a deputy minister is insignificant because he won't be given any more responsibilities for his higher salary will likely seem a strange excuse.

They will be worried that this is the tip of the iceberg, and beneath the surface is the possibility that the Orthodox parties will once again be given control over Israeli religious life from the cabinet level.

Religion is the victim
Haaretz Editorial

The ministry was taken apart but its departments were not. The religious councils were not incorporated into local authorities, and the department in charge of yeshivas remained intact at the Education Ministry. The result is that the Religious Affairs Ministry can be resurrected from its ashes at any moment.

Olmert has a long history of buying the support of Haredi parties. But he was supposed to realize that the Religious Affairs Ministry, its ruins branded with the mark of Cain, is taboo.

No more ministries Editorial Jan 5, 2008

While there's little disputing its redundant nature, the ministry is politically essential for Shas. Indeed, it is the ultimate jewel in Shas's crown.

Its clout in the religious sector is inestimable and contention for control of the ministry long fueled the feud between Shas and the NRP.

The ministry in effect holds sway over the Chief Rabbinate and decisively influences the selection of municipal rabbis, synagogue construction, the building and maintenance of other religious facilities, allocations to yeshiva students, and the administration of rabbinical courts, religious councils and burial societies.

With so much power at its disposal, it has also been frequently perceived as a magnet for corruption and gross irregularities.


Jewish Agency, interfaith group deal angers U.S. community
By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz

American Jewish leaders have not yet drafted a formal protest.

However, they conveyed their objections to agency officials informally, and, as a result, the formal signing ceremony that had been scheduled for this week has been postponed.

The one-man show and his agenda
By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz

Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) president and founder Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein

I think we should all know a bit more about what his personal agenda is.

The Jewish agency is welcoming into its fold a new voting member who is unknown to us.
We do not know how he became president of his organization or to whom he is accountable.
All we know is that he can sign hefty checks, but who authorizes them, and why?

The Highest Bidder
The Forward Editorial

Critics of Eckstein’s new post claim it’s a warning of what might be. Actually, it’s a mile-marker of what is.

The major institutions of Jewish life are no longer public trusts, but private property. Shares are available to the highest bidder.

If it wasn’t clear before just what that meant, it is quite clear now.

Jewish Agency To Soon Launch ‘Flex Aliyah’
By Michele Chabin, The Jewish Week

Sounding very much like a marketing executive, Oded Salomon, director general of JAFI’s immigration and absorption department said the “modernization process” JAFI has undergone in recent years has led the organization to pursue “a much more marketing-oriented concept.”

To boost aliyah, he said,

“we must define a new target population and build our services and products around this.”

Percent of world Jewry living in Israel climbed to 41% in 2007
By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz

The world Jewish population in 2007 is estimated at 13.2 million people, a rise of some 200,000 over 2006, according to a Jewish People Policy Planning Institute report published Sunday.

In the past year, the number of Diaspora Jews shrank by 100,000, while Israel's Jewish population rose by 300,000.

Israel is now the home of 41 percent of worldwide Jewry, the report said.

Livni: Israel-Diaspora link weakening

"In Israel today, the common denominators are Hebrew and military service, and these represent Israeliness - not something that is a shared experience with the Jews of the Diaspora.

We have to strengthen in Israel the understanding of our Jewish essence as a people, the meaning of the existence of a Jewish and democratic state," the
foreign minister continued.

Livni specified that the government "must provide an answer to this by creating a constitution and through the content of our education."

Hillel head wants 'reverse birthright' program for Israelis

Wayne Firestone, president of the campus life organization Hillel:

"Young Israelis could be hosted by, or given an opportunity to meet, their peers abroad, and could explore and taste other Jewish communities on an equal
footing. The goal is to have them learn and take back [to Israel] what they find
in these communities."

"If the vision is to be the center of the Jewish world, we have to bring Jews in Israel and the Diaspora to interact to grow the relationship, and not just in
moments of crisis."


Livni: Simplify conversion processes allowing for right of return
By Roni Sofer, 01.06.08

The conversion problem is of paramount importance to many olim who immigrated to Israel by means of the right of return.

Hundreds of thousands of immigrants to Israel face this problem, and we must simplify the conversion process for these individuals,” said Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

Bill calls for more rabbis to perform conversions

MK David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu) said that the Chief Rabbinate had once permitted all municipal rabbis to conduct conversions.

"They are trying to increase their power by keeping in a few hands," said Rotem. "There are too many people who are waiting for conversions. It's not fair to keep them waiting in this way."

Yisrael Beiteinu draft bill would fast-track Jewish conversion
By Shahar Ilan, Haaretz

Yisrael Beiteinu MK David Rotem will submit his proposal today to the Ministerial Committee on Legislation. Unless Shas, the main religious party in the coalition, supports the bill it will be shelved.

Rotem says the Chief Rabbinate once permitted all municipal rabbis to conduct conversions, but it withdrew that authority. Rotem wants to restore it and to expand it to rabbis in moshavim and kibbutzim.

Government Minister Says Conversion System Coordinated with Chief Rabbi
By Eliezer Rauchberger, Dei’ah ve’Dibur

Minister Ruhama Avraham (Kadima):

"An independent authority with a new organizational structure will be set up to handle all conversion matters," she related.

"The head of the conversion system will operate and guide all of the mechanisms that process the conversion candidate, from the contents of studies at the various institutes to the policy at special conversion courts under the direction of Chief Rabbi Amar.

The director-general, who will be subordinate to the head of the conversion system, will manage all regular activities of the conversion system and oversee their execution, from informational activities to recruiting students, preventing them from dropping out, accompanying the conversion candidate, handling the conversion candidate at the batei din and issuing the conversion certificate.

All of the workers involved in the conversion system will be required to implement the halachic policy of conversion in Israel as determined by Chief Rabbi Amar and the head of the conversion system..."

Olmert: Only secular Jew can adequately manage haredi education
By Amnon Meranda, 01.02.08

Addressing MK Yakov Litzman of United Torah Judaism, Olmert stated:

"I will tell you what I had told your colleagues before…. If you (haredim) were allowed to run the haredi education system you would destroy it, because you would only hurt one another.”

Olmert furthermore noted:

“The haredi children in Jerusalem had always thanked me for managing their education and said that they were lucky that I was not haredi. Only a secular Jew can manage Haredi education with any semblance of integrity.”

Haredi MK on Education

By Amnon Meranda, 01.02.08

MK Yakov Litzman of United Torah Judaism said:

"There is no way that they're going to meddle with our education (system) and force us to insert the 'core issues.

"For almost 60 years we've been handling our own affairs. Suddenly, they want to get involved? We don't have drugs and violence in our schools. Finally, there is a good education system in this country and now they want to destroy this as well?"

Israeli Public School Bans Student-Initiated Recess Prayers
By Maayana Miskin and Ezra HaLevi,

The “Ohel Shem” public high school in Ramat Gan has decided to prohibit students from holding group prayers on school grounds during breaks.

School officials and parents came to Jerusalem on Monday to discuss the issue with the Knesset’s Education Committee.

School officials argued that the students would be allowed to leave school grounds and attend prayer services in a nearby synagogue if they wished to do so.

Holding prayers on school grounds was a “provocation,” they said, with one official blaming the school prayers on “a group of extremist sources, who are trying to bring other students back to religion.”

Other officials and parents also cited fears that outside sources were attempting to make students religious.

Prayer for hire

By Tamar Trabelsi-Hadad, 01.01.08

Chairman of the Knesset Education, Culture and Sport Committee, MK Michael Melchior, said Monday that irrespective of the tensions at the school, Ohel-Shem must nevertheless try and accommodate religious students who need a place to pray.

“I object to religious coercion, but also to secular coercion as well,” he stated.

“If the prayer sessions do not disrupt the school there is nothing wrong with holding them, and those students who truly wish to pray ought to be aided.”

Haredi rabbis have reportedly started offering students at one Ramat Gan high school NIS 18 to attend Torah lesson, as noted by concerned parents.


'Where were you for Christmas?'
By Avraham Burg, Haaretz

I want to be a volunteer at Limmud for many years to come.

But mainly I want to expose as many Israelis as possible to this fascinating process.

With the prayer that anyone who experiences that spirit will return here and be a partner to attempts to revive the Israeli spirit, which is waiting for renewal.

To empower the still-embryonic Jewish-learning organizations like Bina and Kolech, Oranim and Hakhel.

Because the revival of Jerusalem will always begin in distant Babylon. So, more of us should have a happy Jewish study holiday. On Christmas, of course.

Ministry informs veteran olim they're 'not Jewish'
By Tani Goldstein,

The Interior Ministry is seeking to revoke the citizenship of a family of immigrants from the former Soviet Union that have been living in the country for 16 years, claiming documents attesting to their Jewish origins have been falsified.

The Interior Ministry stressed that Uri's status was not at risk, because he served in the army, but said that Irena and Marina should expect a revision of their status, which could lead to their possible deportation.


Metzger's character faces another test

Attorney Sharon Shenhav, a member of the committee, said it was "very unfortunate" that Metzger was not planning to appear.

"Based on documentation of the investigations and interrogations that I have read, serious questions arise about his attempts to cover up his misdeeds and put the blame on others," said Shenhav.

"Metzger's behavior is questionable and he is not giving us a
chance to get the answers."

Orthodox organization claims conflict of interest in Metger vote

Ne'emanei Torah Ve'avodah, a moderate Orthodox activist organization, sent a letter to the justice minister asking him to disqualify the two judges and Amar from voting on Metzger's appointment as president of the High Rabbinic Court.

The organization claimed that these three had a conflict of interests since all of them already had working relations with Metzger.

Update: The committee postponed their decision for 3 weeks. (Hebrew)


Gal-On hopes to have a Reform rabbi on its list

Meretz will field a Reform rabbi on its next Knesset slate if MK Zehava Gal-On is elected to head the party in its March 18 leadership race, Gal-On said Wednesday in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.

She said Israel has been discriminating against Reform and Conservative Jews for too long, and electing a Reform rabbi to the Knesset could be a way to repair the situation.

"If Israel wants to be a civilized country," she said, "the time has come to recognize all the streams in Judaism."

As Israel approaches 60

The writer, a Reform rabbi, made aliya in 1985. His son, Yonatan, was killed while on active service in Lebanon.

There is a limit to the number of yeshiva and kollel students that the taxpayer will be prepared to carry.

One wonders how long many young Israelis will be prepared to serve in the IDF and put their lives at risk in defense of the state only to be forced to go abroad when they want to get married. What other democratic country denies the right of marriage to its citizens?


The agony of the aguna
By RUTH BELOFF, Jan 3, 2008

According to Mavoi Satum, the main stumbling block is the Rabbinic Court, which for a variety of reasons - some clear, some incomprehensible - lets the situation drag on for years.

During that time, as the woman makes appeal after appeal to be granted a get, the husband is free to have relationships and in some cases even remarry, while the woman remains powerless to get on with her life.

Mazuz checking Chabad rabbi's 'traitor Olmert' statements for incitement

Meretz leadership candidate Haim Oron has called on Defense Minister Ehud Barak to prevent the Chabad movement from providing religious services on IDF bases until it distances itself from Wolpe. Oron also said Wolpe should be kept away from schools.

See also: article: Rabbi Wolpe clarifies

Coalition between ultra-Orthodox and scientists on animal experiments
By Shahar Ilan, Haaretz

An interesting coalition in favor of animal experiments for the purpose of saving lives has developed between the scientists and the ultra-Orthodox.

Balad chairman Jamal Zahalka, a pharmacist, said there is no way to develop painkillers without causing animals terrible pain.

Yehuda Avidan, a strategic consultant close to Shas, thinks the whole event is "hypocrisy of the first degree," saying that developing anticancer drugs justifies animal experiments. "

The Weizman Institute is doing sacred work, " he said.

The battle over Rabbi Nachman's tomb
By Tom Segev, Haaretz

The battle for the tomb is now under way on several levels.

The Prime Minister's Office is not giving up easily: It has asked Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef whether there is any halakhic impediment to transferring the holy remains to Jerusalem.

Law to encourage organ donation – according to Halacha


Orlev Slams Stern over Hesder Decision
By Gil Ronen,

In November 2007, IDF Human Resources commander Major-General Elazar Stern said too much of the Hesder students' activity, like that of the Nahal Brigade's soldiers, was socially oriented, and that the IDF could no longer afford that in the present situation.

"The IDF Chief of Staff has already asked the hesder yeshivas to increase the period of service from 16 months to 24," he told the audience.

"Bearing in mind the IDF's needs and the security needs, we think this should be considered positively."

Onward haredi soldiers!
By CALEV BEN-DAVID, Jan 5, 2008

To underwrite an entire nonworking sector of the population, as haredi political and rabbinical poverty pimps propose, is to create generations of nonproductive schnorrers. That would eventually lead to a social implosion, even while it drags down prospects for the rest of Israel.

Expanding the Nahal Haredi program and making service in it mandatory for all but a few select ultra-Orthodox scholars is the best way to start mainstreaming haredim into the workforce.

At the end of the day, the haredim will be called to order, simply because there won't be any choice.

The only question now is whether they will go in kicking and screaming, or with their heads held high, like my old comrade Yehuda, or the few good men of the Nahal Haredi Brigade.


Rabbis urge Bush to cancel visit
By Nadav Shragai, Haaretz

The group, called the Rabbinical Congress for Peace - Pikuach Nefesh, comprises hundreds of rabbis, including municipal rabbis and members of the Chief Rabbinate's supreme rabbinical council. However, its dominant faction is a group of Chabad rabbis.

New TV Channel to Bring Judaism to the Masses
By Hillel Fendel,

The Hidabroot organization, headed by dynamic lecturer and researcher Rabbi Zamir Cohen, is about to open its own 24-hour cable Hebrew-language TV network. An agreement to this effect has been signed with Yes Satellite Television.

Rabbi Cohen, a native of Beit Yisrael, a hareidi neighborhood adjacent to Meah She'arim in Jerusalem, says the goal is not to "turn people religious."

Rather,"we want to increase values and ethics among Jews in Israel and all over the world, and to topple the barriers that exist between the secular and religious worlds... If we do that, that's good; if some people improve their values, that's even better; and if others come to actually observing the Torah commandments, that's an even further advancement."

Rabbi Zamir's best-selling book Mahapach (The Revolution), an attractive, colorful, large-size volume, proves how nature, science and Torah interact.

Rabbi Cohen wants to make Judaism accessible: "We would like to serve up the truth with pleasantness and at eye-level, without going overboard and without dictating to others. We place it on the table, and whoever wants, will take."

New initiative: Heter mechira for pets
By Kobi Nahshoni,

Shmuel Dovrat, a young religious animal lover, recently came up with a creative solution for the halachic ban on neutering pets.

Dovrat sold his beloved cat Ponti to a Muslim friend who spayed the feline, and bought it back from her immediately after the procedure.

"I have no doubt that an adjudicator [posek] knows more about the Halacha than I do, but I feel uncomfortable with some of the rulings.

I don't like to be fed halachic solutions with a spoon. It's always important for me to know the source and understand the process that led to the ruling," Dovrat explained.

Kosher cheeseburgers and the Temple
Rav David Bar-Hayim, 12.31.07

The writer is the Head of Machon Shilo and conducts research in the Jerusalem Talmud. A longer version of this article can be found at

We must abandon our preoccupation with non-issues—the kitniyot and the kosher cheeseburgers—and open our minds and hearts to a truer appreciation of the wordings and intent of the Torah as we focus on the big questions that form the foundation of a Jewish society in the Land of Israel:

Whether religious Jews should actively seek the reinstitution of the pre-Exilic customs of the Land of Israel

Whether the lack of desire for the Temple indicates a character or spiritual flaw

Whether synagogues should still be saying the prayer for the spiritual centers and Torah academies of Babylon

How we can re-establish institutions such as the Sanhedrin and the Temple in order to “renew our days as of yore”.

'Family Friday' attempts to restore traditional values

A new group of people from different professional backgrounds, countries of origin and streams of Judaism is attempting to bring Israelis back to traditional family values.

The NIS 5 million seed money for the campaign has been put up by a group of American Jews who wish to remain anonymous, but who are concerned about the erosion of Jewish education and values and the degeneration of the family nucleus in Israel.

Shas on: Gal-On hopes to have a Reform rabbi on its list

United Torah Judaism MK Avraham Ravitz said having a Reform rabbi in the Knesset would be "almost as problematic as having someone who doesn't believe in God, like MK Zehava Gal-On (Meretz), as an MK... Oron can take a Conservative rabbi and Cohen can find a Hindu priest, and they all can go meditate together," he joked.

Shas MK Nissim Ze'ev said he wouldn't count a Reform rabbi MK if he came to Shas's minyan, but said he doesn't count Gal-On either.

"They can put the pope on their list and they wouldn't do any more damage than they are doing already," Ze'ev said of Meretz.

Why is shmita controversy important?
By Rabbi Prof. David Golinkin
The writer is President of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.

Today, almost no one fulfills the commandment's purpose as it appears in the Torah.

Therefore, it would be most appropriate for all Jewish farmers in Israel to donate a percentage or a fixed amount of the Shmita year's profits to poor people.

In this way, the original purpose of Shmita will be achieved.


No moving Jewish lips in prayer on Temple Mount, says Dichter
By Nadav Shragai, Haaretz

"It is not possible to arrest a person for 'conversing with his maker,'" Dichter replied, using the same terminology of the MKs' letter.

"However it is possible to carry out an arrest for expressions of outward and demonstrative signs [of prayer]."

Several ulpanim expected to shut down

"We are sorry to see that ulpanim are already being closed down," said a spokeswoman for the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, which has agreed to take over the responsibility for the adult ulpan system.

Absorbing Hebrew language teaching
By Or Kashti, Haaretz

"The idea of privatizing Hebrew studies has been haunting us for years," says Meir Peretz, former director of the Education Ministry's adult education department.

According to Education Minister Yuli Tamir, the decision to transfer the ulpans to the Absorption Ministry has nothing to do with the quality of the work at the ulpans, and adds that contrary to statements by Halfon, the transfer "does not necessarily mean privatization.

There are other options, such as operating ulpans inside absorption centers. In conjunction with the Absorption Ministry, we will determine the best way to teach the new immigrants Hebrew."
Abortions: Legitimate procedure or last resort?
By Koby Nahshoni, 01.01.08

Thirty-nine percent said they believed abortion was a legitimate medical procedure carried out when necessary;

31% said it was 'an especially painful last resort' and 30% said they believed abortion was the equivalent to murder.

Segmenting the responses by religious observance, the poll indicated that:

88% of the seculars polled saw abortion as a legitimate medical procedure or a measure of last resort, while an overwhelming 91% of haredim and 62% of observant Jews answered that it was murder.

Click here for Photos display

When Modesty Turns to Violence
By Uri Orbach, (Hebrew)

Hundreds of Haredim demonstrated on Yehezkel Street in Jerusalem against bus posters showing women. The extremists tore the posters from the buses.

Civil Marriage through the Back Door

Civil damages suit filed against State by couple who travelled to Cyprus to get married

By Ruti Avraham, 07/01/2008 (Hebrew)

Inside the hi-tech bubble
By LARRY DERFNER, Jan 3, 2008

Nir Barkin is a rabbi with the Reform movement in Modi'in and assistant to the dean of Hebrew Union College - a radical departure from the hi-tech workaholic he was in the 1990s.

Quitting the marketing job, he took a few months off to decompress, then went looking for work in education, eventually becoming the Jewish Agency's emissary in Milwaukee for four years before returning here to become a rabbi.


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