Monday, February 1, 2010

Religion and State in Israel - February 1, 2010 (Section 1)

Religion and State in Israel

February 1, 2010 (Section 1) (see also Section 2)

If you are reading in email or RSS feed, please click here to read ONLINE

Editor – Joel Katz

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

Minister asks High Court to okay gender-segregated buses

By Nir Hasson February 1, 2010

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz told the High Court of Justice yesterday that it should permit the continued operation of gender-segregated buses for the ultra-Orthodox. A committee appointed by Katz last year under High Court directives called for an end to the so-called "mehadrin lines."

Katz wrote yesterday that while the state "cannot establish separation between men and women using public transportation," operators should be permitted to hang "behavior-directing" signs asking passengers to sit separately but indicating that it is not mandatory.

Attorney Einat Hurvitz, who represented IRAC to the High Court, said yesterday that Katz left many important elements out of his response.

"It's not clear on what authority he rejected the committee's determination that the separation involves violence and coercion against women. How could such an arrangement be voluntary? How could verbal violence and pressure against a woman who boards the bus be prevented?"

Jerusalem City Council member Rachel Azaria, a leader of the battle against the mehadrin lines, criticized Katz's response, saying that in it he was "betraying the secular, traditional, religious and most of the ultra-Orthodox publics for the sake of a minority of Haredi deal makers who decide for the rest of the community."

Rabbinical courts softened stance on husbands refusing their wives divorce in 2009

By Yair Ettinger January 28, 2010

Organizations supporting divorce-refused women, however, said the actual numbers amounted to hundreds, if not thousands, of cases. The courts and the organizations use different estimates, as the courts only consider a woman "mesorevet" after she had waited over two years for her husband's consent.

Rabbi Eliyahu Ben Dahan, director of the rabbinical courts explained the drop in sanctions by saying they could not be imposed in every divorce case.

"Sanctions are enacted only in extreme cases, like those involving a violent, ill or sterile husband," he said.

Attorney Batya Kahana-Dror, director of the organization Mavoi Satum ("Dead End"), which works for the rights of women who have been refused divorce, said that "in contradiction to natural justice, law and the halakha [Jewish religious law], the judges refuse to apply legitimate pressure on husbands who refuse divorce. As a result, thousands of women are barred from leaving failed marriages."

Decline in Jewish divorces due to economic downturn

By Matthew Wagner January 27, 2010

Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, director-general of the rabbinic court administration said that the reduction in divorces was probably due to the worsening economic situation, which forced some couples to postpone the costly endeavor of separation.

According to Attorney Batya Kahana-Dror, the director of Mavoi Satum, many women attempt to divorce but give up when they are unable to convince the rabbinical court to obligate the husband to give a get.

Only in extreme cases, for instance when it can be proved that the husband beats his wife or is a criminal, do the rabbinical courts obligate husbands to give a get.

As a result, wives open a divorce file, fail to get divorced because they cannot prove that their husband is a criminal and stop trying. All files that have no activity for six months or more are closed automatically.

Men's Justice too, from the Center for Women's Justice

By Susan Weiss Opinion January 27, 2010

The writer is founder and Executive Director of the Center for Women's Justice

A few months ago CWJ filed a tort claim against a woman for not accepting a get from her husband.

…men still suffer from the current way that the halakha allows for the dissolution of failed marriages

Bottom line: The halakhic divorce regime does not work. Certainly not for women, and not really for men. We need to be able to have a third party declare a failed marriage over if the parties, for whatever not very healthy reason, are not able to.

Mazuz: Jerusalem mayor 'fixed' budget increase for Haredi schools

By Akiva Eldar January 29, 2010

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who beat ultra-Orthodox candidate Meir Porush during the last municipal election, has improperly boosted municipal funding for schools run by Shas and by Porush's United Torah Judaism party, according to a statement by outgoing Attorney General Menachem Mazuz.

Mazuz has instructed the Jerusalem District Court to overturn a decision made at Barkat's request in August which increases financial support for the two parties' schools. Mazuz says the criteria set for the budget allocations were "fixed" to suit the ultra-Orthodox groups.

IRAC & Attorney General Take On Haredi Jerusalem

By Anat Hoffman Opinion January 26, 2010

In a petition of ours against the Jerusalem Municipality's decision to provide full and exclusive funding for Haredi schools, the Attorney General has joined IRAC in arguing that such funding is illegal in its blatant discrimination and disregard for other schools in Jerusalem.

…Today IRAC submits a written summation of our arguments to the Court, and then in two weeks' time the Jerusalem Municipality and Haredi networks will present their own before the Court can reach a verdict.

"It will be an important moment," Tali says, "because municipalities across Israel look to the Jerusalem District Court for guidance in handling similar cases of their own."

Prevent the Schism

By Yizhar Hess Opinion January 24, 2010

Yizhar Hess is executive director and CEO of the Masorti Movement in Israel.

See also original Hebrew

These incidents, which reflect an internal problem in Israel – yet another sign of Haredi dominance of the Kotel, touch a raw nerve with North American Jewry.

…This is a dangerous trend. Not simply because of the Kotel events. The Kotel is but a metaphor for a larger picture.

Women seek equality at Kotel

By Josh Lipowsky January 29, 2010

Pluralism is a very foreign concept in Israel,” said Women of the Wall chairwoman Anat Hoffman. “There isn’t a word for it in Hebrew.”

Hoffman is fighting to bring pluralism into Israeli language and society.

Principal refusing to sanction parents in integration row

By Or Kashti January 26, 2010

The ultra-Orthodox Beit Yaakov School in Immanuel is not taking measures against parents who are refusing to send their daughters to school in the wake of a High Court of Justice order to integrate the institution's separate classes for girls of Ashkenazi and Mizrahi origin.

Several sources say that in a High Court session last week, it was disclosed that the Independent Education Center had instructed Principal Rivka Stern not to take measures against the parents on the grounds that such action would be considered a violation of din moser - the religious prohibition against revealing information about a Jew to non-Jewish authorities.

Ariel College students earn credit for courses taken at seminaries, yeshivas

By Yotam Feldman January 29, 2010

Students at Ariel College in the West Bank can accumulate credits for degrees by taking religious studies courses in seminaries and yeshivas in various settlements.

While its television campaign portrays students pursuing "breakthrough technological research" at Ariel College, the institution actually allows students to substitute Jewish history courses with religious studies.

One of the leading programs offered by the college is in the Har Bracha seminary, adjacent to the yeshiva whose head, Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, made headlines when he urged soldiers to disobey orders to evacuate settlements.

Hebrew University President Menahem Ben Sasson believes such a study program does not enable study content and degree quality to be supervised.

For religious gays in Israel, new initiatives are providing hope

By Ben Harris January 24, 2010

When Gidi Grunberg was 16, he fell in love with a boy at his Orthodox high school near Tel Aviv.

Consumed by guilt, he transferred to a high school that was more strictly religious, hopeful that with more rigorous Torah study his attraction to men would pass.

…Israel's paucity of alternatives to Orthodoxy, a fact liberal Jews frequently decry, is prompting religious gays to push for greater openness within the Orthodox world rather than decamp for more liberal options, as they often do in the Diaspora.

Havruta, an association of Orthodox gay men, has succeeded in opening discussions with several liberal-minded Orthodox rabbis.

A similar organization, Bat Kol, serves religious lesbians. Another group, Shoval, helps teach tolerance in the Orthodox community.

Hopeful hints of change toward LGBT Orthodox in Israel

Editorial January 28, 2010

Israel has long been the Middle East’s lone sanctuary when it comes to gay and lesbian equality. Yet even there, pockets of homophobia remain.

Now, it appears, the winds of change have begun to blow.

Ultra-Orthodox Seek Boycott of Their Own Web Sites

AP January 26, 2010

Prominent ultra-Orthodox Israeli rabbis are targeting a new foe in the decidedly impious world of the Internet: They've demanded a boycott of their community's own Web sites, accusing them of disseminating "gossip, slander ... filth and abominations."

It's the latest flashpoint in a long-simmering battle by rabbis in the profoundly insular ultra-Orthodox, or haredi, community to preserve their influence over hundreds of thousands of followers in an era when the forces of technology are growing ever more powerful.

War on Internet Is a Fight the Rabbis Can't Win

By Miriam Shaviv Opinion January 27, 2010

Ultimately, it seems, it was the threat to rabbinic authority — rather than the threat of exposure to the secular world — that pushed the rabbis into taking draconian measures.

The December order from senior rabbis — including top Haredi authorities like Yosef Sholom Elyashiv and Aharon Leib Shteinman — instructed their followers not to visit Haredi Web sites, which they said were full of “lies,” “gossip” and “abominations.”

Crucially, they also instructed Haredi schools not to admit any child whose parents are involved in such Web sites.

As a result, several sites capitulated and closed down.

But this is only a very partial success for the rabbis.

Rabbonim Prohibit Supporting Stores in Gas Station Operating on Shabbos

By Yechiel Spira January 25, 2010

Local rabbonim in Yerushalayim have prohibited purchasing goods in grocery stores operating in gas stations if those stores remain open on shabbos, the Erev shabbos HaMevaser reported.

Kiryat Yovel Residents Go Legal with New Shul

By Yechiel Spira January 28, 2010

The residents of Jerusalem’s Kiryat Yovel neighborhood celebrated the opening of their new shul, a shul that enjoys legal status and will be free from the legal conflict surrounding the rapidly growing chareidi area.

A Shabbos of Violence between Gur and Chabad in Arad

By Yechiel Spira January 31, 2010

Two women were lightly injured and four men were arrested on shabbos afternoon in another shabbos of clashes between Gerrer Chassidim and Chabad Chassidim in Arad.

Dozens of Haredim attack police officer on motorbike in Mea Shearim

By Efrat Weiss January 31, 2010

A police officer was attacked by dozens of haredim while riding through the Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea Shearim. He was knocked off his bike and fled the scene. He sustained light injuries as a result. The police initiated searches for the attackers.

Court Rejects Appeals to Halt Ramat Beit Shemesh Building

By Yechiel Spira January 31, 2010

The High Court of Justice eliminated the last hurdle, the petition filed by opposition members seeking to prevent publicizing the building tenders in Ramat Beit Shemesh. The court’s rejection of the petition accompanied the removal of the temporary injunction issued earlier.

Chabad excommunicates rabbi

By Anshel Pfeffer January 28, 2010

A new schism emerged last week in the Lubavitch movement in Israel following reports that one of the leaders of its “messianic” stream had stopped fasting on days marking the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Gedalya Axelrod, a leading Lubavitch rabbi in Haifa, published a letter last week saying that “according to halachah”, Rabbi Zimroni Tzik, who runs the Chabad House in Bat Yam, should be excommunicated.

IDF Soldiers Visit the Rebbe's Kfar January 28, 2010Shturem

In Kfar Chabad the word "soldier" brings to mind the hundreds of Chayolei Tzivos Hashem of the Rebbe. Yesterday, soldiers of a different sort were spotted in the Rebbe's Kfar.

IDF soldiers spent a day in Kfar Chabad for a day of study. The visit began in 770 where Rabbi Menachem Lattard greeted them and spoke about the topic of Shlichus.

The soldiers watched a video of the Rebbe, davened in the Rebbe's room, and toured the matzah bakery.

Rabbis: Efrat will be smoke-free

By Matthew Wagner January 26, 2010

Halacha prohibits the sale of cigarettes, Chief Rabbis of Efrat Shlomo Riskin and Shimon Golan have announced, adding that they will attempt to enforce the prohibition through persuasion.

Riskin said that he had already met with the owners of two of five stores that sell cigarettes in Efrat, and had convinced them to stop selling cigarettes.

Kidney Mitzvah

By Sally Satel January 27, 2010

Why such low rates? "Most Jews are under the mistaken impression that traditional Jewish law requires a body be buried whole at all costs," according to Robby Berman, director of the Halachic Organ Donor Society, an organization that encourages Jews all over the world to donate organs to the general population.

Another barrier to deceased donation has been the definition of death. Some ultra-Orthodox rabbis reject brain death as the definition of death because the ventilator is providing oxygen that allows the heart to beat for a few more days after brain death.

They insist that the heart must cease to beat before a person can be pronounced dead—a condition making it difficult to obtain suitable organs in a timely manner. To facilitate donation, Israel passed a law in 2008 establishing "brain death" as the definition of death relevant for all legal purposes, including organ donation.

See also: Ethics @ Work: Recompense for organ donors

Rabbinate: Room service only on plastic plates during Pesach

By Kobi Nahshoni January 28, 2010

The Passover holiday is fast approaching, and with it, a slew of unique kosher stipulations. After ordering that products containing chametz be blocked from sale at supermarkets through barcode identification, Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger has ruled that kosher hotels must serve room service meals only on disposable plates during the holiday.

…Some two weeks ago, Rabbi Metzger announced that the Chief Rabbinate would demand that supermarkets install a dedicated program in their cashiers that would identify chametz items prohibited from sale during the seven days of the holiday.

Mondrowitz Extradition Ruling Raising Questions

By Hella Winston January 26, 2010

The Israeli Supreme Court’s recent ruling that alleged child molester Avrohom Mondrowitz could not be extradited to the U.S. has generated strong reactions from child advocates here and in Israel, and raised questions from legal experts about both the ruling itself and how the case unfolded over the past 25 years.

Shapira's distinction between Jewish, gentile blood

By Matthew Wagner January 29, 2010

Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, who was detained for questioning by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) in connection with the burning of a mosque in Yasuf, a village near Nablus, is head of the Od Yosef Chai Yeshiva in Yitzhar, and is a disciple of Rabbi Yitzhak Ginsberg, who lives in Kfar Chabad.

Court upholds decision to release rabbi arrested over mosque arson

By Efrat Weiss January 28, 2010

The Jerusalem District Court on Thursday upheld the city's Magistrates' Court decision to reject the police's appeal and order the release of Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira from custody.

Petition: Rabbi's arrest humiliating

By Kobi Nahshoni January 28, 2010

Dozens of rabbis and religious-Zionist yeshiva heads published a petition slamming the arrest of Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira in connection with the torching of a Palestinian mosque.

The rabbis who signed the petition include Safed's Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, Har Bracha Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, Kiryat Shmona's Chief Rabbi Tsfania Drori, Kiryat Arba Chief Rabbi Dov Lior, and Elon Moreh Chief Rabbi Elyakim Levanon.

Settler rabbi arrested over West Bank mosque arson

By Chaim Levinson January 26, 2010

The Shin Bet security service on Tuesday arrested the head of a West Bank religious seminary for his alleged involvement in the torching of a Palestinian mosque in the village of Yasuf last month.

The suspect, Rabbi Itzik Shapira, is one of the heads of the "Od Yosef Chai" yeshiva in the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar.

VIDEO: Archaeology in Jerusalem: Digging Up Trouble

By Jaron Gilinsky

Click here for VIDEO

Archaeology in Jerusalem: Digging Up Trouble

By Tim McGirk February 8, 2010

The Jerusalem syndrome is a psychological disorder in which a visit to the holy city triggers delusional and obsessive religious fantasies. In its extreme variety, people wander the lanes of the Old City believing they are biblical characters; John the Baptist, say, or a brawny Samson, sprung back to life.

Archaeologists in the Holy Land like to joke that their profession is vulnerable to a milder form of the syndrome.

Mount of Olives cemetery goes online

By Ronen Medzini January 31, 2010

The oldest Jewish cemetery in the world is now online. A new website mapping out the graves on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem has been launched.

The site, which is the initiative of and sponsored by the Elad Association, now includes an information archive of some 20,000 tombs, and is constantly being updated.

Renovating David's Tomb

By Shachar Poni January 25, 2010

Ever since the Six Day War, a number of bodies have been active at the site of King David's Tomb in Jerusalem – the Diaspora Yeshiva is in charge of most of the structures around the main building, the Ministry of Religious Services manages the room of Zion – the tomb and the entrance rooms, and the Interior Ministry maintains the Last Supper Room and the adjacent rooms.

Egypt foils attack on Jewish grave

By Matthew Wagner and AP January 31, 2010

Egyptian prosecutors arrested 25 Muslim extremists suspected of forming a new group that planned to carry out terrorist attacks in the country, including at the burial place of a Jewish mystic, according to Egypt’s independent Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper.

One of the group’s targets was the grave of Rabbi Ya’acov Abuhatzeira, a 19th century rabbi and mystic who was the grandfather of the Baba Sali, Yisrael Abuhatzeira, himself a famous Kabbalist, who was said to be a miracle worker. He died in 1984 and is buried in Netivot.

Religion and State in Israel

February 1, 2010 (Section 1) (see also Section 2)

Editor – Joel Katz

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

All rights reserved.

Religion and State in Israel - February 1, 2010 (Section 2)

Religion and State in Israel

February 1, 2010 (Section 2) (see also Section 1)

If you are reading in email or RSS feed, please click here to read ONLINE

Editor – Joel Katz

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

Knesset panel to weigh expansion of rabbinical court power

By Jonathan Lis and Yair Ettinger January 31, 2010

The Knesset Ministerial Committee for Legislation is scheduled to convene tomorrow to pass a controversial bill to expand the authority of rabbinical courts to rule on financial and civil disputes based on Jewish law.

Supporters of the bill said diverting more cases to rabbinical courts could clear the backlog of cases in the state judicial system.

The bill, proposed by MKs Moshe Gafni and Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism), would grant rabbinical courts jurisdiction over civil matters in cases where the [plaintiff and respondent] agree to hold the trial there.

Rafi Peretz named as new chief rabbi of IDF, replacing Avihai Rontzki

By Anshel Pfeffer January 28, 2010

Rabbi Rafi Peretz is to replace Brig. Gen. Rabbi Avihai Rontzki as chief military rabbi this summer. Peretz, who heads the army preparatory program, Etzem, is a helicopter pilot and a colonel in the reserves. He will be promoted to the rank of brigadier general prior to assuming his new post.

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi decided on the appointment after consulting with Israel's chief rabbis. It was approved by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who met with Peretz on Monday, before the appointed was announced.

After his appointment was announced Peretz said that he hoped that

"God will light my path in this place and that I will be worthy of this major position. I feel that IDF wants me to work toward bringing secular and observant Jews closer, and the people of Israel wants this very much."

Right sees Rabbi Rafi Peretz as overly moderate

By Matthew Wagner January 28, 2010

Rabbi Rafi Peretz will be the first IDF chief chaplain who does not have a beard, rabbinic sources in the IDF joked Wednesday.

But while Peretz's lack of facial hair may seem trivial, it is seen by some on the Right as representative of Peretz's overly moderate, highly integrationist approach to IDF service for religious soldiers.

…Peretz's appointment is seen by some as politically motivated. IDF commanders want the next IDF chief rabbi to promote the integration of Orthodox soldiers and to downplay differences of opinion between rabbis and army commanders.

Bereaved mothers blame new IDF chief rabbi for sons' deaths

By Yuval Azoulay January 29, 2010

The mothers of two Israel Air Force sergeants killed in a training accident in 1992 called on the military yesterday to revoke the appointment of Lt. Col. Rafi Peretz as the new chief rabbi of the IDF, saying Peretz did not allow them access to medical assistance that could have saved their lives.

The IDF's new head rabbi / Same background, but less divisive

By Amos Harel January 28, 2010

Peretz will be responsible for the needs of an ever growing number of religious soldiers, who comprise a larger share of both the officer corps and the combat corps than ever before. He will also need to ensure that attempts to accommodate these soldiers do not slide into absurdity, as has happened more than once.

Rabbi Peretz: Too Much Love for IDF is a Good Thing

By Hillel Fendel January 28, 2010

Rabbi Peretz said, “If I am criticized for loving the IDF and the Nation of Israel too much, then I am willing to pay any price for this.

Rabbi Peretz, age 53, studied in the Netiv Meir yeshiva high school in Jerusalem. He performs reserve duty by training young helicopter pilots in the army’s aviation school. He and his wife Michal have 12 children.

God! Enough of the Military Rabbinate

By Amir Oren Opinion February 1, 2010

This is one more reason to get rid of the Military Rabbinate, in addition to the religious politics that have affected the selection of the chief military rabbi since the era of Shlomo Goren, the first IDF officer to be promoted to major general as a personal rank rather than in accordance with the career path.

Religious services can be provided to the army by Defense Ministry officials - civil servants, not officers in uniform - even to troops on active service, just as units needing intelligence support in the territories are aided by the Shin Bet security service, which is not part of the Israel Defense Forces.

'IDF rabbi should not be appointed by army'

By Kobi Nahshoni January 26, 2010

Head of the Har Bracha Hesder Yeshiva Rabbi Eliezer Melamed called to revoke the military's authority over appointing the chief military rabbi and entrusting it instead in the hands of the chief rabbis of Israel.

According to Melamed, the first Chief Military Rabbi Shlomo Goren was appointed by the chief rabbis, and this tradition, in his view, should be kept ahead of appointing a replacement to Rabbi Avihai Ronzki who is ending his term.

Compromise: IDF band to perform after ceremony

By Kobi Nahshoni January 26, 2010

An Israel Defense Forces band slated to perform in a military memorial ceremony will take the stage only at the end of the event in order to allow members of the Bnei Akiva religious youth movement, who do not listen to women's singing, to leave before the ceremony's musical part begins.

…the band's performance will not be part of the memorial ceremony and each Bnei Akiva member will be able to decide whether he wishes to stay or go up to a nearby hill and wait for the rest of the members there.

What about my feelings?

By Assaf Wohl Opinion January 25, 2010

Yet here comes into the picture my favorite element among highly sensitive religious souls: The duty to take religious feelings into considerations.

Hence, I would like to make it clear that chauvinistic utilization of Jewish law for the purpose of silencing others and training girls to be submissive and modest hurts my own feelings. So please, show consideration to that as well.

National Religious Youth January 27, 2010

Ma'ariv is alarmed by what it perceives as an increasing trend by Israeli national religious youth towards becoming more ultra-orthodox and argues that this should concern not only the religious Zionist community but also society as a whole.

Bnei Akiva, and the Efforts To Silence Women

By Elana Sztokman Opinion January 29, 2010

Women can solve the world’s problems by just being a little quieter. That is the message emerging from the resolution of a little fracas in the Religious Zionist world recently.

…Indeed, religious men are systematically taught that to be more religious means to look more haredi. And to “look” more haredi ultimately means to cover women up.

The more silent and invisible women are, the more men can congratulate themselves for being increasingly religious. That is the narrative playing out here.

Rabbi Melamed Considering Resigning

By Kobi Nahshoni January 26, 2010

Head of the Har Bracha Hesder Yeshiva Rabbi Eliezer Melamed called to revoke the military's authority over appointing the chief military rabbi and entrusting it instead in the hands of the chief rabbis of Israel.

According to Melamed, the first Chief Military Rabbi Shlomo Goren was appointed by the chief rabbis, and this tradition, in his view, should be kept ahead of appointing a replacement to Rabbi Avihai Ronzki who is ending his term.

Har Bracha students withdraw petition January 27, 2010

Following a High Court of Justice hearing on Wednesday, Har Bracha Yeshiva students withdrew their petition against Defense Minister Ehud Barak's decision to remove the institute from the hesder arrangement with the IDF.

The new conversion law is a joke

By Rabbi Seth Farber Opinion January 27, 2010

The writer is the director of ITIM: The Jewish Life Information Center

In short, the new conversion bill - in its present and apparently final form - is sophistry of the first order and is being promoted as an offering to the immigrant population, with no substance supporting it.

In many respects, the country would be better off if the law wasn't passed and if politicians began studying the core issues and seeking genuine resolutions, rather than trying to simply pass off another bill as a solution to an essential issue threatening the Jewish fabric of Israel.

There needs to be a full review of conversion policy and strategy, and a public relations effort that will make conversion a national priority. Anything less, and we will continue spinning our wheels for another decade.

Lieberman: Conversion laws eroding non-Orthodox Judaism

By Yani Yagna January 25, 2010

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called on Monday for a change to laws on conversion to Judaism, which he said had left thousands of Israelis in limbo.

Speaking at a conference on immigrant absorption in Ashdod, Lieberman, who leads the hard-line Yisrael Beiteinu party, urged the state to allow head Rabbis in all Israeli towns to perform conversions.

"It is unacceptable that over 200,000 immigrants are carrying identity cards that give their status as 'no religion'," Lieberman said.

Israel plans to repatriate ‘lost Jewish tribe’ in India

By Jonathan Cook January 26, 2010

The Israeli government is reported to have quietly approved the fast-track immigration of 7,000 members of a supposedly “lost Jewish” tribe, known as the Bnei Menashe, currently living in a remote area of India.

Under the plan, the “lost Jews” would be brought to Israel over the next two years by right-wing and religious organisations who, critics are concerned, will seek to place them in West Bank settlements in a bid to foil Israel’s partial agreement to a temporary freeze of settlement growth.

Haredi plaintiffs take rabbinical judges to Israel's secular court

By Yair Ettinger January 26, 2010

For the first time, such senior rabbinical court judges are being sued - by ultra-Orthodox plaintiffs at that - and are having to defend rulings they issued at the Bnei Brak Rabbinical Court of Justice (Badatz).

This is one of the highest rabbinical courts and perhaps the most prestigious rabbinical court in the ultra-Orthodox world, both in Israel and abroad.

It is a private body not associated with the courts of the Chief Rabbinate.

The plaintiffs are asking the Tel Aviv court to issue a restraining order in response to threats and harassment.

Shas, Yisrael Beiteinu trade barbs over amendment to chametz law

By Jonathan Lis January 26, 2010

Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu traded accusations as the special ministerial committee tasked with finding a compromise on the bill regulating the sale of leavened products during Passover postponed issuing its decision by another week.

Shas joins WZO: What does it mean for Jewish Agency?

By Jacob Berkman Opinion January 27, 2010

"I am sure there are certain areas where our mission is compatible with theirs and other areas where it isn't," Carole Solomon, the former chairman of the Jewish Agency's board of governors, told me.

"I am not even saying I believe Shas is terrible entity; I don't. But it makes things much more complex," she said.

"Their social service programs, their identity and their traditional approach to identity in and of itself is not a negative thing at all. But I think it will be harder to come to decisions," given Shas' history of feuding with the Reform movement and others.

As it is, the Jewish Agency's board could spend hours upon hours trying to hammer out language regarding Jewish identity, Solomon said.

(And while we're on the topic: Will Shas forces try to stop Jewish Agency funding of projects backed by Reform and Conservative Jews, or vice versa?)

Internal Haredi crisis: Lithuanians against Sephardim

By Kobi Nahshoni January 29, 2010

The Ashkenazi-Sephardic conflict has re-emerged recently over Shas's joining of the World Zionist Organization.

Party members stressed that the move was purely "procedural," however a battle was ignited when Knesset Member Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) made a targeted verbal attack against the movement from the Knesset podium. Nearly a week has gone by and there's no sign of the fight slowing down.

A Dangerous Breach: On the Difference between the Knesset and Zionist Organizations

Editorial January 31, 2010

The following editorial appeared in the English-language Yated Ne’eman in Eretz Yisroel

We cannot ignore the official announcement of Shas that it has decided to change its basic party platform by embracing the Zionist covenant and incorporating the essential principles as determined by the Zionist movement.

Jewish Agency reconsidering North America strategy

By Jacob Berkman Opinion January 27, 2010

A media advisory went out last week announcing that the CEO of the Jewish Agency for Israel North America, Maxyne Finkelstein, has told agency officials that she would leave her position when her current contract expires in July.

As the CEO of the agency's North American office, Finkelstein was in charge of North American fund raising, public relations and overseeing the 300 emissaries, or "shlichim," posted by the agency in North American Jewish communities.

Some Jewish Agency insiders are whispering that Finkelstein's decision to leave may not have been entirely her own, with all arrows pointing to this one coming from the agency's new top professional, Natan Sharansky.

Jewish Agency wants Central American Jews to choose Israel over US

By Gil Hoffman January 27, 2010

The Jewish Agency is embarking on an effort to persuade Central American Jews to move to Israel instead of the United States, which has traditionally been their top destination.

NADAV Foundation awards grants to North American NGOs January 26, 2010

The Israeli NADAV Foundation on Monday announced the recipients of its “Jewish Peoplehood Innovation Grants” given to North American NGOs working to connect Jews from different places and perspectives in order to build collective Jewish identity and strengthen the global Jewish community.

Birthright or Taglit?

By Yoel Meltzer Opinion January 26, 2010

…the term taglit, at least according to the original intended meaning of Roi, is clearly understandable as a way to fight against assimilation.

Regarding the term “birthright”, however, a term that was given by the North Americans who eventually bought the Taglit program, the meaning is not so clear. In other words, what exactly is the birthright of every young Diaspora Jew?

Some hoping new director will revert Young Judaea course to simpler times

By Raphael Ahren January 29, 2010

Expectations are high for the new leader of the largest gap year program in Israel, with some hoping he will reverse the expansionary path of Young Judaea Year Course's outgoing director.

On Monday, London native Adam Jenshil, 39, will replace Keith Berman, who earlier this month surprisingly left Year Course mid-year after leading it for more than a decade. Berman's tenure was marked by unprecedented growth for the program, but some criticized him for diluting the course's roots to attract more participants.

Ketzaleh to Religious Zionists: No Rest until Unity

By Hillel Fendel January 26, 2010

MK Yaakov Katz, leader of the National Union party, opened the Religious Zionist Leaders and CEO's Conference in Jerusalem on Tuesday by reiterating the need for “unity in the ranks.”

The First Post-Orthodox - Interview with Yoav Sorek

By Tsur Ehrlich January 21, 2010

Translation: Michael Pitkowsky

Yoav Sorek, the wild boy of the yeshiva journalists, took off his kippah and stayed religious. The Torah, he explains, needs to remove itself from sectorialism, from the condition of exile and rigidity, and to link up with the people, redemption, and to reality. The secret is secularization and returning to religion.

Did you get confused? He's not.

Zion in Winter

By Shlomo Brody February 2010

Is religious Zionism in crisis?

The 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, and the Oslo peace process that preceded it, have shattered the movement’s territorial aspirations and distanced it from the Israeli mainstream. It’s a curious thing: How did this movement, passionately dedicated to grand ideas of both the Bible and nationalism, find itself savaged by critics as irrelevant fanaticism and bemoaned by its own adherents as a failure?

Jerusalem Streets to Be Named for Religious Zionists January 31, 2010

Jerusalem streets will be named after three late outstanding personalities in the Religious Zionist movement – Rabbi Yosef Kapach, head of Yemenite Jewry and a modern expert on Maimonides' writings, Zevulun Hammer, former leader of the NRP and Education Minister, and Emanuel Medav, one of the architects of scouting for religious youth and a fighter who died in the War of Independence.

The Wiesenthal Center Digs Itself Deeper

By Alana Alpert Opinion January 27, 2010

Alana Alpert is a community organizer and rabbinical student at Hebrew College.

Frank Gehry has insisted that he withdrew from the museum project not because of “perceived political sensitivities,” but rather because his firm was unable to commit its resources to a cost-cutting “redesign” of the museum. He said that he continues to “admire” Hier’s “determination to establish a Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem that will serve as the embodiment of human respect and compassion.”

Hier, for his part, has said that the project will go forward on the site with a new design at half the size and half the cost. But the new plan will neither halve nor diminish in any way the profound damage of this project.

Tolerance Museum leader explains downsizing of Jerusalem center

By Tom Tugend January 24, 2010

A Museum of Tolerance will open in the heart of Jerusalem within four years, though at half the size and cost previously planned.

…Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, reached in Jerusalem where he is attending his granddaughter’s wedding, said more than $10 million has been spent on the project so far, including some $7 million for Gehry’s work, and more than $3 million for legal, public relations and incidental costs.

Although the long Supreme Court injunction against going ahead on the project prevented Hier from launching a national fundraising campaign, he said he has some $54 million in reserve, available to put toward the cost of the Jerusalem project. The money has been contributed by 48 Wiesenthal trustees and major supporters in cash and active pledges.

VIDEO: Haifa’s Chief Rabbi and the Pope

January 26, 2010

Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen is the main dialogue partner between the Vatican and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, the single most important institution in the Jewish community. He was one of the rabbis who joined the pope during his visit to Rome’s synagogue.

Poll: 60% think Israel should take in Haitian families January 31, 2010

The majority of the Israeli public believes that citizens should not adopt children who lost their parents in the earthquake as long as there are Jewish or Israeli orphans without a home.

Analyzing the responses according to religious affiliation shows that the ultra-Orthodox, religious and traditionalists on the whole ruled out any option of adopting children from Haiti (93%, 77% and 51% respectively) while 52% of seculars answered that they would regard it possible.

Be’er Sheva City Council to vote on mass mezuzah check

By Yanir Yagna January 26, 2010

Be'er Sheva Councilman Ya'akov Ohayon plans to table a motion to have all the mezuzahs in City Hall examined and replaced if necessary, in order to halt "a few unusual events that sowed panic among municipal workers," referring to recent disclosures of financial improprieties and serious illnesses.

Book Review: Acts of faith

By Abigail Klein January 29, 2010

It is easy to imagine that many of the people who heard Penina Taylor’s life story must have exclaimed, “You really ought to write a book!”

Taylor makes many public appearances as the founder and CEO of Torah Life Strategies, offering motivational lectures on religious issues as well as topics including attention deficit disorder.

Her personal history of domestic violence and drug experimentation, and especially her spiritual voyages, undoubtedly strike a chord with listeners from many different backgrounds. So, too, will her book.

Jerusalem conference to focus on lunar calendar January 29, 2010

The Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem will host an international conference titled "Living the Lunar Calendar: Time, Text and Tradition" on January 30 through February 1.

Knesset Okays religious education head

By Benjamin Hartman February 1, 2010

The Knesset on Sunday unanimously approved the appointment of Rabbi Avraham Lipschitz to head the religious studies department of the Education Ministry, on the recommendation of Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar (Likud).

Dying for Zion

By Joseph Feit Opinion January 31, 2010

For the 9,000 Ethiopian Jews remaining in the northwestern province of Gondar, Israel’s indecision on their request to make aliya is an agonizing betrayal.

Religion and State in Israel

February 1, 2010 (Section 2) (see also Section 1)

Editor – Joel Katz

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

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