Thursday, November 29, 2012

Religion and State in Israel - November 29, 2012

Religion and State in Israel

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

From: The Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism (IMPJ) and the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC)
Dear Prime Minister,
[ … ] In our opinion, in order to realize the principles of equality, dignity and freedom of religion and worship on the one hand, while allowing those interested in segregated prayers at the Wall on the other hand, a Third Section should be established at the Western Wall, alongside the existing women’s section and men’s section. 
The Third Section will be a mixed section in which women will be permitted to pray while wearing a Tallit and to read from the Torah. Mixed Bar Mitzvah ceremonies will be permitted in this section, and girls will be allowed to hold Bat Mitzvah celebrations in which they read from the Torah.

“The decisions are mine,” Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz said. “If everyone does their own custom, the house will explode.”

Rabinowitz is a political appointee, named to his post in 2000 by then-Minister of Religious Affairs Yossi Beilin. His authority stems from a 1981 law that gives the Kotel’s chief rabbi power to “give instructions and ensure the enforcement of restrictions.” The law also establishes that any prayer at the Kotel must be according to “local custom.”
Who determines local custom? Rabinowitz.

… Sitting high above the Kotel, protected by law from his ideological adversaries, he sees Women of the Wall as more of a nuisance than a threat.

“It’s a group of women that yell and want to make an event,” he said. “There’s order. You can’t just do what you want.”

“In the specific case” — Anat Hoffman’s — “there is consensus on one thing: The police overreached. There was absolutely no reason whatsoever to arrest Hoffman and keep her in prison.

“The practical thing that has to be done now is to make the decisions of the Supreme Court more effective in preventing the increased control of the ultra-Orthodox over the Western Wall. That’s exactly what we’re discussing now.”

In light of the ongoing struggles of Women of the Wall and others to create a more egalitarian environment at the Kotel, politics wasn’t far from my mind as I was speaking to Joy. But I soon realized that for her, the issue is much more complex.

“It’s pretty clear that the way the Wall is handled is not just. It offends me as a human being. But it’s also true that my identity is affirmed when I enter a space that’s identified as a female space. I always feel that my sense of myself is on sufferance: at any minute, others might say, ‘you’re not real.’”

By Mayim Bialik

Of all of the things going on in and around Israel right now, I wanted to briefly highlight the work of Women of the Wall, not because I always agree with them and their politics, but because their cause represents issues that should be important to all Jews, all Zionists, and all women and men.

“In the United States, you can have Reform Jews in San Francisco and Chabad in Brooklyn, and they can go to the same demonstration and not interfere with each other.” It doesn’t matter how each group defines Jewishness, he said. That’s not true in Israel.

In Israel, you have the Law of Return. The definition is up to bureaucrats. The moment it is the decision of a bureaucrat it is the decision of the government, and that is why there is the tendency to become political.

“My theory is that every 12 years or so” — when there is a major fight over defining who is a Jew — “the Jewish people have to recharge their batteries, and then they start over again.

In the past year, Shas' El Hama'ayan educational network received NIS 12 million from the Education Ministry for "Torah and Jewish culture lessons not held within a formal learning framework."

This was in addition to the regular budget the organization gets from the ministry. El Hama'ayan was the big winner in this regard, but others also fared well. About NIS 35.3 million has been distributed for this purpose in 2012, most of it to Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox organizations - some of which are engaged in trying to convert secular people to religion.

By comparison, the Masorti (Conservative) Movement was granted less than NIS 100,000 for its activities in the sphere of Jewish education.

Five Jerusalem restaurants are taking the city’s chief rabbinate to court after being fined between NIS 1,000 and NIS 2,000 for calling themselves kosher without formal certification from the rabbinate.

This is harassment and revenge of the rabbinate against us without any reason or legal basis,” said Shai Gini, a co-owner of the Italian dairy restaurant Topolino in Mahane Yehuda, which was fined NIS 2,000, but does not call itself kosher in any of its materials or in the restaurant itself.

Emunah Chairwoman Liora Minka:
The examination of insects in vegetables, adhering to the laws of milk and meat – are any of these beyond the comprehension of women? Of course not.
Is there is an halachic prohibition on a woman working in a dining room or a kitchen? Is it so outlandish an idea that a woman would walk into the kitchen of a restaurant, a hospital, a banquet hall or a nursing home, open refrigerator doors and track the processing of raw materials and mixtures? These are rhetorical questions the answers to which are clear,” says Minka.

Senior haredi figures called for the expansion of the rabbinical courts’ authority in Israel, at an annual rabbinical conference on Tuesday organized by the World Center of Torah Law.

Kiryat Ono Rabbi Ratzon Arusi, the principal architect of the conference and a member of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate, said that the gathering was an important tool for advancing “the assimilation of [civil aspects of] Torah law into our lives.”

“We must remember that there is no need to search for legal answers from the laws and justice [systems] around the world when we have God’s Torah and the laws of the Torah,” Arusi said.

“The state must allow rabbinical judges in rabbinical courts to hear cases of monetary and property law ... which would allow the huge community which wants the rabbinical courts to have this authority to be judged according to Torah law.”

The High Court of Justice on Monday delayed ruling on a petition calling for female representation on the state body that appoints rabbinical judges because of the upcoming elections.

Current state practice “contradicts the state’s commitment, under international law, to eliminating all forms of discrimination against women,” said attorney Susan Weiss, director of CWJ. “It also contradicts the 1951 Equal Rights Law, which mandates adequate representation of women in public bodies.”

In order to balance the inherent inequality regarding appointing rabbinic judges, Weiss continued, it is not enough to settle for one female representative.

“Symbolic representation is not enough,” she insists. “This situation is a disgrace to justice in Israel and demands immediate change.”

Rather than placing blame on women's groups -- which have worked tirelessly for decades in the spirit of Torah to alleviate human suffering and enable women to choose whom they want to be married to -- Rabbi Dahan would be better served by examining his court’s record and its complicity in the anguish of, many women who have walked with fear through its doors.

Rabbi Ben Dahan said he is aware that he will have to deal with disinformation spread by "feminist" groups. As Director of the Rabbinical Courts, he ordered a survey that found that the total number of men who refused to grant their wives a "get", or divorce decree, was 180, while the number of women who refused to accept the get from their husbands was 190.

By Avishalom Westreich, Academic Center of Law and Business - Ramat Gan Law School

Respondents were asked about their stand on religious legislation: The Chametz Law, the restriction on opening stores on Shabbat, the law banning the rearing of pigs, and others.
Fifty-five percent of respondents believe these laws should not be repealed, 40% think they should be repealed, and the remaining 5% offered no opinion on the matter.

As for the issue of public transportation on Shabbat, 70% of respondents said they fully supported operating buses on the day of rest in all parts of the country (25%) or at least partially, in areas with a secular majority (45%).

The survey further shows that 61% of the public believe the next Knesset should enact a law recognizing civil marriage in Israel (87% of seculars and 57% of traditional Jews), while 31% oppose such a law (77% of haredim and 72% of religious Jews) and 8% offered no opinion on the matter.

Sixty-three percent of respondents believe all Israeli citizens should share the burden (22% think all citizens must join the army, while 41% view civil service as a reasonable alternative)...

By Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, Tzohar

I believe that the three approaches to mitigation proposed above will permit coexistence in the State of Israel, and may even be a blessing for the unique, almost untenable, path taken by the “Jewish, democratic state,” which is ultimately an expression of the cultural uniqueness of the State of Israel.

I believe that if we give up our pretensions of being able to solve the problem in absolute terms, and accept the anomaly of “Jewish and democratic” as a special Israeli challenge, different from those faced by other countries, this tension may have an ongoing positive influence on both opposing sides, and we will all ultimately benefit.

By Warren Zev Harvey, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
What does it mean to say that the State of Israel is the “State of the Jews” or, more accurately, the “Jewish State”?

The Hebrew University launched a special pre-academic preparatory program this week aimed at members of the haredi community wishing to enroll in institutions of higher education.

A project of the university’s Magid Institute for Continuing Education, the initiative was created in response to the national challenge issued by the Council for Higher Education in Israel to increase ultra-Orthodox society’s access to higher education.

In the report’s analysis, however, Haredi employment figures are identical to those of Israelis who received no schooling after the 4th grade, hovering below 50% employment.

With a 57% growth in Haredi elementary school enrollment between 2000 and 2010, the failure of Haredi education to produce productive workers for the Israeli economy should worry anyone who cares about Israel’s future, Ben-David says.

The Haredi schools system educated 20% of all preschool children in 2000. By 2010, this shares rose substantially to 24%.  Within the Jewish community alone, the share of Haredi preschoolers rose from 25% in 2000 to over 31% by 2010.

"Shas creates poverty and need," "The Haredi shady dealers arouse hatred toward Torah students," "Shas gives the Haredim a bad name," "Shas encourages racism and discrimination" - all of these are allegations that Amsellem, in various formulations, has long been making in the secular media and from diverse platforms. 

But now he seeks to publicize these same messages in the ultra-Orthodox media, in an attempt to snatch voters from Shas and United Torah Judaism.

Dov Lipman announced on Saturday night that he would be in the top 20 of Yesh Atid’s list for the Knesset.

Lipman had been rumored for months to fill the party’s “haredi” seat, as well as being a connection to the English-speaking community in Israel.

Lipman is already known as an activist in Beit Shemesh, being one of the leaders in a recent battle which drew national attention with the city’s ultra-Orthodox over the location of a religious-zionist girls’ school.

The US-born Rabbi Dov Lipman, a vocal advocate for Haredi integration, will be placed between the 10th and 20th spot on Yesh Atid’s slate.

Israel Hayom has learned that 30 percent of haredim who received their draft notices since August, when the Tal Law that had previously provided them with exemptions expired, have presented themselves at IDF recruitment centers to receive draft dates for next summer.

Following the expiration of the law, many haredim vowed they would not answer their draft notices, regardless of their legal obligation to be drafted.

By Rabbi Natan Slifkin

Rav Chaim Kanievsky, said that Bnei Brak is safe from missiles. The Torah study of that town apparently protects it, and it alone. 

Likewise, when the 300-strong Grodno yeshivah relocated from Ashdod to Bet Shemesh last week due to the war in the South … Well, if that's the case, why didn't they stay in Ashdod?

It is likely that if this procedure is followed as instructed by the rabbonim, many talmidim will be listed as failing to respond to the IDF draft order and arrest warrants will be issued against them and military police will likely begin visiting yeshivos to arrest those whose names appear on the warrants.

By Rabbi Shalom Hammer

The old role of the elite soldier played by secular Israelis has changed. What you see in the IDF is that religious observant youth are working their way up the ladder of promotion. And, a large part of the voice of Zionist ideology today emanates from religious institutions. 

Secular Zionism is going through a period of soul-searching and is having a difficult time preserving [its] ideology. Having religious observance behind it gives Zionist ideology strength and direction.”

Rabbi Dov Lior, the chief rabbi of Kiryat Arba and one of the settler leaders, was surprised last week by the chilly reception he received from reserve soldiers stationed on the Gaza border.

Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, one of the most prominent Religious Zionism rabbis, has launched an unprecedented attack on the Israeli Left and media on the backdrop of the recent security situation.

Just as his followers are older now and have other things on their minds beyond politics, Deri is no longer the precocious yeshiva student who became interior minister before the age of 30. 

Having spent two years in prison and another 10 as a private businessman, the 59-year-old [sic] grandfather still has an apparent appetite for power. 

But his instincts for what makes the electorate tick seem to have dulled somewhat.

By Rabbi Elianna Yolkut
Elianna Yolkut is a Conservative Rabbi teaching Torah and celebrating Judaism in New York City. You can reach her at

Rabbi Aviner has every right to his opinion, but his opinion must not be construed as the singular traditional view, and it certainly should not be the voice of the government in Israel; a country that belongs to all of her citizens, men and women. 

We have the chance to create a truly democratic Israel, but with voices like Rabbi Aviner's rising loudly from institutions of rabbinic authority, equality is at risk.

Our responsibility must be to voice a different Jewish perspective, one where women and men who want to commit their lives to service of country are celebrated, praised and given full and equal access. That is what the tradition demands of us.

By Dr. Ronit Irshai, The Gender Studies Program, Bar Ilan University and Hartmann Institute, Jerusalem

The point is that feminism, despite the fact that it is seen by the public as "radical" actually always makes this balanced point, but in a culture, both religious and general, in which the voice of a woman in any case isn't really important, who cares what feminism says.

"It's such a taboo in Israel and in Judaism," said Gali, nursing her six-week-old son, about the decision not to have him circumcised.

"It's like coming out of the closet," she said, asking to be identified by her first name only because she had not told her relatives yet.

“There’s a real awakening that’s taking place,” said Michael Freund, who directs Shavei Israel, a Jerusalem-based group that helps new Jewish communities such as Bello’s. 

“The Jewish spark was never quenched, and these Anusim are really fulfilling the dreams of their ancestors in that they are taking back the Jewish identity that was so brutally stolen from their forefathers.”

Are American Jews and Israelis drifting apart? Contemporary reports on American Jewish public opinion have claimed that American Jews have increasingly distanced themselves from the Jewish state. Is that the case, and if so, what are the reasons for it?

"The religious world's access to the Internet, and women's access in particular, has soared by hundreds of percentage points, so the era in which women look for inspiration in conservative shop windows is over. Today they look for inspiration from abroad online."

The Jerusalem Municipality awarded initial approval to a plan to rebuild the Tiferet Israel synagogue in the Old City’s Jewish Quarter, a magnificent domed synagogue from the 19th century which was destroyed in the 1948 War of Independence.

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

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Religion and State in Israel - November 22, 2012

Religion and State in Israel

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

*Special edition on Women of the Wall & Anat Hoffman's arrest coming soon

Children in Town Under Fire by Rockets from Gaza

Yoni, a local resident recently returned from reserve duty, gave a ride to a “Yerushalmi” Jew from the hassidic enclave of Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet and was shocked to hear that his passenger did not even not know that his country was at war.

“Vos?” he asked Yoni in Yiddish.

“We are at war?” There are those among the Israeli-born haredim who do not listen to the radio, read newspapers or own a television.

Young Americans who served in the IDF but live in the States are arriving in Israel to join their combat units.

Twenty-four-year old Shmulik Lazaroff, one of 11 children in his family, grew up in Houston, Texas, where his parents serve as Chabad emissaries. Five years ago, he immigrated to Israel and began rabbinical school studies. Soon, he was drafted into an infantry unit, and got to know Aud and others at the Michael Levine Center.

“The Lubavitch rebbe said that 'whoever serves in the IDF gets his place reserved in the world to come.'” And he definitely wants to serve. “God willing. I will return to my unit,” he says.

Shalom Lakein, 21, from Brooklyn, was having the same thoughts. Lakein is also a Chabadnik, and one of six brothers, three of whom have served in the Israeli army. Lakein, who served in Golani, was released from the army four months ago. Now he wants back in.

Amid all the Facebook posts about the heart-rending violence taking place at this moment in Israel and Gaza, this photo of a bomb shelter door in Ashdod leapt out. It says that the bomb shelter is only for men and boys.

New immigrants from Ethiopia get a severe reality check mere days after their arrival in Israel as bombs fall around their absorption center. Despite the shock, they're adapting quickly and looking to pitch in.

Chief Rabbi Amar: “Just like the People of Israel did not travel while the pillar of cloud was in the encampment and rested above the Tabernacle, so too today the People of Israel feel safe because of your presence here, and will not wander or escape while you are guard the people dwelling in Zion.”

By Rabbi Michael Boyden 
The writer is director of the Rabbinical Court of the Israel Council of Progressive Rabbis

My own experience on the municipal front in Israel is that there is nothing like concerted pressure from our friends in North American when it comes to forcing city officials to respect the rights and needs of all religious streams.

In an entirely different context, the European Central Bank has forced the Greek government to take unpalatable steps to bring about economic reforms as the price for a bailout. Is it too much to hope that North American Jewry will employ similar tactics when it comes to coercing Israel to live up to the ideals upon which it was founded?

By Rabbi Naftali Rothenberg
The writer is the rabbi of Har Adar and a senior research fellow at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute

In an era characterized by an endless variety of modern and haredi Orthodox communities, do the wars against Reform Jews mean anything? Is it possible that inciting statements are made in order to serve the battle between Orthodox groups for internal needs of de-legitimization?

In this era of empowerment, is it not time for Orthodoxy to forsake the expressions of weakness which it was characterized by up to 40 or 50 years ago, and stop responding out of unjustified fear?

The Orthodox activists' struggle against Reform Jews' right to be recognized by the State is wrong or hypocritical, or both. It also contradicts Israel's essence as the Jewish nation state and a democratic state, which must make room for all factions, communities and streams.

"I've learned that there are 50 shades of black," Anat Hoffman said, speaking of her attempts to assert her religious rights with Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox religious establishment. "Most ultra-Orthodox can tolerate a group of women praying once a month at the Kotel. If you can't, don't come between 7 and 8 in the morning 11 times a year."

Like Hoffman, Rabbi Uri Ayalon, CEO of the pro-pluralism Hatnua Yerushalmit, said the growing ultra-Orthodox population in Jerusalem is not forcing a liberal retreat from the city. His organization bought space for 140 outdoor ads depicting female activists, to prove there would not be a backlash from ultra-Orthodox Jews for displaying pictures of women.

"Only four were damaged," he said. "What's happening in Jerusalem is not being done by the ultra-Orthodox, but by what we think they will say and do."

Hoffman, who also leads the Reform Movement's Israel Religious Action Center, said she wished Israel reflected the diversity of her GA audience.

"This is how Israel should be - a supermarket. All forms of Judaism legal. All state funded, or all not state funded. May the best rabbi win."

By Anshel Pfeffer

So where is the discrimination? 

[Reform President Rabbi Richard] Jacobs is presumably referring to the fact that only Orthodox marriages, divorces, burials and conversions are officially recognized by the central government, and outside a small handful of municipalities and local councils, only the Orthodox streams receive public funding. 

This is discrimination, but not against non-Orthodox Jews. Rather, it's in favor of a bloated and corrupt Orthodox establishment. Some may see this as semantic hairsplitting, but I think there's a fundamental difference.

By Gusti Yehoshua Braverman

I have no guarantee that my tax money which is distributed among clerics will be transferred, at least in part, to the Reform congregation to which I belong;

... the only rabbi who can preside as the rabbi of a locality - whose salary is paid from my tax money - is an Orthodox rabbi, who for the most part will want to keep me out of the public space;

... my children, when they marry, will not be able to have their nuptials performed by a Reform rabbi - male or female - and be recognized by the state as married.

By Rabbi Uri Regev

I don’t believe that there can be a serious and responsible grappling with the challenge of Jewish Peoplehood without confronting the reality that Israel stops this plurality at its borders, let alone celebrating it.

From the fact that no non-Orthodox rabbi can officiate at a legal wedding in Israel to the arrest of Anat Hoffman for wearing a talit and reciting the Sh’ma at the Kotel – how can we speak of affirming Jewish Peoplehood without strongly confronting Israel's partial function as an antidote to this goal. 

By Elan Ezrachi, PhD

Instead of focusing on the centrality of Israel and the impulse of cheering everything that Israel does, Jewish Peoplehood celebrates the plurality and dynamism of Jewish life around the world with Israel as a major hub of Jewish cultural creativity, a hub that is in constant interaction with Jews around the world.

Instead of a model that displays actors on the stage vs. spectators, Jewish Peoplehood talks about partnership, engagement and dialogue as organizing principles of contemporary Jewish life.

The state does not accept the Egged bus cooperative's decision to bar all advertisements with pictures of people from its buses in Jerusalem, the government told the High Court of Justice last week.

"The companies thought that by not publishing ads with men, either, they solved the problem,"[Yerushalmim attorney] said. "The state is telling them they haven't solved the problem. But now I want to understand what the state is doing about it. Does it intend to revoke the license, or impose sanctions to enforce its decision?"

Yerushalmim director Uri Ayalon agreed. "We'll continue to fight until it's possible to publish ads with women," he said.

"People realize that my kitchen is Glatt kosher, only I don't have a certificate from the rabbinate. Yet the fears that I would be harmed by the lack of a certificate proved unfounded. I have kippa-wearing diners who tell me they come because I display a kashrut certificate from conscience, and not that of the rabbinate."

Rabbi David Stav, chair of Tzohar: "Without a chief rabbinate, the rabbi believes the Jewish People would “have been split into two to three nations,” because of the issue of Jewish identity. “Nobody would have recognized the [other group’s] Jewish identity.”

The upcoming end of current Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger’s term provides “a real window of opportunity that is open now, and will be closed for 10 years if we don’t take it today, and if it will be closed for 10 years, I guess it will be closed forever.”

The prenuptial “Agreement for Mutual Respect” [which] obligates, under Halacha and general Israeli law, a recalcitrant spouse to pay additional support payments once the other spouse has initiated the divorce process and efforts toward marital reconciliation (if so desired) have failed.

What needs to be prevented is yet another “creative formula” that will leave the inequity undented. Gradually increasing the numbers of conscripted ultra-orthodox youths is likely the best available option, which could also be imposed at random. A net could be cast unpredictably and whoever is caught in it must serve or face personal consequences.

The deterrent value of possible punishment cannot be underestimated and might facilitate the conscription of greater numbers of eligible haredim.

A consumer boycott of the group's Shefa Shuk outlets by their target market, the ultra-Orthodox community, since the start of 2008 led to more trouble for the company.

Through no fault of Vurembrand, the boycott was called against David Wiessman in reaction to Dor Alon's acquisition of the 24/7 chain AM:PM which, as the name indicates, operates on Shabbat.

The target chosen from among Wiessman's operations was Shefa Shuk, where sales and profits began plummeting. Only 10 of its original 40 outlets remained viable when, in September 2011, they were renamed Zol B'Shefa. They currently include 17 stores.

By Haviv Rettig Gur

And finally, the GPT suffers from JFNA’s own lack of clarity about its purpose.

Is JFNA a trade association that offers services to constituent federations? A Jewish “government” or representative that lobbies in Washington and Jerusalem? A professional advisory (or even decision making) body where federation dollars are divvied up and shipped to projects and organizations?

This program is designed for Israeli educators seeking to implement pluralistic Jewish education in Israeli educational institutions and is organized in conjunction with a M.A. degree in Jewish Education from the Melton Centre for Jewish Education at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

A renovated cinema is the centrepiece of the controversial church's attempt to rebrand its image internationally, writes Matthew Kalman in Jaffa, Israel

November 22, 2012
Editor – Joel Katz
Religion and State in Israel is not affiliated with any organization or movement.