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.