Thursday, December 27, 2012

Religion and State in Israel - December 27, 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 coming soon.

By Yair Rosenberg

Can an unlikely alliance of renegade rabbis and right-wing politicians strip the ultra-Orthodox of their power? …

If the gambit of Tzohar and Yisrael Beiteinu proves successful, it will likely mean the beginning of a sea change in how religion is practiced and perceived by Israelis. Hard as it may be, after decades of ultra-Orthodox hegemony, to envision what that kinder, gentler face of the chief rabbinate would look like, it will clearly be an unapologetically liberal Orthodox one, which—if accepted among Israelis—could cement the divide between the American and Israeli Jewish communities.

The question that remains to be answered is: Will the friendlier face of the chief rabbinate and the pluralistic American Jewish establishment find ways to build bridges of understanding or, as Yitzhar Hess warns, will “Israel and Diaspora Jewry … go two different paths,” each increasingly unable to comprehend the other? January’s election may give us a first taste.

By Dov S. Zakheim, Steven Bayme, American Jewish Committee

The fundamental challenge therefore entails abolishing the coercive power of the Chief Rabbinate, most notably with respect to the crucial issues of personal status – marriage, divorce, conversion and burial.

Many modern-Orthodox leaders, both here and in Israel, to say nothing of the leaders of the liberal religious streams, agree that the time is long overdue to transform the Chief Rabbinate from an office that exercises coercive power to one that entails moral influence. 

Shouldn’t Israel’s leadership be listening to those voices for the sake of the Jewish state and, yes, the Jewish people?

By Anshel Pfeffer

So why do we have chief rabbis? They are no more than historical relics of an era when the Jews were tiny embattled minorities, routinely deprived of their civil rights as individuals and as a community, and when religious leadership was invested with a social and political significance unimaginable in today's world. …

[T]he preponderance of rabbis in politics and every other facet of public life leaves no room for a chief rabbi to distinguish himself or to wield any influence. The obvious thing should be to retire the institution; it has had its day and now it's outlived its purpose.

By Israel Harel

Few, however, were very upset that the deceit took place within the walls of the institute that is supposed to be the holy of holies of Jewish morality, the chief rabbinate of Israel.

That is because the public's generalization − one that in some cases, unfortunately, is correct − holds that wherever the rabbinate is, bribery is there, too (including sexual bribery), as well as corruption, and endless delay, and discrimination against women.

In its despair, the public has learned to live with hundreds or even more fictitious positions for rabbis, kashrut supervisors and other holy functionaries who together cost this country immeasurably more than all the fictitious cabinet ministers and deputy ministers and their "ministries."

The High Court of Justice this week issued an interim injunction forbidding the Council of the Chief Rabbinate from ordaining anyone as a rabbi who has not passed the written exams usually required by the rabbinate.

The injunction was requested by the Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah lobbying organization, which claimed in its High Court petition that the practice of ordaining rabbis who have not passed exams is not transparent and has been used in an unequal manner.

Several local rabbinates are refusing to allow women to testify towards a person’s marital status for the purpose of marriage registration, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

This policy is being enacted despite an explicit directive from the Chief Rabbinate instructing local rabbinates to permit women to testify in this regard.

By Shmuel Rosner

In Judaism, idolatry is a serious matter. Determining which Christian symbol might be considered an idol is serious, too: It could disturb Christian-Jewish relations and damage Israel’s foreign relations. And yet Israel’s rabbinate is many things — detached from reality, sometimes corrupt, frequently manipulative, rarely in touch with the beliefs of most Israelis — but serious.

One editorial has suggested it would be a good first step “to end the Chief Rabbinate’s state-sanctioned monopoly” over kashrut supervision. I think something more radical is needed: a redefinition of relations between state and religion that starts by altogether abolishing the rabbinate.

An advocacy group for women whose husbands refuse to grant them a Jewish divorce expressed surprising, if guarded, support Sunday for a candidate for Ashkenazi chief rabbi who is considered relatively conservative, rather than for a leader of the more liberal Tzohar rabbinical group.

Mavoi Satum said Sunday that it would consider backing Rabbi Eliezer Igra, a member of the Be'er Sheva Rabbinical Court who for the past few months has also been serving as a temporary appointee to the Supreme Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem. 

Igra is the most senior rabbinic court judge, or dayan, in the state system who is affiliated with the religious Zionist community, and is thought to be the preferred candidate of many rabbis from the more conservative wing of religious Zionism.

This blatant intervention in a strictly religious matter of Jewish law became a precedent for subsequent rulings that curtailed the Chief Rabbinate’s powers. A ruling by the Chief Rabbinate that Christmas trees render a restaurant unkosher would inevitably be challenged in court. Judging from past rulings, the Chief Rabbinate would probably lose.

This situation is untenable. And the best way to solve it is to end the Chief Rabbinate’s state-sanctioned monopoly over religious services – in particular kashrut supervision.

As New Year's Eve approaches, the dispute over celebrations renews. Restaurant and banquet hall owners in Haifa are lashing out at the local Rabbinate for threatening to revoke their kashrut permits if they host celebrations on December 31.

The local rabbinate in Haifa issued a warning last week to hotels and event halls in the city that they risk losing their kashrut supervision if they allow New Year’s Eve celebrations to take place in their establishments.

For several years now at Christmas time, municipal rabbis were warning businesses from marking Christian holidays, threatening to rescind kashrut certificates. In 1998, following a High Court appeal on the matter, the Chief Rabbinate backed down.

"Who raised their hand and didn't get one yet?" ~ "Rabbi Bakshish-Doron"

Former chief Sephardi Rabbi Eliahu Bakshi-Doron was indicted for fraudulent receipt of goods or services under aggravated circumstances on Monday for his role in the so-called "rabbis' file" affair, in which hundreds of security forces officers were ordained as rabbis in order to qualify for a pay raise.

According to the indictment, which was filed with the Jerusalem District Court, between 1999 and 2003 some 1,500 police officers, soldiers and cadets attended various religious colleges for a number of hours a week but were granted diplomas for completing five years of studies. The certificates enabled the individuals to receive pay raises from the State.

“The defendant knew that the holders of the fictitious ordinations would receive significant salary benefits from the state coffers,” read the indictment submitted to the Jerusalem District Court.

“The defendant knew that hundreds of different classes were opened throughout the country, and that at the very least, many hundreds of students would, due to his actions and directives, receive significant salary benefits at the expense of public fund, benefits that weren’t due these members of the security forces.”

Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah, a national-religious lobbying organization, said the case once again proves the necessity of separating the rabbinate from the political establishment.
“The system is broken,” said Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah chairman Shmuel Shetah.

Bakshi-Doron served as Sephardi chief rabbi of Israel from 1998 to 2003 and, as head of the Chief Rabbinical Council of Israel, authorized the issuance of the rabbinic credentials.

Following author Yoram Kaniuk's highly publicized legal struggle to be registered as "irreligious,"* which made it all the way to the District Court, 42 people on Thursday petitioned the High Court of Justice to attain the same status.

The petitioners, including journalist Yaron London and his partner author Michal Zamir, former Deputy Commander of the Israeli Air Force Amos Amir and poet Oded Carmeli, are demanding to be registered as "irreligious" without enduring a legal struggle.
[*“no religion”]

“I did not call for a complete recognition of Reform by the State of Israel,” Rabbi Yuval Cherlow wrote in an email to The Jewish Standard. 

“I oppose that. I called for us to reflect anew on how to enable someone who does not agree with what I think — about the fullness of halachah — to identify with the State of Israel.”

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, past president of the URJ, said that while Cherlow’s original statement neither endorsed nor embraced the Reform movement, “He is saying that the religious situation in Israel is a problem for American Jews; and while this is self-evident, Israelis don’t appreciate and recognize it.”

Calling Cherlow’s observation “a very important message,” he added that the situation creates “an obstacle to the close relations we want and need.”
Yoffie said that a second point Cherlow made is that Orthodox Jews needn’t make halachic compromises in order to deal with the issue.

“We’re not looking for halachic recognition from the Orthodox establishment,” he said. “We want equal treatment by the government of Israel.” Cherlow wants the State of Israel “to make a more inclusive arrangement, not a compromise in halachah,” he pointed out.

“It’s not what we’re asking for,” Yoffie said. “They can do things to move toward inclusiveness and recognition by the government without halachic compromises. This is an important point, for him to say that this is good for the Jewish people. We welcome it.”

As a major in the army reserve who served in the prestigious Sayeret Matkal unit, then made a fortune in Israel’s booming technology industry, Mr. Bennett embodies one popular vision of today’s Zionist ideal.

He wears the knitted kippa that is the religious-Zionist signature but lives in the affluent town of Raanana, north of Tel Aviv — and not in a West Bank settlement — because, he said, his wife is secular.

The Knesset’s synagogue would host its first ever Masorti egalitarian minyan if the Tzipi Livni Party wins the 13 seats necessary to elect New Jersey-born, North Carolina-raised Prof. Alon Tal in the January 22 election.

Besides heading the Green Movement and teaching environmental law at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Tal serves as gabai (sexton) of the Masorti Shalhevet Hamaccabim synagogue in Maccabim-Re’ut.

Tov, a moderate haredi political movement, has filed a request with the High Court of Justice to be included as a respondent to a petition filed by Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid party against a government decision allowing the Civilian Service Directorate to enlist 1,300 haredi men into its national service program by August 2013.

The Tov movement, which says it represents members of the haredi community who are disillusioned with the community’s traditional political leadership, heavily criticized the petition as politically motivated and not constructive.

The Vizhnitzer Rebbe, Rabbi Yisroel Hager, has called on yeshiva students not to report to IDF recruitment centers upon receiving their initial draft orders inviting them to begin the IDF screening process. The rabbi said he himself would take responsibility for the mutiny.

IDF sources have promised that they are currently working to ensure, among other things, that certain physical examinations will be undertaken only by male officials.

Discussing the Plesner committee's recommendation to designate a group of “diligent learners” who would be granted a full and permanent exemption, Deri said: “No one will decide for us who can and who cannot study Torah, who is gifted, who is a genius and who is not a genius.

Whoever heard of such a definition? Is that the intention of those who study Torah, who dedicate their lives...? Are we to give IQ tests, to see who is gifted and who isn’t?”

Shas doesn't intend “protect those who aren’t studying, that run around or take jobs off the books,” he said, but added: “Everyone who truly studies Torah will continue to learn and he will be respected. This is our line...for this we have come to do battle.”

By Yagir Levy

The significance of this is that the ability of religious soldiers to bargain over the issue of which mission will be placed on the army has been strengthened even further.  …

Now, however, this is no longer merely a question of negotiations within the army, or between the army and the hesder rabbis. Another important player has been added, in the form of one of the large factions in the Knesset, and apparently a partner in the next government.

Bennett's expression of refusal, against which left and right momentarily united eagerly, is a negligible threat. 

Much more dangerous is placing the directives of the rabbis above cabinet resolutions or military orders, not to mention the government's policy of sliding into the abyss, isolating Israel from the rest of the world and paving the way for Bennettism.

United Torah Judaism (UTJ) has written to the Central Election Committee asking that it ban a Kadima advertising campaign that the haredi party claims is false and constitutes incitement.

Kadima banners bear the slogan “NIS 350 for soldiers, NIS 3,400 for yeshiva students,” referring to the monthly financial disbursements paid by the state to IDF conscripts and full-time yeshiva students, respectively.

The Egged bus company on Sunday said it will allow Kadima to post campaign posters containing the words "yeshiva students" on its buses after initially refusing to do so. Meanwhile, the Central Elections Committee asked the Dan bus company for an answer on the matter.

Dan brought the issue to its lawyers, and did not acquiesce to Kadima’s requests to hang the advertisements on its buses.
The party hopes the Central Elections Committee will demand Dan do so.

By Elana Sztokman

It is impossible to fully address the abuses of the rabbinical court system without first understanding the gender dynamics involved. 

This is a system in which women are not allowed to be judges or witnesses, and therefore have no power and no voice. Calls to replace this system with another gendered system in which women still have no power or voice are ineffective. 

Reform of the system must include a systemic approach to the inherent gender imbalance that causes so much needless suffering to women.

Rebbetzin Levin is a graduate of the Jerusalem Nishmat Yoetzet Halachah programme, which trains women to offer guidance on areas of taharat hamishpachah—– encompassing aspects of marriage, sexuality and women’s health.

The three-justice panel of the Tel Aviv District Court on Monday, Baruch Hashem sided with a Jewish mother seeking to prevent her children’s non-Jewish father from taking the children to Holland.

In an answer to a question from the audience of students he was addressing, Bennett said, "These are two clashing values. I am for 'live and let live,' but this clashes with the values of Israel as a Jewish state. It has a set of family values. The state cannot absorb or contain official recognition of same-sex marriage."

A controversial presentation was waiting for those who were getting married or divorced at the Chief Rabbinate in Tel Aviv last week. 

Three drag queens (Nona Chalant, Lady G and Dixie D’boner) were waiting at the entrance to the place, demonstrating in protest before the forthcoming elections in Israel. The goal: to raise awareness of same-sex marriage in Israel. 

“People were wishing us Mazel Tov, until they realized that we were drag queens, and not a real couple who just got married.”

Israel's Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar recognized them as a lost tribe in 2005, and about 1,700 moved to Israel over the next two years before the government stopped giving them visas.
Israel recently reversed that policy, agreeing to let the remaining 7,200 Bnei Menashe immigrate.

The Kolbotek report documenting outrageous animal abuse in the Adom Adom slaughterhouse in Beit Shean has led some to turn to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel to revoke the company’s hashgacha.

The hidden camera documented regular unacceptable abuse of cattle before shechita, which has since led to international outrage along with demands to halt the sale of cattle to Israel from Australia.

The first engineering degree program in Israel designed specifically for haredi students was set to open on Monday at the Sami Shamoon College of Engineering (SCE) in Ashdod.

The college is launching a five-year degree program in civil and software engineering, which has been tailor-made for the lifestyle requirements of its 100 ultra-Orthodox participants.

The new degree program, comprising 70 men and 30 women, provides monthly stipends for the participating students totaling NIS 30,000 a year per student, which is paid for by the Halamish NGO, directed by businessman and industrialist Eitan Wertheimer.

The senior editor of a daily ultra-Orthodox newspaper was assaulted late Thursday night outside his Jerusalem home in what is thought to be a politically motivated attack.

Witnesses said two men - one who appeared to be Haredi and a second whose face was covered - ambushed Hapeles editor in chief Nati Grossman at the entrance of his home, in the capital's Bayit Vegan neighborhood.

But Rachel isn't on vacation. After suffering years of unspeakable abuse and cruelty in her own home, she fled to Bat Melech, the only organization in Israel that provides shelters for battered women from the national religious and ultra-Orthodox populations.

Together with 10 other women and their children, she is staying in the shelter, recovering from years of trauma and facing the challenge of beginning a new life in a sector of society that seems to deny that domestic abuse even exists.

… The women at the group's two shelters apparently represent only a fraction of those suffering domestic violence in the religious sector. His organization's hotline receives between 60 and 100 calls per month, says Korman.

Israelis who are not planning to vote in the upcoming Knesset elections can make some money out of it: The anti-Zionist Satmar Hasidic sect intends to pay every Israeli who promises not to vote, regardless of his or her religious affiliation.

According to sources involved in the move, each person submitting their identity card and driver's license on Election Day will receive $100 in cash.

Hiddush CEO Rabbi Uri Regev argued that the move was an alleged election bribe, adding that "Satmar Hasidim have a right to boycott the elections, but they must not offer a bribe to others. They must be informed that the Israeli law also applies to them."

A new initiative by a group of ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students in the north is gaining a growing following in the Haredi community. It calls on yeshiva students to refrain from discussing the upcoming election, and allows those who do so to enter a lottery twice a week that may net them a NIS 500 prize.

An ultra-Orthodox organization is demanding an immediate halt to work on a combined public, commercial and residential project in Ashkelon, saying that remnants of Jewish graves have been found at the location.

Police arrested a young ultra-Orthodox man last week after he was caught using a hammer to smash centuries-old painted wall tiles at King David’s Tomb in Jerusalem. He told police he did so because an older friend had advised him that “the tiles were stopping his prayers from reaching the tomb.” The man said he was hoping that his prayers for a bride would be answered.

A report in Ma’ariv claimed that Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Attias of Shas said in internal discussions that unless the party retains the Housing portfolio, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will not be able to form a government after the upcoming election.

“We don’t have anyone to go with, we are going together with him [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu],” Shas co-leader Aryeh Deri said on Saturday night. “I hope he also keeps the faith and takes us along," Deri said, adding that some leaders of his party were talking "openly” about excluding Shas.

Shas has been waging a tense battle with right-wing parties - the joint Likud Beiteinu roster on the one hand and Habayit Hayehudi on the other.

Rabbi Rafael Pinhasi, secretary of the Shas movement’s Council of Torah Sages, was caught on tape criticizing joint political leader Arye Deri for comments he has made claiming leadership of the party.

The Muslim authority managing the Temple Mount on Sunday dumped tons of unexamined earth and stones excavated from the holy site into a municipal dump, in violation of a High Court injunction, Maariv reported on Monday.

Israel’s top court in September 2004 prohibited removal of earth from the Temple Mount and ruled that, should it be necessary, the Antiquities Authority must be notified a month in advance so it may examine the earth for artifacts.

Hear the word "prophet" and the names Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jesus or Mohammed may come to mind. While these are figures from the distant past, Rabbi Shmuel Fortman Hapartzi is training a new generation of prophets for a new age.

The 16th annual Love of Poetry festival in Jerusalem opened yesterday. The festival is sponsored by the Mashiv Haruach poetry journal. This year’s theme is on the Jewish prophets and their prophecy as poets and poetry.

Mashiv Haruach called the prophets “the first social poets, or prophets of the revolution, who gave freedom to their spirits and based on them prophesized at the city gates Jewish poetry, the poetry of the world to come, daring and existential poetry.”

Haredi leaders expressed fury on Saturday night with the Jerusalem Municipality’s decision to allow a large Christmas tree to be displayed next to Jaffa Gate at the entrance to the Old City.
The city issued a permit to a private individual to set up a tree for three days last week. The permit ended on Thursday and the permit-holder removed the tree.

Forget Christmas fruitcake, eggnog and peppermint candy canes. At one particular family-run joint in Jaffa, customers celebrating the Christian holiday will be treated to a rather untraditional delicacy today: sufganiyot – the classic Hanukkah doughnuts.

“Israel is proud of its record of religious tolerance and pluralism, and Israel will continue to protect freedom of religion for all,” Netanyahu said. “And we will continue to safeguard places of Christian worship throughout our country.”

Aviv has joined a unique new Jewish-Arab singing group, the Jerusalem Youth Chorus, which is sponsored by the YMCA and is the brainchild of Micah Hendler, who recently graduated from Yale where he was a member of the university’s fabled Whiffenpoofs a cappella choir.

Rabbi David Rosen addresses participants at an interfaith prayer of unity at the King David Tower Museum, where organizers are proud to have assembled representatives of all the 'children of Abraham'.

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