Monday, February 25, 2013

Religion and State in Israel - February 25, 2013 (Section 1)

Religion and State in Israel

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

Knesset newcomer party Yesh Atid, with its eclectic slate of MKs from across the religious spectrum, set the ball rolling on Tuesday on what party members hope will be a weekly Knesset event: Torah study.

Party MKs Rabbi Shai Piron and Dr. Ruth Calderon invited parliamentarians and their staffs to the session, and were pleased to find more than 30 people, including 12 of Yesh Atid’s 19 faction members, gathered for the Knesset’s first ever “beit midrash”.

“MK Calderon stood on the speakers’ platform... and then the realization suddenly hit us; we are seeing in a live broadcast the new enlightenment, the new forces that have arisen and want to annihilate haredi society in its current form,” the website wrote in an editorial.

“Haredi society finds itself facing a much more complex threat [than the Enlightenment of the 18th and 19th centuries], against the demand from us to integrate into the secular Jewish society,” the article continued.

By Elana Sztokman

Israeli society has been trained to associate traditional Jewish sources with the ultra-Orthodox community, whose entire belief that only elite orthodox men can truly understand Talmud is at the heart of some of the most heated debates about social and economic issues in Israel. 

Suddenly, we had a secular feminist breaking all of the molds and expectations by owning the text.

By Zachary Braiterman

I found the whole event disturbing and pretentious, false and flat. Imagine the next time Calderon ascends the dais to make a political point. Which ancient tractate will she expect the assembled legislators to learn from then? 

And imagine if a haredi politician tried to pull this kind of stunt at the Knesset, or if a Congressperson or Senator sought to do the same with the New Testament at the U.S. Capitol. All hell would have broken out, rightly. Calderon somehow got away with it, which is too bad.

Calderon, in her 14-minute speech, described her personal journey toward Jewish texts — clutching a volume of the Talmud given to her by Lapid’s mother many years ago that “changed my life.”

Ruth Calderon presents a narrower challenge. What do we think about secular Jews turning with enthusiasm to the study of Torah – but entirely on their own terms?

By Elli Fischer

Yair Lapid understands that Judaism’s religious elements cannot be disentangled from national and cultural elements and acknowledges that earlier attempts to marginalize religion failed. 

Instead of struggling against religion, he has adopted a strategy of embracing Judaism while insisting that no particular manifestation or interpretation of it is privileged over any other.  With Orthodox Jews comprising nearly a third of the incoming Knesset and a growing percentage of Israel's total population, Lapid apparently fears the closing of the window of opportunity to alter the arrangement that forms the basis of Israel’s religious politics.  

His father tried with a head-on approach and failed; can the son's more pliant strategy succeed?

Extensive interview with MK Rabbi Dov Lipman

Yair Lapid understands that Judaism’s religious elements cannot be disentangled from national and cultural elements and acknowledges that earlier attempts to marginalize religion failed. 

Instead of struggling against religion, he has adopted a strategy of embracing Judaism while insisting that no particular manifestation or interpretation of it is privileged over any other. 

With Orthodox Jews comprising nearly a third of the incoming Knesset and a growing percentage of Israel's total population, Lapid apparently fears the closing of the window of opportunity to alter the arrangement that forms the basis of Israel’s religious politics. His father tried with a head-on approach and failed; can the son's more pliant strategy succeed?

By Gabi Sheffer

The only way to escape this intolerable situation is by separating religion and state, as is the case in many countries around the world. This will happen only when political parties and private citizens begin to demand it. The sooner the process begins the better it will be for Israel and for many Israelis – even those who are unaware of this issue's profound significance.

By Jeremy Rosen

Over the years, as the Charedi community has exploded, it has infiltrated and taken over the moderate rabbinate and has made increasingly hard-line demands on the rest of Israeli society. The scandalous state of conversions in Israel amply highlights this trend. If their uncompromising mentality becomes enshrined in Israeli law, it will lead to a paralysis of inter-human legislation and will only damage Israeli civil society.

By David Suissa

Sadly, because the Chief Rabbinate’s power grabs continue to dominate the image of religion in Israel, innovative movements that might improve this image — such as the spiritual revival among Israeli youth (visible in desert festivals) and the movement to study Talmud in the secular world — have gotten too little attention.

That’s a shame. This vibrant grass-roots religious scene in Israel ought to be of great interest to Jewish communities of the Diaspora.

By the same token, the pluralism and tolerance that we take for granted in America and that Israeli groups like Hiddush actively promote, are overdue for exporting to Israel.

The ITIM religious services and advocacy group has filed a petition with the High Court of Justice demanding that the Interior Ministry recognize Orthodox conversions performed in Israel in non-state Orthodox rabbinical courts.

ITIM’s petition argues that the ministry has exceeded its authority by essentially monopolizing the ability to determine who is a Jew, and demands that it make public its criteria for establishing this.

The organization also requested in its suit that the court issue an injunction against the Interior Ministry, to compel it to recognize the conversion of the two women, who are party to its suit, together with two further cases.

ITIM director Orthodox Rabbi Seth Farber said that the petition was “a good opportunity to open doors of conversion to more people who are looking for alternative Orthodox conversion routes.”

Several hundred mixed-race Peruvian converts, also known as the “Jews of the Amazon,” are not being granted permission to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return, despite meeting all the requirements for eligibility, Jewish Agency and Conservative Movement leaders charge.

Yizhar Hess, the director of the Conservative movement in Israel, who participated in this morning’s session, told Haaretz: “Hundreds of Jews are waiting today in Peru to immigrate to Israel, and their only sin is that they are Conservative.”

Rabbi Andrew Sacks, director of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly in Israel, told Haaretz that based on his experience with converts, “when they are people of color, they are guaranteed to run into a roadblock and obfuscation in their attempts to make aliyah.”

By Rabbi Marc D. Angel
[This article appeared previously in Haaretz, February 8, 2013 - premium content]

When religion slips into power politics, it is religion itself that becomes sullied. It is not surprising that a high percentage of the Israeli population has little respect for the Rabbanut. It is not surprising that a very high percentage of Jews in the Diaspora view the Rabbanut negatively. 

As symbols of religion, the Rabbanut and its allies have been remarkable failures. Instead of inspiring respect and admiration for Judaism and halakha, the “religious establishment” has generated disdain for—even hatred of—Judaism and halakha. 

The further it slips away from the spiritual and compassionate ideals of religion, the further it removes itself from the goodwill of the Jewish world.

By Jeffrey Woolf

The Conversion question stands at the center of a much broader debate, comprehending many different, if related topics. 

Discussion of the question of 'Who is a Jew?', for obvious reasons, tends to quickly become very personal, and very nasty. This is certainly understandable. It is also unhelpful. If we are to address the question, we need to restrain our passions and speak with our heads, as much as with our hearts. We also need to be better informed voters and citizens.

By Rabbi Andrew Sacks

[T]he time has come to stop ignoring the elephant in the room. It is time to call for those who make decisions as to which converts to Judaism may make Aliyah based on issues other than the facts, and the demands of the law, to either change their ways or be fired.  

As one who recognizes that firing is not really an option in the bureaucracy of the government I would accept that those involved be pushed upstairs, aside, out, or to some nihilarian division.

Yaakov dreams of becoming the first rabbi to lead the Kaifeng Jewish community, a small Jewish community in China's Henan province, in more than 200 years. This week, he got one step closer to that goal. After immersing himself in the Hod Hasharon town mikveh, a ritual bath, and affirming his acceptance of the mitzvot, he was officially pronounced a Jew.

Transport Ministry Director General Uzi Yitzhaki ordered disciplinary measures against the Egged bus company, after one of its drivers did not stop an attack on a student who got on a bus last weekend and was verbally harassed by haredi passengers.

"Everyone who got on the bus told me to move to the back, they said I was impure and yelled that everyone should say the Traveler's Prayer very loudly because there's an impurity in the bus."

"On a break in Megido Junction I got off to talk to the police officers. When I got back on I saw on my seat a note which said: 'We're all kosher Jews, please help us keep kosher and move to the back, where the women sit."

“It’s time the law defined the segregation of women as a crime,” newly elected MK Yael German (Yesh Atid) said in a statement Sunday. “The segregation of women is a phenomenon endangering the future of Israeli society. It is the state’s responsibility to stop this phenomenon from growing,” she wrote.

A few days later, Rinat Am Shalom, an ultra-Orthodox young woman with a baby, boarded the same bus line from Tzfat to Ashdod and sat in the fourth row of the bus. 

She experienced similar yelling and threats from many of the ultra-Orthodox male passengers. Despite the continued harassment, Am Shalom did not move to the back of the bus, where the rest of the women were sitting.

The High Court of Justice has given the Education Ministry 100 days to prepare a plan for including the Haredi schools in the Meitzav standardized achievement test, which all public schools in Israel must administer. The test is given to elementary and middle school students around the country.

The hearing took place in the presence of Supreme Court President Justice Asher Grunis. He discussed the petition from the Reform Movement, which asked that the High Court of Justice instruct the ministry to have the schools administer the tests and revoke the budget of any school that refused.

If not for the Reform Movement’s petition to the High Court, it is doubtful whether the Education Ministry would have done anything to change the situation. 

In previous rounds of court hearings the ministry would pull out its card of “dialogue” with Haredi leaders and warned against judicial intervention, and promised that real change was just around the corner. 

Those promises were baseless. Based on their remarks Thursday, it seems the justices were also tired of hearing the Education Ministry’s evasive excuses.

Following the court's decision, the Ministry of Education has been charged with the task of developing a plan within 100 days to implement the standardized tests. Rabbi Regev concluded that, "the ultra-Orthodox leadership must be presented with a clear choice: If they are determined to continue to provide partial education to their students, it's going to come from their own pockets and not from the piggy bank of the rest of Israeli tax-payers."

The government says Gold has not fulfilled the criteria set by the state for non-Orthodox rabbis. Gold and her allies say the criteria are onerous and unfairly set different conditions for Orthodox and non-Orthodox rabbis.

In a bid to challenge the rules, Gold, another non-Orthodox Israeli rabbi, and the Conservative and Reform movements filed a new court petition last week.

Two months ago, the Ministry of Culture and Sport released its new criteria for non-Orthodox rabbis to collect state salaries. To be eligible, the rabbis must work full-time and be present at their congregation for at least 40 Sabbaths per year. Only rabbis of congregations with at least 250 members can receive full-time pay; those leading congregations of 50-250 members may receive half a salary even though they’d be required to work full-time.

By contrast, Orthodox rabbis do not need to work a certain number of hours, and there is no minimum size requirement for their congregations to qualify for salaries.

Rehovot residents have won their struggle against a planned ritual bath in the heart of one of its secular neighborhoods, with the Supreme Court quashing an appeal from the city's religious council and closing the matter for good.

The court sided with the residents. “It seems that there was no sufficiently in-depth demographic survey of the residents and their needs,” the ruling read.

The Knesset held a special session on Wednesday morning to discuss the issue of agunot, or “chained women” whose husbands refuse to give them a bill of divorce, thereby preventing them from getting remarried.

The conference was an initiative of Yesh Atid MK Aliza Lavie and the International Coalition for Aguna Rights, ahead of International Aguna Day, which takes place as it does every year on the Fast of Esther, which is marked this year on Thursday.

By Rachel Levmore

How many more years is Jewish society going to mark Agunah Day on Taaanit Esther (the day of fasting, which falls on Feb 21st this year)? When will all the sectors of Orthodoxy agree that settling each case piecemeal (i.e. paying off the husbands that actually deign to talk to the rabbis or having the rabbinical hands tied in the cases where the husband simply refuses or has disappeared) is not acceptable to society as a whole? 

How long are we all going to wait for a systematic rabbinic solution to the agunah problem?

By Rachel Levmore

[W]hat Dr. Goldfine has taught us is that the entire Jewish community needs protection from the blight that rips away at our social fabric—get-refusal and iggun. There are halakhic solutions available to the agunah problem, which when consensually agreed upon will afford that protection. But it takes every member of that community to put that protection in place – for the community’s own sake.

By Rachel Levmore

The agunah problem is multi-faceted – involving rabbis, the civil family court, the rabbinical court, government ministries and committees, societal mores, individuals and the legislature. It can be solved by each of the aforementioned components first recognizing the problem and then cooperating in a coalition to bring about solutions.

Now is the time for each of the contenders to the formation of the next government of Israel to take the lead and to relate to the very core of the status of women in a Jewish-democratic state.

Supreme Court President Asher Grunis has overruled the High Court of Justice and given the Rabbinical Appeals Court the power to decide the fate of a man jailed for refusing for 10 years to grant his wife a divorce. Grunis’ decision was blasted by womens’ groups as grossly unjust.

“The Rabbinical Court ruling, now backed by the High Court, is a slippery slope,” said attorney Batia Kahana-Dror of Mavoi Satum.

The Central Bureau of Statistics figures showed that 9,262 marriages that took place abroad were reported to the Interior Ministry in 2010.

Some 1,533 of those marriages were of couples in which both spouses were Jewish. 797 of those couples, totaling 52 percent of the marriages, were conducted in Cyprus or the Czech Republic, representing 2.2% of the total number of Jewish marriages conducted in 2010.

The remainder of the 1,533 Jewish couples that got married abroad in 2010 wed in the US, Canada, France, the states of the former Soviet Union, the UK and Australia.
The ministry says that Jewish couples marrying in these countries marry in Jewish, rather than civil, ceremonies.

Among couples in which one of the partners is Jewish and the other is not included in the census registration, about half were married in the US and in a former Soviet country (31% and 18%, respectively) and others were married in the United Kingdom and Australia (3-4%).

In Israel, where there is no separation between religion and state, the Orthodox conversion law maintains that a child born to a non-Jewish surrogate mother – as most of the North American surrogates, and certainly all those in India and elsewhere in Asia would be – needs to be converted to be considered Jewish. This is the case even if the sperm donor is Jewish, and even if both the sperm and egg donor are both Jews. The law pertains to all couples in Israel – heterosexual and homosexual – wishing to register their children born with the help of non-Jewish surrogates.

But while such a conversion would be little more than a formality when it comes to the babies of Jewish heterosexual couples, there is a problem when it comes to the gay community. The conversion board, which, according to halakha, or Jewish law, does not accept homosexual couples, cannot and will not convert babies whom they know will be brought up in a gay household.

"Instead of taking the responsibility [for that power] and behaving with statesmanship, resolving all the problems using solutions that exist in halakha, they are doing the opposite, flexing their muscle and stressing who has the power," Michaeli said at a Knesset debate on agunot, or women whose husbands refuse to grant them a divorce.

Michaeli added that she hoped the present Knesset would have the spine to abolish the rabbis' exclusive powers over "how we live our lives… divorce, marriage and personal status."

Until such time, she said, the only solution is not to marry in Israel. "Make agreements and ceremonies, but don't register as married," she urged women.

Interview with Rabbi David Stav

On the day we support civil marriages, we will effectively be saying that we have despaired of the state’s Jewishness. That the Zionist dream is over, that the vision of Rabbi [Zvi Yehuda] Kook has faded. Many people tell us, “Thanks to Tzohar, people are still getting married through the Rabbinate. If it weren’t for you, we could just as well shut down the Rabbinate.” 

That is true. We are the last barrier before the collapse of the Rabbinate. And we believe in the importance of that institution, because we believe in the state and we believe in Judaism.

It is the state’s role to provide everything that is necessary, at the bureaucratic level, in order to remove every obstacle. In regard to the halakha, I do not intend to compromise in any way.

Supporters of Rabbi Igra have organized their own electoral event on Thursday for the selection of the candidate who, as they put it, will get the stamp of approval of the leading religious Zionist rabbis.

Dozens of rabbis are expected to convene tomorrow in Jerusalem, most of whom are identified with the conservative wing of religious Zionism, but the entire initiative is the work of backers of one candidate, Igra, who in addition to heading the Be'er Sheva religious court is currently on temporary assignment on the Supreme Rabbinical Court.

By David M. Weinberg

In June 98 rabbis, 35 mayors and 17 public figures will vote in secret ballot to elect Israel’s next chief rabbis for a 10-year term. But in truth, the identity of the new chief rabbis will likely be determined between now and March 17 in the current negotiations for formation of a new coalition government.

Shas officials have been working over recent months to have the term of Rishon L’Tzion HaGaon HaRav Moshe Shlomo Amar extended for an additional 10 years, permitting him to continue serving as Israel’s Chief Sephardi Rabbi.

By Leah Aharoni

[T]here are other “Women of the Wall” you may not have heard about.  Their gathering place is in a small grotto inside the Kotel Tunnels, opposite the place of kodesh hakedoshim – the Holy of Holies. Without PR and cameras, they build their own significant Judaism – the Judaism of sincere prayer and heartfelt emotion. Theirs is an authentic connection best described by Rav Shimshon Pinkus as sharing a secret with God.

By Dan Brown

American Jews do not want a new compromise that will relegate them to the back of the bus or the fringes of the holy mountain. American Jews want the struggle over a free and open Kotel to be the crucible that reignites affiliation and love for Israel, rather than the grinding sore that pushes Jews away.
It’s time American Jews had representatives who want the same thing.

Novelist A.B. Yehoshua created waves once again Sunday evening, telling a group of over 200 American Jews that if they really want to be Jewish, they should move to Israel, since Israeli Jews are “total” Jews, while those living in the Diaspora are only “partial” Jews.

On Thursday, February the 28th 2013 the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Liberty organize in cooperation with the Israeli Religion Action Center and the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzeliya a conference on the topic: “State and Religion – Israel 2013”
The conference will take place at the IDC-Campus in Herzeliya and will be held in Hebrew with translation into English.
Please confirm your participation with:
To view the program, please click here

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