Thursday, March 21, 2013

Religion and State in Israel - March 21, 2013 (Section 1)

Religion and State in Israel

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

By Rabbi Rick Jacobs

As essential as the bond of Zionism, so, too is the desire for all the Jewish streams to be treated equally in the homeland of the Jewish people. … 

If the President is to meet with any religious leadership, he should signal his appreciation for the religious expressions of the majority of the American Jews by meeting as well with the leaders of the growing Israeli Reform and Conservative Movements.  

To do otherwise would be a deep disappointment to many of his Jewish constituents in the United States.

A wedding organized by the Reform Movement in Israel was conducted for a young couple by rabbis from the movement outside the Knesset Monday morning, ahead of the induction of the new government, to highlight the lack of recognition for non-Orthodox Jewish denominations in Israel.

Writing on her Facebook page, MK Stav Shaffir said that the wedding had presented the government with its first test: “the test of religious freedom.”

“Will this government free our religion from the monopolistic forces which dominate it?” Shaffir asked. “Will it loosen the grasp that these forces have on our daily lives, on the relationship between us and the regulation of our social and political status? Or the subjugation of a wide variety of elements of our lives – from the most intimate places and up to the control of the public space itself?”

According to the Hiddush organization, which campaigns for religious freedom, the coalition agreement includes a clause that any legislative changes on matters of religion will require the consensus of “all members of the coalition”. 

That clause gives Jewish Home veto power over any legislation to advance religious freedom and pluralism, Hiddush warned.

“The lack of attention to religious freedom in the coalition agreements is a source of grave concern,” said Hiddush president Uri Regev.

“It may indicate that Yesh Atid has not fully resolved its own internal differences of opinion on these subjects. The public’s great expectations from Yair Lapid’s party to advance religious freedom may fizzle out.”

According to Hiddush's analysis, the timetable for the plan is the main weakness of Yesh Atid's agreement. 

Implementation of mandatory service was postponed by four years, namely, to the end of the new government's term (assuming that it will complete a full term which is not self-evident) the core curriculum plan was postponed by two years and it is not clear if Yesh Atid will have the political clout to enforce the implementation when the time arrives.

Rabbi Uri Regev, Hiddush President noted that, "the fact that religious freedom is hardly addressed in the coalition agreements is a source of grave concern and may indicate the limited value that Yesh Atid actually attaches to this topic, as opposed the great importance its constituency attached to it. 

It may also indicate that Yesh Atid has not fully resolved its own internal differences of opinion on these subjects.

The new coalition agreements between Likud-Beytenu, Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi may result in sweeping changes on many fronts, ranging from the control of religious institutions to the very identity of the state.

For the first time, the new coalition’s agreements did not include a commitment to the “status quo” that has governed the ties between religion and the state since Israel’s creation.

By Rabbi David Golinkin

Indeed, the Torah belongs to the entire Jewish people and not just to the minority which defines itself as "Orthodox" or "ultra-Orthodox". 

The mission of the Schechter non-profits for the past 28 years is to teach Torah throughout the State of Israel to every Jewish man and woman, boy and girl, in an open and pluralistic fashion. ...

The total budget of all four non-profits is less than 8 million dollars per year, but the State of Israel until now has not funded us because of the mistaken notion that Judaism only belongs to the "Orthodox" and the "ultra-Orthodox". 

Most of our donors live in North America and they ask: Where are the Israelis? Why don’t they support their own Jewish education? The question is justified and deserves an answer.

In a show of continued support of religious diversity in Israel, the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago has made $300,000 in grants for 2013 to fund three new and 12 ongoing programs in the Reform (Progressive), Conservative (Masorti), Modern Orthodox and Transdenominational religious movements.

Of the total, Progressive (Reform) movement programs will receive $102,000; Conservative movement programs - split between the Masorti movement and the Schechter Institute - will receive $102,000; and Modern Orthodox and Transdenominational programs will together receive a total of $96,000.

Habayit Hayehudi’s assumption of the Religious Services Ministry must be viewed in the context of party chairman Naftali Bennett’s desire to effect a religious Zionist revolution. Will the ministry receive the radical changes it so desperately needs, or will it keep on providing jobs for political hacks while ineffectively serving the public?

According to people in the negotiating teams, Habayit Hayehudi demanded two areas of authority that have not been returned to the ministry − responsibility for the rabbinic courts, which is still with the Justice Ministry, and responsibility for the yeshiva budgets, currently with the Education Ministry.

Among the changes expected in the [Religious Affairs] ministry are the establishment of a Jewish identity administration, the transfer of jurisdiction over the holy sites from the Tourism Ministry to the Religious Services Ministry, and oversight over the conversion apparatus. ... The ministry will gain responsibility for issues relating to shmita ...

By Anat Hoffman

Some converts are particularly discriminated against. Each year, dozens of African Americans who converted to Judaism abroad make Aliyah. 

When they arrive here they go through intense scrutiny because of fears that they are connected to the Hebrew Israelites, a community of African-Americans in Dimona whose members are not recognized as Jewish. During this process, the converts are not granted a work visa, or medical benefits, like other olim. Sometimes they are deported prematurely, like Mr. Maxfield.

Paragraph 16 states, “A Jewish identity administration shall be established in the Religious Services Ministry to support various activities dealing with this area.”

It is not clear what these activities are or what is meant by “Jewish identity.” But we can be quite certain that the administration will fund all of the agencies established over the past few years to “spread the doctrine” of religious Zionism.

Bennett also scored a victory for the religious school system. Over the past two decades, many private schools have been established for religious-Zionist pupils, particularly at the high-school level.

Among Yesh Atid's achievements is the abolition of funding for yeshiva students who are not residents of Israel. Until now, the state gave non-Israeli students two-thirds the amount provided to their Israeli peers.

Dormitory discounts for kollel students – students at yeshivot for married men – will be limited to five years, beginning this year.

The first provision, requiring the creation of a core curriculum, is essentially a declaration of war on Haredi society and they will likely react that way. 

As a result, the odds of the provision being implemented are low, especially given that Netanyahu still sees the Haredim as eternal political partners.

By Anat Hoffman

We at the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) have made equality in education a key component of our work for the coming year. 

Thanks to a recent petition filed by our attorneys the Supreme Court has ordered the Ministry of Education to formulate a plan in the next 100 days for standardized tests in the Haredi school system. 

This is an important first step in leveling the playing field for all Israeli students.

The final version of the plan to draft Haredim into the Israel Defense Forces, completed two days ago by members of the new coalition, has the potential to be a historic breakthrough. 

For the first time, an ambitious attempt has been made not only to find an alternative to the Tal Law, which exempted the ultra-Orthodox from military service, but also to reach a comprehensive agreement to help the Haredim integrate into the job market.

The plan, to be implemented by 2017, will set a limit of 1,800 yeshiva students who will be given a complete exemption each year from national service at the age of 21 and who will receive a higher stipend than at present.

They will be obligated to study until 26 and will be subject to personal economic sanctions if they evade their obligations.

Analysis of data for deferring military service by age which the State Prosecutor filed with the High Court of Justice last summer by Hiddush for Religious Freedom and Equality found that 48,000 yeshiva students will receive a full exemption from military service under the sharing the burden structure that will be applied by the new government.

The 1,800 students exempt from service will receive ongoing state support until age 26, and at a higher rate than currently granted. 

All other yeshiva students will be able to postpone their national service for three years until the age of 21, but will not be funded after that age.

A yeshiva student with a government-granted military exemption will be subject to financial penalties if he halts his full-time studies before the age of 26.

In August, when this adjustment period begins yeshiva students over 22 that didn't serve in the military and were not exempt from service, some 57,000 people will be summoned and offered an ultimatum between military service and a professional training program that would give them the tools to enter the workforce.

By Idan Grinbaum

The really big challenge is to get the ultra-Orthodox out of the rabbinical colleges and into the labor market. 

One battalion more or less is not going to fundamentally change the security situation, but thousands more professionally trained workers can do wonders for the Israeli economy, which is crying out nowadays for any extra boosting it can get.
By Ronen Zvulun

If the country wants to draft the ultra-Orthodox, it must first educate them towards their mobilization. 

And since it is clear to all that the draft will promote the integration of the ultra-Orthodox in the labor market, the government must insist that they be prepared for army service by studying those subjects that will connect them to the reality of the 21st century. 

Core studies are also vital in preparing those enlisting in national service: one does not have to be a great Zionist to understand the problems in Israeli society and the need for volunteers in the police, the hospitals and welfare system.

“The optimistic assumption that it will be possible to start obligating hareidi men to serve in 2017 has no basis in political reality,” the group said. 

“In another four years there will be a new government, and the first thing the hareidi parties will demand is the cancellation of the [enlistment] law.”

Like the messages on its digital counterpart, the pashkevils, too, are posted on walls and quickly devoured by the public. But while pashkevils normally declaim the edicts of rabbinic leaders, those in this car trunk brazenly challenge their pronouncements by advocating army service.

The presence of the two clauses in the coalition deal between the Likud and Bayit Yehudi is thought to be proof positive that the possibility exists that the national-religious party has agreed to support a second term for Amar, while Shas will support, or at the very least not oppose, the candidacy of Rabbi David Stav, a leading national-religious candidate and chairman of the Tzohar rabbinical association.

Freshly appointed Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben-Dahan of Bayit Yehudi, who will be running the ministry, will have particular influence on the selection process since he will appoint 20 members of the selection committee.

In an apparent oversight on behalf of Bayit Yehudi, the coalition agreement between the national-religious party and Likud Beytenu may pave the way for the reelection as chief rabbis of both Rabbi Shlomo Amar and Rabbi Yona Metzger.

The seeming mistake was likely made out of a desire in Bayit Yehudi to garner support from Shas and Amar for a national-religious Ashkenazi chief rabbi by allowing Amar himself to continue as Sephardi chief rabbi.

The terms of the coalition deal as it was agreed, however, would not prevent Metzger for standing again for the Ashkenazi post.

One of the new Knesset's firsts acts was to approve on Tuesday an expedited legislative procedure for a government bill that extends the term of the chief rabbis by four months.

The bill was approved in the second and third readings with the support of 62 Knesset members, both from the coalition and the opposition. Only five United Torah Judaism MKs voted against the proposal.

Male MKs from Nafatli Bennett's party Habayit Hayehudi have refused to sign a petition aimed at ensuring that women be appointed to the selection committee that chooses chief rabbis.

The petition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, initiated by Yesh Atid MK Dr. Aliza Lavie, has the support of over 40 parliamentarians, including two women MKs from Habayit Hayehudi, Ayalet Shaked and Shuli Mualem. But the party's male MKs refused to sign the document.

Currently, the 150-member selection committee that appoints the chief rabbis includes only one woman – Netanya Mayor Miriam Fierberg.

Restobar, one of the few restaurants in central Jerusalem that was open on Shabbat, shut its doors Monday after its landlord refused to renew the lease unless the establishment closed on the Jewish day of rest.

Shahar and Avigail Levy, the owners of the eight-year-old restaurant-bar located in Rehavia, announced the closure on their Facebook page Monday morning.

According to Shahar Levy, the landlord “said in this messianic fashion, ‘blessing will come to you from the minute you close on Shabbat; it will do you good.’ Until the last minute we thought it would work out, but in the end, to our regret, we had to give up the site.”

Dozens of protesters took to the street opposite the prime minister’s house in Jerusalem Monday, but it wasn’t government policy they were demonstrating against. It was the threat of closure looming over the nearby Restobar café.

"Those who like to gloat will see poetic justice in the fact that we are closing just before Passover," said Levy, "because thanks to Restobar businesses are allowed to sell bread during Passover. We were sued for it and we won in court."

Ofer Berkowitz, the head of Jerusalem's Awakening movement, said, "The closure of Restobar, an important secular Jerusalem institution, requires Awakening to take a stand and act on the matter. In Jerusalem, there is a true need for more leisure spots to be open on Shabbat and not the closure of existing spots."

Any real estate developer would lick his chops at the opportunity to tear down the building and construct a huge residential tower in its place, with perhaps a kosher restaurant on the ground floor.

By Rachel Levmore

There is no need to pity the prisoner. For he holds the key to his own freedom. In a matter of minutes he can agree to obey the ruling of the Rabbinical Court and free his wife from the chains in which he has bound her by giving her a get. At that very moment, he too will literally be set free. Right there in the courtroom, his chains will be removed and he will be a free man.

(Brandeis Series on Gender, Culture, Religion, and Law & HBI Series on Jewish Women) [Paperback]
The book tells the true stories of six women in the process of divorce in Israeli Rabbinic Courts who end up “trapped… for reasons they did not understand, in a legal system where the rules are not clear, run by divine fiat with which there is no negotiation.”

The authors analyze the stories through the lens of human rights and call for institution of civil marriage and divorce in Israel in accordance with proposals introduced by Professor Pinhas Shifman.

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