Thursday, January 3, 2013

Religion and State in Israel - January 3, 2013

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 Rabbi Gilad Kariv
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, executive director at the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, is currently running for a place on the Labor Party’s Knesset list.

The basic idea is for the various religious institutions to be recognized as voluntary associations operating on the basis of the free will of their members and of people who avail themselves of their services. 

This institutional separation notwithstanding, the state will continue to support the activities of the various ethnic and religious communities and religious streams the way it does with regard to a wide variety of communal, educational and cultural services. 

But its assistance will be given on a purely egalitarian and objective basis, without any hint of it conferring governmental status on any religious stream or institution.

The separation between religious institutions and the organs of state will create a proper balance between Israel as a Jewish state and its basic democratic values, including its obligation to defend and promote freedom of religion and conscience.

By Jan Ruderman
The author is president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, which works to strengthen the connection between Israel and American Jewry.

Israeli Knesset members don't understand the complexity of American Jewry, and it's not certain that those who will enter the Knesset after the upcoming election know or understand what Israel's situation is with American Jews. 

The foundation I head, working in conjunction with Brandeis University, brought two delegations of Knesset members from various parties to the United States to expand their knowledge of the American Jewish community. 

We were stunned to discover just how vital and necessary this was.

The Rackman Center for the Advancement of Women’s Status at the Bar-Ilan University faculty of law has petitioned Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein on behalf of a number of women’s organizations regarding the composition of the assembly that chooses Israel's chief rabbis.

The group has urged the attorney general “to make certain the bodies upon whom this is incumbent are indeed aware of their legal, social and moral obligation to appoint women to the selection assembly.”

The women's rights organizations – The Center for Women’s Justice, WIZO, Na’amat, the Ohr Torah Stone Yad L’Isha Legal Aid Center and Hotline, Emunah and the Rackman Center – say the current makeup of the selection assembly includes only two women (out of 150 members): Netanya Mayor Miriam Feirberg-Ikar and Herzliya Mayor Yael German.

By Irit Rosenblum
Irit Rosenblum is the founder and executive director of the New Family Organization.

Where is the protest? 

Why do we blindly accept the decree that only a man and a woman of the same faith and nationality can wed in Israel? 

Why do we let the Chief Rabbinate decide which Jews can marry other Jews or anyone at all? 

Why do we let the rabbinate ordain an elite clique of male Orthodox clergy while marriage by rabbis from other streams is illegal? 

Why do we accept that adherents of faiths not recognized in Israel, or that don't meet the religious definition of any faith, are "religion-less" and can only marry one another?

By Rabbi John Rosove

Despite the strong support in the country for Tzohar, this DOES NOT MEAN RELIGIOUS FREEDOM for Jews in Israel. (Note: See comment below from Rabbi Stanley Davids of Jerusalem who explains this more fully). Even with a more moderate Chief Rabbinate, religious affairs would still be controlled by an Orthodox rabbinate.

… What is really necessary is the abolition of the Chief Rabbinate altogether along with its strangle-hold over Israeli religious life and the disbursement of government funds almost exclusively to Orthodox institutions. This means nurturing a religiously pluralistic society.

Concerns have been voiced that criteria established for the appointment of a new head of the State Conversion Authority have been too narrowly defined, and that any candidate seeking serious reforms will be turned away.

ITIM says that if the incoming leadership of the State Conversion Authority “does not put forward a bold enough vision for converting tens of thousands of Israelis of Jewish descent,” the religious rights advocacy group will embark on a national campaign to decentralize conversion in Israel via the legal system and the High Court of Justice.

“These people were brought here as Jews, and they deserve to be accepted as full members of the Jewish community,” Farber said.

“The aliya of those of Jewish descent is not a thorn in our side, as haredim would have it, but rather an opportunity,” he added.

“We are not missionaries, but at this moment in Jewish history there is a halachic imperative, particularly for those of Jewish descent who are living in Israel, to enable as many people as want to convert to have that opportunity.”

By fall of 2006, Freund’s group was ready to bring 218 converted Bnei Menashe Jews to Israel. But at the last minute, the government of India protested against what it viewed as Jewish missionary activity. The group came, but further organized immigration came to a halt.

This remained the case until this fall, when the Israeli government finally agreed to allow immigration to start up again. So, what changed?

Freund insisted that the government caved because he “was finally able to convince them that this is truly a wondrous mitzvah, an imperative for Israel and the Jewish people.”

By Anshel Pfeffer

For those who keep kosher it means taking a bit more responsibility and not just relying on a piece of paper hung on the wall. If you care about this and live in or are visiting Jerusalem, you can actually do something about it. Seek out these restaurants (there is a list on Facebook).

When you arrive, have a chat with the owners or one of their employees about how they respect the laws of kashrut and their religious customers without coercion. If people do not support them with their patronage, they will be forced to close or submit themselves to supervisors again. If they succeed, other non-certified restaurants will follow their lead.

There is a real chance here for those of us fed up with financing a corrupt and venal structure and hearing about the rabbinate's battles with Christmas trees and belly-dancers to finally make a change.

Israel’s chief rabbis Wednesday issued a letter of support for the Efrat organization, which works to prevent abortions in Israel and has recently been the focus of public controversy.

This year they called for “making the wider public aware of the extreme seriousness involved in killing fetuses, which is like actual murder.”

In the letter, the rabbis instructed the marriage departments in the country’s religious councils to continue distributing the booklet “For a Happy Marriage” that was produced by Efrat, due to “its great importance and necessity.”

A group of feminists plans to protest outside next week’s Jerusalem Conference over the decision to award a prize to the anti-abortion organization Efrat.

B’Sheva, a weekly religious national magazine, sponsors the yearly Jerusalem Conference and honors an individual or organization each year with the Jerusalem Prize.

This year, the conference will award the prize to Efrat, which tries to provide women with alternatives to abortion, including financial support and counseling.

By Roni Abramson

Two years ago, at a racist, right-wing demonstration, we stayed silent when signs reading “The Jewish womb belongs to the Jewish people” were hoisted. 

Now, let us shout to the heavens, go out into the streets and destroy Efrat's misleading and humiliating billboards. 

Let us raise our voices in opposition to the humiliating medical committees and be the masters of our fates. We have worth – and not just when we are pregnant.

Dr. Aliza Lavie, a religious member of Yesh Atid, was the only woman who hesitated to support civil marriage, and was also under pressure when questioned about the Efrat anti-abortion group.

Next week, many politicians from different parties will attend the Jerusalem Conference, where Efrat will be awarded a prize.

"We decided, at Yesh Atid, that during the election campaign we won't boycott anyone," Lavi responded, but clarified that she does not support the organization's activities.

"A woman must take responsibility for her body, and no one should be allowed to interfere with that," she said.

Medical issues comprise a significant chunk of Jewish law (halacha) – and when they concern gynecology, fertility, obstetrics, family purity and other intimate matters, many observant women feel uncomfortable consulting with Orthodox male rabbis. 

To overcome such reticence, which could even lead to ignoring Jewish practices because women are too shy to ask questions, the profession of female halacha consultants (yoatzot halacha) was established a decade ago.

The service is provided free by Nishmat – the Jerusalem Center for Advanced Study for Women – which was founded by Rabbanit Chana Henkin.

Attorney Batya Kahana-Dror, the executive director of Mavoi Satum, argues that "the state cannot abandon its citizens to the goodwill of the Chief Rabbinate. 

It is up to party leaders to resolve this challenging social problem. They have to stop the get from being used as a blackmailing tool before the couple weds and make every couple sign the mutual respect agreement when registering their marriage”.

After four years of deliberations, a rabbinic court in Rishon LeTzion, Israel, awarded a husband a 'get', and also determined that his wife’s affair with her female supervisor was tantamount to infidelity, and therefore rejected her plea for alimony, Mynet reports.

The game took place last week between Elitzur Ra’anana against a team from the town of Alfei Menashe. The two teams were ready for the first tip-off when the coach of the Ra’anana team, who had travelled to Alfei Menashe, saw that the Alfei Menashe team had a girl playing on the team - a rosy-cheeked blonde ten-year-old named Shiran Grinbaum. The Ra'anana coach stopped the game. No girls allowed, he said.

Earlier this month, the Ramat Gan Family Court made Even and Amit Kama – who had married in a civil ceremony in Canada – not only the first same-sex couple in the country to be granted a divorce, but also the first Jewish couple to be given a divorce by a body other than the Rabbinate. 

That, say legal experts, is a precedent-setting ruling that could erode the ultra-Orthodox Rabbinate’s exclusive monopoly over divorce among Jews in Israel.

Even, whose initial divorce application had simply been ignored by the Rabbinate and rejected by the Interior Ministry, says he was greatly relieved by the ruling.

Religious gays' battle for rabbinical and communal recognition continues to bear fruit: Rabbi Dr. Aharon Lichtenstein, a senior Religious Zionism rabbi, has ruled that people with homosexual inclinations should not be condemned more than Shabbat desecrators or frauds.
According to the rabbi, the religious public must rise above its feelings of aversion and soften the "aggressive" attitude towards homosexuals and lesbians.

By Isi Leibler

As a lifelong Religious Zionist, I was saddened observing the ongoing collapse of the movement which had made a unique and valuable contribution to the welfare of the nation, upholding enlightened Jewish values, striving for unity and promoting tolerance.

Students of Bnei Akiva's Or Etzion army preparation high school were greeted with curses and dirty diapers while visiting the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim last Thursday.

The students, who were dressed in IDF uniform, were in the midst of a tour aimed at getting to know the haredi public, but some of the neighborhood's radical residents were unhappy with the idea.

Religious girls, though, are showing an increased interest in the IDF. The army’s manpower division revealed in December that the number of girls attending this year’s annual event for religious female 12th-graders was three times higher than for the inaugural event three years ago.

This past year, 1,728 religious girls, roughly a quarter of the graduating class of national religious girls’ schools, joined the IDF. That number represents a 32 percent rise over the past four years and a slight bump up from pre-Gaza disengagement numbers. And beneath the surface, many believe, the change is even more dramatic.

Along with the other graduates of what is often seen as one of the army’s most macho of courses will be four women, three of whom will graduate as combat navigators and one of whom is a flight engineer. 

One of the combat navigators is the first Orthodox Jewish woman to complete the course. In total, 16 percent of the flight program graduates described themselves as either religious or traditional Jews.

"The hareidim get money but don't take part in bearing the burden and we plan to change that," the party's number-three candidate, Reuven Agassi, told Channel 10 news. The phrase "bearing the burden" is often used to refer to IDF service.

"I don't need anyone to pray for me," he added, a reference to the argument, common in the hareidi world, that men who learn Torah full-time rather than serving in the army provide the entire nation with spiritual protection.

By Yoel Esteron, Calcalist

It's also okay to believe that yeshiva students immersed in the aura of the Torah are more important than all the rest of us. So just say it out loud and clear and we'll nix research budgets for the sake of yet more funding for yeshivot and kollelim.

But just don’t try to tell me they can all fit snuggly into the tight budgetary bundle.

By Rabbi Dov Lipman

Dr. Daniel Gordis asked, “Do you have a plan for the haredi time bomb? They’re not going to the army – but what, instead, do you have in mind for them? Some kind of national service? Do you have a plan for getting it passed?”

Gordis also asked, “Are you saying anything at all about the Jewish nature of the country?”

The Shas and United Torah Judaism parties may have joined forces over the petition filed against them over the exclusion of women in their Knesset lists, but not everyone in the ultra-Orthodox public shares the opinion that Jewish religious laws ban women from serving as parliament members.

A group of haredi women believe a woman is allowed to "come out of the kitchen" and that the halachic excuse used by the parties is "misleading the public."

The Am Shalem party issued the following statement in response: "We support women's right to vote and be elected for Knesset. Many years ago, Chief Rabbi Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel ruled, against the opinion of many rabbis, that women have the right to vote and to be elected.

A flyer distributed in synagogues throughout Betar Illit Friday declares "war" on the increasingly common practice of entering synagogues with smartphones.

After decades of isolation from the broader society, a dramatic rise has been noted in the number of haredi [ultra-orthodox] men and women seeking academic qualifications and, subsequently, a place in the general labor market – the men in particular.

"Due to that isolation, combined with the fact that they are a minority group, they experience considerable difficulties integrating into the workforce," says Reut Marciano who, together with Dr. Dan Kaufmann, recently completed a research project on this topic. Such difficulties are often based on stigma and prejudice on the part of employers ("other studies have found this too") as well as due to a lack of experience among the young haredi graduates.

By Rabbi Natan Slifkin

In Israel, the problem is compounded. Not only is there an entire community that simply shirks its responsibility in sharing the national burden of serving in the army, pretending (to itself as well as others) that learning in kollel is an adequate substitute). 

It also drains from the national economy instead of contributing to it (and I'm not just speaking about money - I am talking about not putting skilled people into the workforce). The result is a community that is fundamentally selfish - taking and not giving.

M., a teenage girl, was attacked by a group of young yeshiva students on a Ganey Tikva street on Sunday. According to the teen, the reason was her physical appearance, which alludes to her sexual orientation.

M, 17, was walking down the street in the central Israeli city – a route she said she has been taking regularly over the past two years – when she was mobbed and assaulted.

Rabbi Avrohom Yaakov Friedman, 84, the Admor of Sadigura, died at his home in Bnei Brak on Tuesday morning after a long illness. The admor (the title given to the leader of a Hasidic dynasty) collapsed at his home.

Minister without Portfolio Meshulam Nahari secured NIS 2.1 million in state funds without a tender for El Hama'ayan, a cultural organization operated by his party. In addition, Nahari's staff failed to inform the officials who approved the allocations of the organization's connection to Shas.

The money was earmarked for "instilling cultural and social norms, kiruv (drawing people closer to Judaism) and deepening the values of the heritage of Israel in youth centers and among at-risk youth."

El Hama'ayan's annual budget is around NIS 22 million, of which one third has traditionally come from donations and the rest from the Education Ministry. 

Over the past two years, however, El Hama'ayan has availed itself of a new funding source: Nahari, whose portfolio in the Prime Minister's Office is "society and the heritage of Israel."

By Yossi Sarid

It's sometimes hard, really hard, to decide which party deserves the chutzpah award, but I've concluded that Shas is the winner. 

The decision was made when I opened the paper to see Aryeh Deri's smiling face over the captivating slogan: "We're here for the have-nots."

… So it's pretty certain that the have-nots will stay right where they are and Shas will continue to worry for them, having made worrying a good way to assure a livelihood for its top officials.

Shas is illegally using its Rabbi Ovadia Yosef smartphone application by offering blessings from the party’s spiritual leader, religious freedom advocacy group Hiddush complained to the Central Election Committee.

On Sunday, Shas unveiled the app – called Maran Shelita, a Hebrew acronym for “the great rabbi, who should live a good and long life” – which can be used to request blessings from Yosef. Those who download the application can also watch a speech by the rabbi, a video about his life and a daily lesson in Jewish law.

By Zvi Bar'el

Shas' problem isn't that it represents an ethnic group or a community, but that it rejects other principles: the equality of the burden and the equality of opportunity that comes with secular learning and work.

This fusion, which combines ultra-Orthodoxy with ethnicity like two volatile elements in a chemical compound, is what is creating the fear of the ethnic genie. A society that knows how to respect and nurture ethnicities and cultures doesn't turn them into genies. 

A party that exploits a correct idea of ethnic representation only to avoid the common burden destroys its ethnic group.

According to police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby, Feiglin, who is No. 23 on the joint Likud Beytenu list, prostrated himself in the plaza and tried to pray out loud. 

Praying aloud, going through ritual motions or using any type of traditional prayer objects such as tefillin, tallitot or prayer books, are forbidden for Jews at Judaism’s holiest site due to tensions with Muslim worshipers at the Aksa Mosque.

To bring Israeli-Ethiopian teens back to their ancestral homeland, to show them the place they came from and the world their parents grew up in, is the purpose of the Samai “birthright” program, of which this was the pilot trip. 

It’s the brainchild of Danny Adeno Abebe, an Ethiopian-Israeli activist and Yedioth Ahronoth reporter, who claims Ethiopian-Israeli youth are lost in their search for identity.

Samai seeks to boost the teens’ sense of their Israeli selves through their Ethiopian-ness – an identity that’s been, in part, stripped down and washed away during their process of adapting to a new life in Israel — and help them integrate the two identities.

By Don Futterman
Don Futterman is the Israel program director of the Moriah Fund and director of the Israel Center for Educational Innovation.

Ethiopian Israelis are careful to hide the friction between Beta Yisrael and Falashmura and these other internal fissures from outsiders, for fear that they could damage the community's public image, or that the discovery of internal biases - which all groups have - would legitimize the racist attitudes that already exist among outsiders.

 Whenever something uncomplimentary comes out, outsiders use it against them to show they are backward or that the problems are with the Ethiopians themselves, not the racists.

By Rabbi Jerome M. Epstein
The writer, a rabbi, is the president of the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry (NACOEJ).

Numerous reports over the past week have painted graphic pictures of apparent decisions made to administer Depo-Provera to Jewish women in Ethiopia as a birth control strategy. 

There are extensive accounts of this practice being continued even after these women make aliya.

Our challenge in relating to the nearly 130,000 olim of Ethiopian origin is not to make decisions for them – but to empower them to make the right decisions.

Lederman, the oldest person to immigrate to the Jewish state over the course of 2012, was among nearly 18,000 who made aliyah this year, according to the Immigrant Absorption Ministry. A similar number was recorded in 2011.

American Jews want to know what is being done in their name. In the name of Judaism. And if they think that it is self-destructive, oppressive, blockheaded and wrong, it stands to reason they would want it to stop.

American Jews are tiring of being told that opposing Israel's policies puts Israelis in danger. Blackmail is not persuasion.

The Health Ministry does not keep records on circumcisions but estimates about 60,000 to 70,000 are held in Israel every year, which roughly corresponds to the number of boys born in 2010, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.

"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.

The Health Ministry does not keep records on circumcisions but estimates about 60,000 to 70,000 are held in Israel every year, which roughly corresponds to the number of boys born in 2010, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.

The operation addresses the kvura [burial] of thousands of body samples and parts that were stored in the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute. Many of the specimens will be in a common kever, but separate kvura will take place when the situation permits.

My wife and I recently went on a silent Jewish meditation retreat. There wasn’t much to say. The end.

Just kidding. There is in fact very much to say about the retreat, which was organized by Or HaLev - the Center for Jewish Spirituality and Meditation, established by Rabbi James Jacobson-Maisels at Kibbutz Hanaton in the northern Jezreel Valley.

Rabbi Yehuda Rosalio, the former rabbi of the northwestern Negev community of Brosh, pleaded guilty, Thursday, to charges stemming from his theft, about two months ago, of the community's Torah scrolls. 

The rabbi was convicted in the Be'er Sheva Magistrates Court for aggravated theft, aggravated fraud, fraud, breach of trust and causing insult to religion, among other charges.

The city of Jerusalem is refusing to take on the NIS 412,000 water bill racked up by the venerated Old City church that sits on the site where Jesus was believed to have been crucified and buried.

The municipality's finance committee rejected on Monday an arrangement the state had made to resolve the problems posed by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre's NIS 9 million water bill.

The pews of St. Anthony's Catholic Church in Jaffa were packed on Monday night for a Christmas Mass attended by Arabs, Russians, Indians, Sri Lankans, Filipinos and European tourists, not to mention a few curious Israeli Jews.

Father Ramzi Sidawi, the parish priest, conducted the Midnight Mass in Arabic. He was joined by Father Marcelo Ponpon, from the Philippines, and acolytes from Jaffa dressed in crisp white robes.

Despite the impressive Christian presence in the city’s history and contemporary landscape, the resident Christian communities face a difficult demographic crisis. On the eve of Christmas 2012, Christians constitute a tiny minority of Jerusalem’s population, measuring 1.8%, as compared to 19% in 1946, towards the end of the British Mandate era.

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