Thursday, January 10, 2013

Religion and State in Israel - January 10, 2013

Religion and State in Israel

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

The chairman implicitly criticized the ad and wrote: "I thought that a sense of generalized abuse could be felt, and should be avoided if possible."
Given Shas' consent to the ad's removal, the petitions for its ban were rejected.

Efforts to introduce some drama, or comedy, into the somewhat lackluster Israeli election campaign, in the form of satirical television ads for two parties at opposite ends of the political spectrum, have been stifled by the country’s Central Election Committee, which deemed them too offensive to broadcast. 

Despite those rulings, however, both ads have attracted tens of thousands of views online this week.

Shas insisted, however, that its commercial was not targeted against any specific person or particular sector of society, but was designed to warn of the “danger of fictitious conversions and mixed marriages.

“Only Shas, which has halted legislative initiatives to advance these things, can halt them in the future as well,” the party said.

Hatnuah head Tzipi Livni wrote on her Facebook page that the ad was "outrageous." 

She said: "when I saw it, I remembered a meeting I held at a conversion base in the army and one of the soldiers in the process of converting who told me: 'If I am killed in the army I want to be buried next to my friends, and if I marry I want to marry like them.' 

There are about 300,000 immigrants in Israel who live, serve, and work with us, who contribute to society and are forced to undergo tough conversion procedures despite the fact that Halakha allows otherwise."

Deputy Knesset Speaker and MK Shlomo Molla (Tzipi Livni Party) called on Yisrael Beytenu MKs who immigrated to Israel to publicly denounce a Shas campaign ad which has been widely decried as racist for negatively stereotyping Israel’s immigrant population from the former Soviet Union.

By Yair Ettinger

That's especially ironic considering that Shas is entrusted with managing the conversion process in Israel (Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who oversees the process, is a student of Shas spiritual leader Ovadia Yosef). 

Their claim that Yisrael Beiteinu is devising a hollow forgery of conversion is exactly the same claim that the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox used to lob at Shas.

Seth Farber, an Orthodox rabbi and director of the religious rights lobbying group ITIM, also slammed the commercial and accused the party of hypocrisy.

“The chief rabbi of Israel, who is a signatory to every conversion certificate in the state of Israel, is allowing the party with which he identifies to belittle people who passed the state conversion system and people who are currently stuck in that system due to its intolerable bureaucracy,” Farber said in reference to Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar.

Derided by many as archaic and irrelevant, the state-subsidized blocs of ads are a legendary staple of Israeli election campaigns, providing a rare platform for candidates from the more than 30 parties contesting the election to take their messages to the masses.

By Rabbi Dov Lipman

It must be stated in the clearest of terms that according to traditional Jewish law not only can we allow their conversions but we must convert them.

According to Orthodox Jewish law, those without a Jewish mother are not Jewish. But those who come from Jewish descent actually fall into a unique category called “zera Yisrael.”

… The Talmud clearly requires only that we teach conversion candidates “some lenient and some strict commandments” prior to accepting them for conversion.

Rabbi David Stav, chairman of the national-religious rabbinical association Tzohar, announced Wednesday night, via a YouTube video, that he would be standing as a candidate for the position of chief rabbi of Israel.

Stav’s long-awaited announcement has been expected since last August, when Tzohar began a campaign to prompt the chief rabbinate to adopt a more modern approach to the Jewish life in the country. The election of the new Ashkenazi and Sephardi Chief Rabbis will take place in June.

Stav faces a strong challenge, mainly from ultra-Orthodox communities and political parties, who may adamantly oppose his candidacy.

The election scheduled for June 2013 will apparently only be for the position of Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, since Shas is preparing legislation that will enable the current Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar to remain in office for an additional term.

To mark his campaign yesterday, Stav released a YouTube video in which he said "fundamental change" is needed to put the Chief Rabbinate back in line with the path set by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, who served as pre-state Israel's first chief rabbi. 

That path, Stav said, "brings people closer," indicating the prospect of a rabbinate that is more welcoming and less alienating, especially for Israeli Jews who don't necessarily identify as religious.

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger said on Wednesday that the Chief Rabbinate will be sending out a directive to all local rabbinates in the coming days instructing them to accept women’s testimony as to a person’s unmarried status for the purposes of marriage registration.

Hiddush director Uri Regev, who is both a Reform rabbi and an attorney, said however that he had reservations about whether or not “extremist local rabbinates” would heed the directive.

By Daniel Adin
The writer teaches at the Achim kollel in Ra’anana.

Change is indeed needed in the Chief Rabbinate’s office. For a long time I have argued that the state should get out of the business of religion.

Civil marriage should be instituted; conversions and kashrut should be left to the hands of private authorities.

Those who want to be strict will continue to do so. Those who want to be liberal, even to the point of farce (like many Reform clergymen in the United States), should also be permitted to do so. It makes no sense for the secular Supreme Court to tell the rabbinate if it should grant a kashrut certificate for produce grown on land “sold” to a non-Jew in the shemita year.

It makes even less sense for the court to decide if a conversion is valid under the Halacha. A Jew who is strict about kashrut will not decide what he will eat or whom he will marry based on the court’s decisions. A secular state cannot and should not control a religious establishment.

But the rabbinate should not in any way relax its strictures.

Some 3000 haredi youths have been presented with draft notices and are set to be enlisted for military service in August 2013, said Major General Orna Barbivai, commander of the IDF Manpower Directorate, on Thursday.

The young men who were slated to join the military had until recently deferred their service due to their religious beliefs, Maj. Gen. Orna Barbivai, the head of manpower in the IDF, told Israel Radio.

"I am worried about what will happen here if a law defining the status of yeshiva (religious school) students isn't legislated, and if the IDF is forced to go out into the streets and, though it does not want to, forcibly enlist yeshiva men. 

It could, God forbid, spark a civil war," Deri said in an interview with Shas newsletter Yom Leyom.

If the government decides to draft yeshiva students into the army, ultra-Orthodox Jews will respond by leaving the country, Shas' spiritual leader predicts.

"We will, heaven forbid, have to leave the Land of Israel and go abroad," Rabbi Ovadia Yosef said in remarks reported on Haredi website Kikar Shabbat as part of Shas' election campaign.

“On Judgment Day, God will accuse them, saying, ‘You abandoned my Torah in the hands of the evildoers… who hate the Torah,” he said.

“On Judgment Day, God will accuse them, saying, ‘You abandoned my Torah in the hands of the evildoers… who hate the Torah,” he said.

Last month's decision allows for up to 1,300 haredim to be recruited to the civilian service by August 1 or until new legislation is passed to replace the Tal Law.

Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett said on Monday with regard to the issue of haredi enlistment in the army that yeshiva students who are studying Torah should be allowed to continue their studies and not be forced to enlist in national service programs.

Speaking with haredi station Radio Kol Hai, Bennett added that his party would “fight against legislation which would coercively draft” yeshiva students.

“We will be a partner which will fight for Torah study in Israel, and we will fight against laws that coerce service,” Bennett said.

After a period of instructing talmidim not to report to IDF induction centers, the Vishnitzer Rebbe Shlita is now changing his psak in light of a new agreement reached with the IDF.

Shas leaders Arye Deri, Eli Yishai and Ariel Attias sent a letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Tuesday calling on him to commit to preserving the status quo of all matters pertaining to religion and state in the country.

In addition, the troika demanded that Netanyahu, and all potential coalition partners, commit to preventing the passage of any legislation that would sanction public transportation on Shabbat; stop legislation allowing for “fictitious” conversions; and ensure that jurisdiction over marriage and divorce remain under the auspices of the rabbinical courts system.

By Nehemia Shtrasler

A few weeks ago, MK Chaim Amsellem published his new book, "In the Name of Reason," which tears the tissue of lies and self-interests off the faces of Shas party leaders. The response by some ultra-Orthodox Jews was swift: They burned the book at a public ceremony at a yeshiva.

[If Shas] actually solved the problem of the Haredi community's poverty and distress, who would need them any longer?

Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef may no longer bless his adherents via smartphone, the Central Elections Committee ruled on Thursday.

Following a complaint from religious freedom NGO Hiddush, Central Elections Committee chairman Justice Elyakim Rubinstein demanded Shas that remove the option of receiving a blessing from its smartphone application.

For the first time Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef has openly and publicly criticized Rabbi Amnon Yitzhak for establishing his own political party, which will be contesting the upcoming election.

Yitzhak is a well-known haredi outreach preacher who seeks to “return” secular Israelis, especially Sephardim, to Orthodox Judaism, and Shas is concerned that Yitzhak’s Hakoah Lehashpia party will divert votes away from it.

Aryeh Deri, Eli Yishai and Ariel Atias wrote in the letter, we are, "calling on you today to outline the Jewish direction your future government will take after the elections."

4 main principles:
1. maintaining the status quo in terms of religion and state;
2. preventing legislation that contradicts Jewish law;
3. not allowing civil marriage laws which would permit the intermarriage of Jews with non-Jews;
4. preventing the operation of public transportation on Shabbat.

Shas co-leader Aryeh Deri has been summoned to appear before a Yerushalayim beis din in a case filed against him stemming from his support of the Oslo Agreement.

This was not a lone gesture of support. The chief rabbis, whose institutions are publicly funded, have long given support to the cause. 

For the past several years they have faithfully sent out periodic public letters inveighing against abortion, and last year wrote that they were acting "to encourage births in the Jewish nation and prevent unnecessary abortions." 

Amar and Metzger even instructed the marriage departments in the local governments' religious councils to continue distributing Efrat's booklet, "For a Happy Marriage," due to "its great importance and necessity."

Religious Zionist rabbi Benny Lau: "There are enough situations in which women are in terrible kinds of distress, or there is something badly wrong with the fetus," he said. 

"The statement ‘Abortion is murder’ is not legitimate. I understand the motivation to fight against extreme liberalism, but a lack of balance is very dangerous to the social structure. A religious society is obligated to take things in a balanced way. 

The Efrat association does not have this balance; there is no balance. Taking our Torah in the direction of Christian Catholic canon law is a terrible mistake.”

Dozens of demonstrators braved torrential downpours in Jerusalem on Monday afternoon to protest an award from the Jerusalem Conference to the anti-abortion organization Efrat.

A controversial Israeli anti-abortion organization is receiving support from the country's chief rabbis.

"We view the Efrat association's activity, aimed at saving the lives of Israel's children, as extremely important," Rabbis Yona Metzger and Shlomo wrote in an open letter sent to Israel's rabbis.

The fervently Orthodox parties, as well as some Arab parties, refuse to permit women on their lists. They say it would be immodest and a violation of Jewish law/Islam to permit women to campaign and serve alongside men.

A small but significant number of women voters have begun to fight back. In an unprecedented move, a group of haredi women are publicly refusing to vote for the fervently Orthodox parties that claim to be representing their agenda, whether it be subsidies for large families or military exemptions for yeshiva students.

Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, dean of the prestigious Yeshivat Har Etzion in Alon Shvut and a leading figure in the national religious community, said recently that the religious community should be more honest with itself in regards to the way it relates to homosexuals.

By Anshel Pfeffer

[Naftali] Bennett has detailed plans in many fields, but he has yet to articulate a reason for having a parochial and religion-based party in Israeli politics at a time when religious Israelis have never been as well integrated into society as they are today. 

There are many hard-right politicians in Israel, but only one has hijacked an entire community to serve his desire to be a part of the leading elite - and that is why he should be opposed.

By Batsheva A. Neur

What, according to Aviner, would likely be wrong with this biblical picture today, besides – everything? A female warrior and judge playing an authoritative and political role, and singing in public, too? A far cry from the recent October call Aviner made barring women from public office or voting. Deborah is lucky she predated modern-day fervor. 

Had she been around today she’d likely be sharing the same jail cells as the Women of the Wall.

I beg and plead – will the real leaders of religious Zionism please stand up?

By Rabbi Dr. Jeffrey Woolf

In the course of the past year, a courageous group of Rabbis,  Yeshiva Heads, To’anot Rabbaniot, and Yo’atzot Halakhah have banded together to form an organization that they have appropriately named ‘Beit Hillel.’ 

Their goal is, officially, to develop rabbinic leadership that is attentive to the needs of the entire Jewish community in Israel.

Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, known as one of the strictest Religious Zionism leaders when it comes to women's modesty, has formulated a new dress code in which he orders women to avoid wearing red, keep their hair tied in a braid and put on 40 denier stockings.

Aharon Attias, the director of the mechina and the driving force behind the Garin Torani, tries to allay the suspicions. A Lod native, he debated moving to a settlement after his army service but decided to remain in his hometown.

"To leave here is to run away," he says, adding that his goal is to rehabilitate Lod, not to "Judaize" it.

Jerusalem needs secular residents, said Rabbi Yaakov Medan, one of the heads of the Har Etzion yeshiva in Gush Etzion, one of the leading yeshivot in Israel. 

In fact, he said, secular Israelis should have the opportunity to attend the cinema on Shabbat, if they so wished. 

“The theaters could sell tickets in advance,” he said, in order to avoid conductingcommerce on the Sabbath and work the movies by special timers so as to avoid desecrating the Sabbath.

Israel’s left-wing Meretz party ran another round of their Shabbat buses this past Friday night—this time in and around Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. 

An estimated 200 passengers enjoyed free service along three sponsored routes while Meretz brought the lack of public Shabbat transportation options in most places around the country into public consciousness.

In short, does refraining from running buses on Shabbat serve to unify the country around the symbol of the Jewish week? Or is it a sign of religious oppression?

The verbal abuse continued throughout the ride. "I was insulted the entire way and was in tears," she says. "No one helped me."

The nightmare lasted an hour and a half, until the bus reached Arad. Before disembarking, Miri was again subjected to slurs and was spat on by one of the passengers.

"I was shocked. I couldn't believe this could happen in my country."

Shayna Weiss: I have been surprised to find out how much common cause religious and secular people had in their concern over the beach, especially in the Mandate Period. 

Those norms have shifted now, but some of them still remain. Gender segregation goes to the core of a discussion of what a Jewish and democratic state might look like.  We need to realize that these aren’t new issues.

Also, I do not like the trend to only blame Haredim for the current trends in Israel, although I am not suggesting in any way that they are blame-free.  The secular government has been just as much blame—these things are the products of long historical processes of compromises and controversies.

Lapid: "Whoever forms the next government needs to know: We are not asking for portfolios, we are not asking for seats, we didn't establish Yesh Atid for that purpose. 

These are our principles. We will not be part of a government that will not enlist the Haredim and get them into the job market," Lapid told a news conference.

Interview with Adina Bar-Shalom, the eldest daughter of the spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and the founder of the Jerusalem ultra-Orthodox college — The Haredi College of Jerusalem.

"Considering the fact that in Jerusalem alone, 2000 ultra-Orthodox girls graduate from high school each year, while merely 300 of them enroll for studies at our college, then it is certainly not enough," she says, adding on an optimistic note: "I believe that if no obstacles are put in our way, within a few years, the majority of young men and women in the ultra-Orthodox community will acquire academic education and obtain an academic degree just like their counterparts in the secular sector."

A united haredi bloc, the [Haredi] paper warned, "Could, for instance, strike a deal with Livni and Yachimovich and crown them prime ministers by rotation. There's nothing wrong with that."

The Satmar rebbe, Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, leader of the world's biggest anti-Zionist Hasidic community, has launched a harsh attack on ultra-Orthodox politicians in Israel, who he claims are only interested in "glory, power, money and seats."

United Torah Judaism's Moshe Gafni, chairman of the Knesset's Finance Committee:
Whether this election is critical to the relation between religion and state, the answer is yes. 

It's the first time I've witnessed the Knesset debating the very basics. 

The struggle between the Haredim and the anticlerical minority is in full swing, and is likely to be decided during the term of the next Knesset, especially on the issue of yeshiva students, who are the backbone of the Jewish people throughout history. Maintaining that is our most cherished cause.

Many in the new generation of ultra-Orthodox are open to the idea of getting jobs. The key is finding one that fits, said Bezalel Cohen, 38, who has worked for years to promote employment among his fellow haredis.

"The diamond industry's initiative (to hire ultra-Orthodox) has potential to really succeed," he said. "As long as the pay and training is proper, it should take off."

Discussion will focus on Hi-tech in the Haredi sector, including success stories, difficulties, hardships along with solutions, government plans and ways of raising capital.

Rabbi Amnon Yitzhak, a well-known haredi outreach preacher and founder of the newly established Hakoah Lehashpia Party (The Power to Influence), said the party would be running in the upcoming election, despite the public attack on him from Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef over the weekend.

Payroll costs in the Haredi city of Betar Ilit, one of Israel's poorest cities, were relatively generous. 

The municipality's 13 senior officials cost an average of NIS 32,400 monthly while the overall cost per employee averaged NIS 12,000. 

In another ultra-Orthodox locality, Kiryat Ye'arim (Telz-Stone) with a population of just 3,500, the cost for town officials was NIS 35,000.

By Batsheva Alexandra Neuer

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel claimed that “Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, and insipid.... [W]hen religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion – its message becomes meaningless.”

To me, there is nothing less compassionate than a sign warning others against entering.

There’s no “Jewish vote” in the state of Israel. Or rather, as The Times of Israel pre-election poll shows, there’re at least a half-dozen variants of the “Jewish vote” for which political parties are competing. 

These include four distinct streams of self-described observance — secular, traditional, Orthodox, and ultra-Orthodox — and two types of self-described ethnic Jewish heritage — Ashkenazi and Sephardi/Mizrahi. 

Each stream or heritage type forms a distinct bloc with its own voting patterns and trends. Indeed, in Israel, it’s not just religion, but religious observance and heritage, that help to define voters and parties.

It's no secret that a vast majority of Haredi schools don't teach the Israeli core curriculum, or at least a large chunk of it, and one can assume that whoever isn't tested doesn't teach or learn the material.

However, despite their failure to teach the core curriculum, Israel's Haredi schools receive between 55 percent and 75 percent of the government funding received by schools in the state system. 

The two largest school networks in the Haredi educational system – those affiliated with the Hasidic Agudat Yisrael party and the Shas party – received 100 percent of the funding provided to state schools, which are obligated to teach the core curriculum.

The issue of the talmidei torah, the chareidi school system, is back in the media; under attack as a result of statistics released by the Ministry of Education. 

Ministry officials report that over the past decade the number of students attending chareidi mosdos elementary schools has skyrocketed. These schools enjoy state funding, but the children emerge “ignorant”, the daily Maariv reports, referring to “core subjects”.

Israel's Chief Rabbinate has threatened to stop an art gallery in Tel Aviv from exhibiting works using original Talmud pages "sacrilegiously."

Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger said he hoped someone would purchase the artwork for thousands of shekels – so that they would be removed from the gallery.

"The Million that Changed the Middle East" deals with the immense influence the wave of immigration from the Soviet Union has had on Israeli society primarily - but not solely - from the political-social angle. 

Its authors - Lily Galili, who covered the great immigration as a correspondent for Haaretz for some 20 years, and Roman Bronfman, formerly the most prominent left-wing member of Knesset from the so-called Russian community - construct the story of this immigration around the axis of political goings-on.

An attempt to harm the fragile status quo at the building which houses King David's Tomb and the room of the Last Supper may have been behind the smashing of centuries-old tiles at the site two weeks ago, informed sources indicated on Thursday. 

The Israel Antiquities Authority and the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which manages the site, said the damage to the tiles was 'total.'

For the second time in two weeks, vandals destroyed antique ceramic tiles at King David’s tomb next to the Old City’s Zion Gate in Jerusalem overnight Wednesday.

Some critics see Taglit-Birthright as nationalist and right-wing, but the former leader of Israel’s left and architect of the Oslo peace process isn’t worried at all.

“People say Birthright is right-wing but they’re wrong,” says Yossi Beilin, a former head of Israel’s justice, economics and religious affairs ministries.

“I’m all in favor of a debate on Israel’s policies and don’t think Jews in the Diaspora should blindly support it, but this has nothing to do with visiting Israel.”

The Jewish Federations of North America has found a new home for Otzma, its flagship Israel leadership program for young adults. Jerry Silverman, JFNA president and CEO, wrote in an e-mail to Otzma alumni on Friday that Israel Experience Educational Tourism Services Ltd. will assume control of Otzma when this year’s class completes the program in June.

Over winter break, Jalali, from Beverlywood, was one of nine teens to visit Israel on a unique tour run by the Sephardic Educational Center (SEC) out of Los Angeles.

A delegation of outstanding Ethiopian-Israeli high school students visited the country where their parents were born.

But the gap between the headlines and the reality is enormous. When the situation of Israelis of Ethiopian origin is compared with that of communities from elsewhere — the former have nothing to feel ashamed of. 

Considering the starting point, when the parents and immigrants’ generation didn’t even know how to read and write, the achievements of the Ethiopians and their integration in Israel are something to be proud of.

Now that leading rabbis have come out in favor of organ donations and transplants, ADI is hopeful that more people will get the message and sign up for an ADI card, which obviates the need to ask immediate relatives to agree to donate organs if a card holder dies.

Were the final resting-places of the family and disciples of Jesus discovered 30 years ago and then hidden as part of a religious-political conspiracy?

The archaeological controversy swirling around two Roman-era burial tombs in Jerusalem refuses to die. Indeed, it has become something of an ugly academic slugfest.

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