Thursday, January 17, 2013

Religion and State in Israel - January 17, 2013

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

A High Court of Justice panel headed by Supreme Court President Asher Grunis issued a conditional injunction on Tuesday preventing the state from paying benefit packages to 54,000 ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students.

The injunction obligates the state to explain why the benefits were not suspended after the Tal Law, which enabled the deferment of mandatory military service, expired in August. 

The state will also need to explain why the criteria for receiving benefits packages were changed to include those who received them in the past, as well as new yeshiva students.

The petitioners say the state does not have the authority to continue paying these yeshiva students’ subsidies until a new law is passed granting that authority. In the meantime, the petitioners demand that the subsidies cease.

Other filed petitions, which did not come before the court on Tuesday, have also demanded that haredim who meet the age requirement be drafted.

The injunction was given in a petition submitted by Hiddush - Freedom of Religion in Israel, Israel Hofshit, The Israeli Forum for Citizens' Equal Rights and Obligations, and former MK Roni Brizon. 

The state will also have to explain why it should not annul the September modification of criteria for financial support of Torah institutions, and why the attorney general's recommendation to modify the criteria should not be accepted.

In August, the petitioners demanded that the state halt stipends to 54,000 yeshiva students who can no longer postpone their military service since the Tal Law ran out.

An analysis according to religious affiliation reveals that the majority of secular and traditional Jews believe haredim should be forced into "regular" service (58.5% and 49%, respectively), religious Jews settle for any kind of service – military or civil (50%), while haredim would exempt themselves from the duty (62%).

Asked whether politicians were exploiting the haredi draft issue in their election campaigns, 51% gave an affirmative answer while 41% gave a negative answer. All haredi respondents, 81% of religious respondents, 60% of traditional respondents and 50% of secular respondents said they did not believe politicians' statements in regards to this issue.

Rather than force Arabs and haredim to enlist in the IDF or civilian service, they should be encouraged to do so by increasing benefits for those who serve, according to the Bayit Yehudi plan released on Tuesday to promote equality in the burden of national service.

Ofer Shelah, the sixth placed candidate on Yesh Atid’s electoral list, insisted on Wednesday that the party’s proposals for drafting haredi men into national service constitute “a red line” for joining a coalition government.

About 26% of those eligible for army service in 2013 will not be drafted, according to the report. Some 13.5% will be exempted for religious reasons, 4% for mental reasons, 2% for health reasons, 3% due to criminal records and 3% reside abroad.

According to the IDF Manpower Directorate, the numbers are expected to rise unless proper legislation is enacted and haredi draft is approved by the government.

The Central Elections Committee warned Habayit Hayehudi yesterday that the party should not follow through on its plan to use the resources of state-funded educational institutions such as yeshivas as part of an Election Day effort to get as many of its prospective voters as possible out to the polls.

MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima) and Labor candidate Yariv Oppenheimer Sunday asked the Central Elections Committee to examine the actions of Habayit Hayehudi, following publication of a report that the party’s activists are working to have religious Zionist institutions and hesder yeshiva soldiers work for the party on election day.

"I wish to warn the voters of fraudulent solutions such as Naftali Bennett, who tells the secular public (that he will support equal sharing of the burden) and then whispers into the ears of the haredi rabbis that they should not worry and that he is referring only to those people who do not study Torah," Lapid told a press conference at Beit Sokolov in Tel Aviv Wednesday evening.

By Anshel Pfeffer

Every former hesder yeshiva student is familiar with the ritual: A few days before the election, one of "our" MKs arrives for a quiet chat with the boys – not in the central beit midrash (study hall) but in one of the classrooms or the dining hall. 

Of course, this chat certainly doesn't come at the expense of Torah study time but at the beginning of a break.

Bennett dispelled concerns that his party would be under the sway of far-right rabbis like Dov Lior, the chief rabbi of Hebron and Kiryat Arba, and Zalman Melamed, who heads the Beit El yeshiva.

"The merger agreement between Habayit Hayehudi and National Union expressly states that all decisions will be made within the faction, not by rabbis," said Bennett.

The Habayit Hayehudi leader said none of the candidates on his ticket see themselves as subject to the authority of those rabbis and that even Struck ignored Lior's suggestion that she not run for the Knesset.

By Rabbi David Stav

Over the past 20 years, the ultra-Orthodox haredi political parties have attained considerable power by forming “a swing block” – without which it has been impossible to form a government.

They have utilized this power to disproportionately leverage their control over religious life in Israel. The religious establishment in Israel has become a tremendous source of jobs and power for a small group of haredi political activists. 

In practice, the Chief Rabbinate has largely been taken over by anti-Zionist political forces who attempt to dominate the entire Jewish society by radical standards that have very little to do with halacha, but much to do with politics.

The effect of this development has been catastrophic for the State of Israel and for the entire Jewish people.

"The bad feeling we had in our hearts was confirmed by the Central Bureau of Statistics, which found that a third of secular Israelis currently choose to marry abroad or in civil ceremonies, anywhere but the rabbinate,” Stav said.

"We must fully understand what these numbers mean," Rabbi Stav emphasized. "A large number of Israelis are saying 'anything but the rabbinate' when it comes to this once in a lifetime choice.

"This challenge comes along with ever-growing number of Israelis who are no longer considered Jewish according to official census numbers. In just a few generations we might find ourselves as two nations – Jewish and unrecognized Jewish."

“The haredi world hasn’t believed in the Chief Rabbinate since its founding anyway,” he says. 

“What’s happened over the past 20 years is that the haredi political functionaries discovered the positions in the rabbinate. Some of them don’t go by the kashrut certificates that they themselves issue and don’t accept the rabbinate’s conversions. 

They don’t accept its worldview or leadership. They have their own Council of Torah Sages and family trees. They’re just taking advantage of the jobs in the Chief Rabbinate, nothing more.”

Business owners whose actions, either intentionally or through negligence, cause the public monetary losses must bear personal responsibility for the damage and reparations, said Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar in a precedent-setting halakhic ruling (edict based on Jewish law) issued Wednesday.

Attorney Eliad Shraga, chairman of the Movement for Quality Government, said he hopes the United Torah Judaism and Shas parties will heed the rabbi’s words and make the right decisions about concentration and haircuts.

By Anshel Pfeffer

Shas' Judaism is one of hidebound tradition and xenophobic suspicion of any foreign element. 

Habayit Hayehudi in its Bennett version presents us with a watery mixture of folklore, chauvinism, nostalgia and militarism. It's an identity of one size fits all, as long as you're Jewish. 

None of these are very Jewish and are certainly not Israeli in its original sense of an ancient nation building a modern Jewish and democratic state.

By Rabbi Seth Farber

The time has come to divorce politics and religion in Israel. Tens of thousands of legitimate converts cannot continue to have their status questioned based on political expediency. 

Two weeks ago, Shas ministers noted how sympathetic they were to the plight of converts. Now they are demeaning them. Religion can no longer be a handmaiden to political power.

This is precisely the classic case of Seed of Israel. His father is Jewish and his mother is not Jewish. He needs conversion. It is necessary to take a lenient and welcoming approach if the Rabbinical Court is convinced of the sincerity of his intentions to join the Jewish people and to take upon himself Judaism and its ordinances. 

As for a Reform rabbi, any conversion that isn’t done by a kosher rabbinical conversion court is not a conversion.

And this especially applies to an Israel Defense Forces soldier who endangers his life for the collective good of Israel. If he proves his great desire to join the Jewish collective, he must be enabled to do this if he is prepared to undergo the conversion process in all its elements.

By Roni Abramson

Israel must consider these citizens as equals in every sense, with equal right, not just equal obligations. 

It was Israel who brought them here under the Law of Return, and never were they informed that they would be second-class citizens upon arrival. 

I hope we won’t need a conversion speed-dial system, and that couples will be able to wed in civil marriages if they wish to, without the need to convert.

It seems that what really sparked the precious dears' outrage was the question the brown groom asked his white bride: "What, you're not Jewish?" 

This question, this careful examination of the blonde's pedigree, was the straw that broke the progressive camel's back. What would we say, the anointed ones cried, if in any country - some of the real sticklers hinted grossly at Nazi Germany - they would ask the woman, the bride, if she was Jewish or not? And the approved response is, of course, Racism! Shame! Nazism! Disgusting!

But of course, this is the essence of a religious wedding, the only kind permitted by Israeli law, which permits marriage only between people of the same religion. 

Didn't you, your parents and your children get married this way? Didn't you check before the ceremony whether the other party was Jewish? If so, what was wrong with the campaign ad?

By Leonard Fein

Back when he was Israel’s Minister of Justice, the irrepressible and ever-creative Yossi Beilin put forward a proposal for secular conversion to Judaism. As he explained, “It is simply unimaginable that in the 21st century, a time in which most of world Jewry is not religious, we should continue to grant certain religious establishments the right to define ‘who is a Jew.’”

Beilin’s argument was straightforward: “Why is someone like me allowed to be an agnostic Jew while a convert to Judaism is not? Why must a non-Jewish atheist or agnostic go to a rabbi in order to become a Jewish atheist or agnostic?”

Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman: “Yet I couldn’t help but be angered by the campaign ad that Shas made, which I personally call a horror movie that offended the dignity and feelings of so many people, both in the immigrant community and among the broader public in whose name they were offended,” he continued.

“Someone like you knows that the Torah itself repeats 36 times the prohibition of offending converts.”

By Sami Peretz

Ostensibly, Shas is a sectarian movement with the pretense of advancing the interests of traditional and religiously observant Mizrahi Jews. But it is actually keeping its voters in a ghetto and preventing them from moving toward an advanced and integrative Israeliness.

Shas officials decided that the shiur would not be broadcast until following the elections as a result of Hiddush’s petition.

Religious freedom NGO Hiddush petitioned the Central Election Committee on Thursday to stop Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef from giving sermons on Radio Kol Barama, saying it is a form of illegal electioneering.

Shas co-chairman, Interior Minister Eli Yishai, considered to be extremely close to Yosef, told an ultra-Orthodox website on Sunday that the reason for the stroke was the fact that, "the rabbi was anxious over the danger of yeshiva boys being forcibly drafted."

Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef was released from hospital Sunday morning after suffering a mild stroke on Saturday and has been instructed to rest for a number of days.

Problems: In a word − Shas. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef did not look kindly on the establishment of this party. His people brought a great deal of pressure to bear on Amnon Yitzhak to change his mind about running for the Knesset, but without luck. In the meantime, Koah Lehashpia supporters are complaining about aggressive tactics by Shas to deter activists and potential voters. .

On Monday, the conflict came to a head when dozens of Shas supporters broke up an Amnon Yitzhak rally in Beit Shemesh and even sprayed tear gas into the crowd.

By Deborah Danan

Amsalem laments the loss of Sephardic tradition as practicing a moderate Judaism, where people were able to ask all manner of questions and where rabbis were equals who spoke to people at eye level. He claims that it was hijacked in favor of something closer to what he calls the “elitist” and extreme Litai [Lithuanian] branch of Ashkenazi haredim.

He also laments the fact that so many rabbis who agree with him are keeping quiet for fear of losing their positions or jobs. “They are under coercion from the religious [bloc.] They are too scared to come out and say what they think.”

Amsalem also claims that he was approached a number of times with all manner of bribes from high-ranking rabbis and politicians. “They told me that if I left the political arena, it would be worth my while, they would arrange a good job for me.”

Also Monday, Meretz removed the image of 8-year-old Na’ama Margolis from their ads, after the Central Election Committee received a complaint from her mother, Hadassah Margolis, who did not know her daughter would be appearing in the campaign.
he Margolis family became well known after haredi men harassed and spit on Na’ama on way to her school in Bet Shemesh.

Am Shalem agreed to remove a photo of Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef from its advertisements, after the latter party complained to the committee.
According to Shas, Am Shalem ads on the haredi news website Hadrei Haredim “humiliate and disrespect our great rabbi.”

Am Shalem said it would consult with the Central Election Committee should it plan to use Yosef’s image again.

By Rabbi Ariel Konstantyn

The fact is that most Haredim want to escape the cycle of poverty and earn an honest and comfortable living. Rabbi Amsellem can bring about the change from within. 

With understanding and sensitivity he will integrate Haredim into the army, communal service and ultimately into Israeli society while allowing for a small sector of an intellectual elite to serve their country through Torah study.

As a result, the Haredi sector will produce jobs, create new start ups and pump energy and resources into the economy, breathing new life and freeing up resources for endless social welfare programs, education and health.

Director for Religious Institutions at the Ministry of Education Amos Tzayada sent a letter to deans and administrators of state-funded yeshivot on Sunday forbidding their students from political campaigning during study hours.

“Studies must continue as usual during the election period and students must be present at the institute [of study] for all hours,” Tzayada said.

Piron is the enlightened rabbi (a graduate of the Mercaz Harav and the Shavei Hevron yeshivas), who in the next Knesset will represent Yair Lapid's secular voters.

The religious alone cannot make it more Jewish, he says. The "Jewish bookshelf" has to be a bookshelf shared by all. Every child has to know the prayer book and the Talmud and poet Yehuda Amichai. 

It is necessary to teach the young that Judaism isn't just challah-candles-commandments. Judaism must not be political and sectarian - it must be the source of inspiration for all of Israel.

A new political party called Na Nach - Kulanu Chaverim (We are All Friends) is running in the upcoming Knesset elections. 

The party promotes the power of prayer and the study of the teachings of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov.

Livni appointed Tal to head her party’s efforts to advance religious pluralism in Israel and its campaign among “Anglos.”

That has special meaning for Tal, who is a committed Masorti, or Conservative, Jew and the gabbai (sexton) of the Masorti Shalhevet Hamaccabim synagogue in Maccabim-Re’ut, between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. His 17-year-old daughter was recently harassed by police for wearing a tallit at the Western Wall.

“She got a sad lesson on how religion works in this country,” Tal said. “I am concerned about the extremism that has captured governmental institutions and delegitimized us.”
Tal said Livni shares his concerns. He said she describes herself as a Masorti Jew and her sons attended the Masorti movement’s Noam youth group.

If elected, Tal hopes to organize the first egalitarian minyan in the Knesset synagogue. He said he would give Livni the first aliya.

“I am thrilled to be in a party led by someone who understands that Jewish tradition can be manifested in more than just an Orthodox tradition and that there is room for all expressions of religious affiliation in our country,” Tal said of Livni. 

“She had the opportunity to become prime minister, but she refused to capitulate to ultra-Orthodox blackmail.”

The Hiddush organization has requested the Central Election Committee disqualify a kol korei from Gedolei Yisrael Shlita to chareidim to vote in the election campaign.

The gravesite of Rabbi Yisrael Abuhatzeira, a Jewish pilgrimage site in Netivot in Israel's south, has turned into a heated political arena as Israel's general election is approaching.

Speaking at hi-tech conference for the haredi sector, Rabbi Shai Piron, the No. 2 candidate on Yesh Atid’s electoral list, said that ultra-Orthodox leaders have created an entire generation of people within its community who are unable to support themselves.

Piron added that “it is forbidden for a yeshiva be a ‘city of refuge,’” in order to allow people to avoid participating in the work force.

A curious phenomenon in recent Israeli elections has been the notable failure of the traditional haredi parties to increase their representation in the Knesset over the past 15 years.

He also notes that the growing numbers of haredim who are performing some kind of national service and joining the workforce increasingly feel unrepresented by their politicians, especially those from the Ashkenazi community whose natural party would be UTJ.

Another cause of the disconnect between the political leadership and the haredi public is the lack of primary elections for either UTJ or Shas.

"We will not sit in a government that does not draft the haredim and doesn't integrate them into the workforce," the former TV host said at a press conference in Tel Aviv, where he attacked the largely religious Habayit Hayehudi party and its leader Naftali Bennett for alleged double talk on the issue of the ultra-Orthodox draft.

One flyer bears the name "Euclid!" in large letters. The small print explains that this Greek mathematician and his teachings might make their way into Haredi classrooms, displacing the time the children spend studying Torah."

A government without a Jewish foundation will compel your son to study outside subjects," states the flyer, part of the negative campaign designed by the Breshit advertising agency. "You, and all of us, have to protect the next generation."

By Ricki Sitton

I have no idea if the stone-throwers from last week could be defined as haredim, but their behavior proves that they do not act according to the laws of the Torah. The teenagers acted they way they did despite the education they received, not because of it.

 “Haredim are just as creative and imaginative, and as willing to succeed, as are secular Israelis. In fact, from what I have seen among those in the high-tech world, they are even more ambitious,” Crombie told The Times of Israel. 

“The problem is that they don’t have role models to show them how to navigate the business world and get to the point where they can build their own businesses.”

The challenges, she said, are even more daunting for female entrepreneurs in the Haredi community. “We grow up hearing constantly how important it is for us to maintain modesty as women,” she noted. 

“And suddenly we’ve got to go out there and sell ourselves – well not ourselves, but our ideas. It goes against everything we’ve been taught.”

Are Haredi workers at HP Indigo who are paid less than non-Haredi workers, working side by side with them, justified in complaining of discrimination?

Not according to HP Indigo, but the discovery of contractual disparities has evoked strong resentment and feelings of discrimination among the Haredi employees.

Three of the sector's four daily newspapers completely ignored the former Sephardic chief rabbi's medical condition the day after his hospitalization, failing to report about the stroke or call on the public to pray for Yosef's recovery.

Meny Schwartz, who heads the ultra-Orthodox Kol Haredi radio station, says that many no longer feel constrained to vote for Shas and UTJ.

"A large part of the ultra-Orthodox population no longer vote for those parties, for a variety of reasons," he told AFP.

"Some believe it is forbidden to vote for anti-Zionist reasons; others who are disappointed by the leadership of the ultra-Orthodox parties, no longer vote, or vote for parties like Likud or parties further to the right," he said.

MK Chaim Amsellem, an Orthodox rabbi who is breaking away from the Sephardi ultra-Orthodox Shas party to run as leader of the new party Am Shalem, is showing himself to be among the Knesset's liberals when it comes to civil marriage, though he backtracked on Sunday on support for gay marriage as well.

El Al Airlines' Senior Rabbi, Yochanan Hayout, is suspected of indecent assault of an employee at the Ben Gurion Airport, Ynet learned Monday. Hayout was questioned by the police, which recommended that he be indicted.

Meretz party leader Zahava Gal-On has apologized to a Beit Shemesh mother for using a picture of her daughter, who was harassed by an ultra-Orthodox man, in its televised campaign ad last week.

The “race to the courthouse” in the context of divorce proceedings is wrecking people’s lives, Kochav Avital Shahar recently told The Jerusalem Post, sharing her personal story with the public for the first time.

The “race,” as Shahar describes it, has to do with whether a couple’s divorce proceedings get heard by the rabbinical courts, the family courts or a combination of the two.

Director-General Atara Kenigsberg of the [Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women at Bar Ilan University] said that too many cases start in the rabbinical courts, whereas the family courts could easily take on more cases and are not being optimally used.

In June 2010, a commission was formed by Justice Minister Yaakov Ne’eman, which initially appeared ready to endorse a change in the balance of power between the court regarding divorce: All issues would go to family courts automatically, except for getting the divorce decree itself. … But various political pressures were brought to bear on Ne’eman and the proposal, at least for the time being, was tabled.

By Geoffrey Alderman

The Women of the Wall are also extremists. They have a gender agenda, not all of which I (an Orthodox Jew) find palatable. But, again, even extremists have rights. I cannot in all conscience understand why wearing a prayer-shawl should amount to a crime. If Anat Hoffman and her colleagues wish to don tallitot and tefillin, then that is surely their business.

The arrest of Feiglin for praying and of Hoffman for wearing were gross violations of freedom of worship. Prime Minister Netanyahu has asked Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky to find a solution for non-Orthodox women's groups wishing to pray peacefully at the Wall. 

He should also be asked to investigate the prohibition on Orthodox men wishing to pray peacefully on the Temple Mount.

More mainstream Orthodox rabbis say the Chief Rabbinate has become more religiously extreme in recent years and that its stand on abortion does not reflect traditional Jewish beliefs.

“There are enough situations in which women are in terrible kinds of distress or there is something badly wrong with the fetus,” Rabbi Benny Lau, a popular mainstream Orthodox rabbi, told the newspaper Haaretz. “The slogan ‘Abortion is murder’ is neither rabbinical law nor Judaism.”

Lau added that “taking our Torah in the direction of Christian Catholic canon law is a terrible mistake.”

The Falash Mura, descendants of the Beta Israeli – many of whom were forced to convert to Christianity in the 18th and 19th centuries – have observed a unique interpretation of Judaism for generations.

Practices include separating menstruating women from men and burying their dead in Christian cemeteries. They must learn Rabbinic law and Hebrew before moving to Israel.

In skullcaps and draped in prayer scarves, they gather every week in Gondar's makeshift synagogue, a corrugated iron shed painted the blue and white of Israel's flag, chanting verses from the Torah in Ethiopia's Amharic language.

“Our support for the return of the Bnei Menashe is based on God’s promises to Israel to ‘bring your descendants from the east’, as we read in Isaiah 43:5”, said Dr. Juergen Buehler, the ICEJ Executive Director. “We are thrilled to partner with Shavei Israel in making this dream come true for these precious sons and daughters of Zion.”

The Israel Fellows program is something Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky has championed as an integral piece of his larger vision of bolstering Jewish identity among young Diaspora Jews. Since he became chairman in 2009, the number of Israel Fellows has increased from 19 to 56 on 70 North American campuses.

Today, the benchmark is higher. “Nowadays, our goal is not only for them to say ‘I had a life-changing experience’ but ‘I had a life-changing experience − and here’s why,’” says Dr. Zohar Raviv, the international vice president for education at Birthright. 

“We want them to be able to articulate what they went through on the trip. We want them to go back home better-informed and more-knowledgeable Jews.”

There are no statistics on how many of the more than 300,000 Birthright alumni have immigrated to Israel following their trips, though experts say the percentage is small.

“The goal of Birthright was not to promote aliyah,” says Prof. Leonard Saxe, director of the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University. “In the modern era, the key issue was to create connections between Diaspora Jewry and Israel.”

By Michael Snow

Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state is also bound up with its ability to address the views of Jews worldwide. When many Jews look at the Kotel policies, they see a refutation of our most basic principles, such as gender equality and religious pluralism. Entrenching the current Israeli rabbinate’s power structure will only serve to further isolate Israel in the global Jewish community.

Israel will achieve its mission when Jews across the globe can say: This is a place which represents my values. This is my home. Let’s make it our home.

With a wealth of historical places revered by Christians in the Galilee, Israel is sitting on a potential tourist gold mine. However, a visit to the area reveals four painfully underdeveloped sites.

There is no end of controversy about Jerusalem, old and new.  Archeology has become a full-fledged battlefield in the dispute over who has the superior claim to the city, Jews or Muslims.
… the history of the Muslim association with Jerusalem deserves a serious account.

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