Religion and State in Israel – October 8, 2007

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Religion and State in Israel

October 8, 2007
Editor: Joel Katz

By Neta Sela,

Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai said he would authorize a project to renovate runways at the Ben Gurion Airport on the condition that works on the weekend would be conducted by non-Jewish laborers.

Yishai decided that Jews would only be allowed to hold managerial positions in the project.

The Israel Aviation Authority began renovating the runways in July, and is planning to have the works completed by the end of November.

During this time, the airport would have to shut down on six consecutive weekends, to allow construction to be carried out on the runways.

Yishai’s decision is in line with the Hours of Work and Rest Law, which prohibits working on Saturday.

The minister’s aides also stated that his decision was backed by a halachic ruling of Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, and approved by Shas’ spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.


By Evelyn Gordon,

Beyond the immediate, kashrut-related benefits, Tzohar’s revolt also has potentially far-reaching consequences for vital issues such as marriage, divorce and conversion.

Granted, Tzohar is unlikely to introduce competition on these issues anytime soon.

Nevertheless, should Tzohar’s gambit succeed, the implicit threat will be there: Just as religious Zionists, once the kashrut monopoly’s staunchest supporters, ultimately led a successful revolt against it, they are liable to do the same in other areas unless the rabbinate shapes up. That threat could even prompt the rabbinate to reform.

But if not, it is a good bet that the revolt will someday occur.

By Steven Erlanger,

For most Israelis, said Rabbi Yehudah Mirsky, a theologian, heter mechira “helped Zionism create a modern agriculture in the new state.”

But for many especially observant Jews, this is a dodge too far. They insist their produce must be grown by non-Jews on non-Jewish land.

“Heter mechira is a religious stretch, and the ultra-Orthodox are not ideologically invested in the enterprise of building a modern economy,” Rabbi Mirsky said.

By Joshua Mitnick, The Forward

Back in the time of the Bible, Joseph dreamed about seven years of famine, and he was able to deal with it,” said Aaron Katzman, a columnist at the Haredi newspaper Hamodia who criticized the group of rabbis challenging therabbinate’s authority over kashrut inspection.

“With all of our technology, we can’t get through this one-year shmita-cycle?”

By Aviv Lavie and Shiri Katz, Haaretz

Some growers, however, do intend to observe shmita fully. Shahar Caspi, an Orthodox Jew who farms organically on Moshav Herut in the Sharon region, recently informed his customers that the farm will not be in operation in the coming year.

Caspi and his family are planning to spend the whole year, until next Rosh Hashanah, in the United States.


By Megan Jacobs,

Despite the recent ruling by the Chief Rabbinate that Jews may not participate in any Christian events, Rabbis Shlomo Riskin and Benny Elon spoke in support of the Day of Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem (DPPJ) on Sunday night at the Haas Promenade.

Organized by Rev. Robert Stearns of the group Eagles’ Wings and Dr. Jack Hayford of The Church on the Way, DPPJ united over 150 nations and more than 150,000 churches worldwide in prayer.

By Neta Sela,

For the first time this year, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel banned Jews from participating in the parade, fearing missionary influences. However, despite the ban, many religious and Orthodox Jews still turned out to watch and participate in the Sukkot festivities.

Representatives of the Rabbinate were present at the march handing out flyers, headlined “Missionary Threat”, which explained the opposition to the Christian participation in the parade.


By Shahar Ilan, Haaretz

Finance committee chair, Likud MK Gilad Erdan says the chances the [KKL, aka JNF] law will be ready for its first reading at the meeting’s close are slim.

He also estimates that before the bill passes, a number of compromises will be raised to enable the KKL to designate land for Jews only.

One option is to revoke the arrangement of administrating lands via the Israel Lands Administration and to return their administration to the KKL.

Another option is for the state to purchase about 1 million dunams of absentee lands from the fund that it sold to the KKL in the 1950s.

By Dror Etkes,

The JNF is attempting to enjoy both worlds: Maintain the immense official power

trusted in its hands, while at the same time arguing that its blatantly
discriminatory policy does not undermine the values of equality.

By Uri Ariel,

The writer is a Knesset member and chairman of the National Union-NRP Knesset faction

An overwhelming majority of Israel’s citizens, with the exception of a handful
of radical leftists, wants a synthesis of democracy and Judaism that does not
blur the priority and preference to be accorded in the future as well to Jews,
the Jewish nationality, and to Jewish tradition.


Dresses that were voluntarily designed by 19 top Israeli fashion designers based on the stories of women refused a divorce and modeled by well-known celebrities at a special event held in June 2007.

By Susan H. Sachs,

Interview with Rabbinical Courts Administrative head Rabbi Eliyahu Ben-Dahan

The definitions of “get-refusal” or “intransigent” as the basis for the low figures cited by the rabbinate are contested, since the rabbinical court tallies only cases where the court decided that the couple should divorce.

The court does not consider those individuals who only overcame a recalcitrant spouse by paying a high price, those who despaired of a get and whose cases are no longer active, nor those for whom the court has yet to rule despite the passage of long years.

When asked about prenuptial agreements as a solution for difficulties associated with get-refusal, Ben-Dahan says that “on principle” he approves, and that “many dayanim and rabbanim accept them – if they are according to Halacha.”

He did, however, designate one in particular that is halachically valid. This agreement is known as Heskem Lekavod Hadadi, or the Agreement for Mutual Respect.

By Ruth Sinai, Haaretz

A Rabbinical Court forbade a Sderot man to spend the holiday with his children, who live with their mother in another city, due to the security situation in the southern town.

The Jerusalem Rabbinical Court ruled the father may have the children, aged 3, 4 and 7, only if they spent the holiday away from Sderot.

By Cnaan Liphshiz, Haaretz

The European Court of Human Rights (CHR) last week issued an injunction against Swiss authorities, preventing them from forcibly sending an Israeli-born boy back to his father in Tel Aviv.

In an interview with Le Matin, Isabelle said she’d broken the law because she was afraid of Noam’s father, who had become religious and joined Chabad shortly after his son was born in 2003.


By TheMarker/Haaretz

Lev Leviev, an internationally known real estate and diamonds magnate, paid money to 60 Israeli state schools through his foundation to teach “traditional values and Jewish culture”.

The organization – The Leviev Foundation for Jewish Education and Identity – which he co-founded with his wife Olga, also supplies study material and books.

Here in Israel, he paid for “Travel Time” (zman masa) lessons at the 60 schools. His media adviser says Leviev had been horrified by the paucity of religious education at state schools, and decided to do something about it.

The religious lessons are provided from grades 1 through 6, and are taught by religious female students at teacher training colleges. The teachers discuss the importance of prayer and the halakhic view of history.

By Zev Chafets,

Leviev’s pragmatism ends, however, at the vexing and fundamental question of who is a Jew. American Reform Judaism recognizes patrilineal descent.

The State of Israel grants citizenship under the Law of Return to people with a single Jewish grandparent.

But Leviev accepts only the Talmudic rule that a Jew is anyone born to a Jewish mother, or someone who has undergone an Orthodox conversion and agreed to keep all 613 Jewish laws.

Lev Leviev’s loyalty to Chabad is unquestioning. “The rebbe is my role model, and my values are his values,” he says.

By Or Kashti, Haaretz

When Ruth (not her real name) asked to sign up for an ultra-Orthodox high school in her home town in the North, she was refused.

The official reason: Claims by the educational institution’s management of so-called immodest behavior by her mother – which Ruth rejected out of hand.

According to Rabbi Yoav Lalum, claims of immodest behavior are usually a front for justifying discrimination. Lalum is the chairman of a non-profit organization battling ultra-Orthodox schools over sectorial discrimination against Jews of Sephardic heritage.


By Peggy Cidor,

Anat Hoffman:

“I would like to hear how Yehuda Meshi-Zahav sees this rapprochement between him and me, a woman, a non-Orthodox Jew, a Reform Jew.

I would like to know how he sees this connection taking shape.

I would like him to answer my questions: Is there more than one way to be Jewish?

Is Judaism capable of including changes?

Does he see any way of partnership or at least some cooperation between his community and the Reform Jews in this city?”

Yehuda Meshi-Zahav:

“I believe Jerusalem should be protected not only from violence and war, but

also from any plan to change its spirit and character,” he explains.

“I am convinced, actually I know for sure, that religious people – from all religions

– and secular alike, share at least one thing in common: No one here wants to
see Jerusalem become like any other city.”


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