Religion and State in Israel – October 29, 2007

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Religion and State in Israel
October 29, 2007
Editor: Joel Katz

Rabbinate threatens to fine rebel rabbis
By Matthew Wagner,

The Chief Rabbinate’s legal advisor warned Monday that Tzohar rabbis would be slapped with fines if they did not desist immediately from providing alternative kashrut supervision.

“We will not sit idly by while rabbis, no matter how respected they may be, openly break the laws regulating kosher supervision in Israel,” said Shimon Ulman, the chief rabbinate’s legal advisor, who said he planned to push for fining Tzohar rabbis at this Thursday’s meeting of the Chief Rabbinate’s governing body.

Tzohar went ahead with the launching despite a Supreme Court ruling last week that, if implemented, made the need for the alternative supervision unnecessary.

Tzohar’s Chairman, Rabbi Rafi Feurstein explained that until his organization saw the Supreme Court decision implemented it would move forward with the creation of a competing kosher supervision body.

High Court orders Rabbinate to use shmita status quo
By Amiram Cohen and Yair Ettinger, Haaretz

The judges, Beinisch, Elyakim Rubinstein and Esther Hayut, stated in their decision that they were not forcing any local rabbi to act against his beliefs or interpretation of Jewish law. The ruling stated: “Our statements are directed only against the decision of the Chief Rabbinate to change its policy and to refrain from exercising its authority.”

In addition, the judges ruled that the Rabbinate did not balance the interests involved: the independence of the municipal rabbis against the economic, national and legal interests of farmers and the general public.

Beinisch also said that the Rabbinate’s decision was out of proportion, they had no authority to take a more stringent stance unnecessarily, that such a decision seriously harmed farmers’ livelihood leads to discrimination and resulted in inequality due to the high prices of produce.


The not so Chief Rabbinate
By Yair Ettinger, Haaretz

It seems that the shmita crisis proved beyond any doubt that the Israeli Chief Rabbinate is actually located in the small Jerusalem apartment of “the great Jewish religious legal decisor of the generation,” Rabbi Elyashiv.

He is the one who appointed Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger to the post in 2003 – on condition that he bring about the end of the Heter Mechira. But on the eve of the shmita year, Metzger understood that he could not pay off this debt. Now it is easy for Metzger to paint himself to his supporters as the victim of court coercion in the Heter Mechira affair.

If the High Court cannot judge religious matters

Haaretz Editorial

The Court’s decision will prevent municipal rabbis from exploiting their authority to impose their stricter version of the laws of shmita on the entire population.

It is an important ruling not just for this specific case, but for the principle it embodies: “The test of reasonableness” – the principle that the High Court justices use when they examine every government decision – applies also to the Rabbinate.


Rabbinate’s shmita decision overturned
By Matthew Wagner,

“Today’s decision is a victory for democracy,” said company owner Eyal Yisraeli.

“I have nothing against religious people,” he added. “I am even willing to fight for their right to live in accordance with their beliefs. But rabbis have no right to force their beliefs on others.”

Heter mechira represents 85% to 90% of the local produce market, according to Yerachmiel Goldin, who is in charge of shmita in the Agriculture Ministry.


The truth about shmita
By Avi Shafran,

The writer is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.

A 35-year-old organization, Keren Hashvi’is, raises millions of dollars each shmita year to help support shmita-observant farmers.

CLICK HERE for Keren Hashvi’is VIDEO on shmita

If the High Court cannot judge religious matters
Haaretz Editorial

If the “Consensual Constitution” that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised to pass this year, along with the compromise that prevents the High Court of Justice from intervening in matters of religion, are both accepted, then the courts will be unable to save the country from examples of blatant religious coercion, as it did yesterday.

This is an excellent example of the High Court of Justice’s contribution to allowing normal life in Israel, and also shows that there is no chance to separate religion from the state in the foreseeable future.


Friedmann opposes constitution that compromises on religious matters
By Yuval Yoaz, Haaretz

Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann is opposed to introducing a constitution if it includes a compromise on matters of religion and state, which would preclude the High Court of Justice intervening in these areas.

At issue are five main areas:

Rabbinical court jurisdiction regarding marriage, divorce and intimacy, as it stands pre-constitution;

conversion to Judaism and other religions;

the Jewish nature of the Sabbath and Jewish holidays in the public domain;

observing kashrut (Jewish dietary laws) at state institutions;

and granting Israeli citizenship to the relatives of anyone eligible to immigrate to Israel.


A constitution for Israel / Toward substantive democracy
By Mordechai Kremnitzer

The writer is a senior fellow of the Israel Democracy Institute and a framer of the IDI’s Constitution by Consensus.

The proposed compromise, which involves removing several elements in the religion-state realm from the power of the Supreme Court to abolish laws is indeed a painful compromise from a liberal point of view.

However, when in the face of the price we weigh the obligation, which is part of the compromise proposal, to set forth a prescription for relationships – enabling couples in the future not to subject themselves to the judgment of the rabbinical courts – and also the other advantages, it becomes clear that this is a compromise that entails a significant price but which is worthy from a practical liberal point of view.


A common denominator and a hope
By Shahar Ilan, Haaretz

The status quo between religion and state was the brainchild of a society that knew how to make concessions and how to reach agreements. We have since lost the capability to compromise.

Bridging the abyss
By Rabbi Tony Bayfield, Haaretz

The writer is head of the Movement for Reform Judaism in Britain

My colleagues in the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism are doing a heroic and vital job. Despite their continuing and scandalous disenfranchisement, on both the legal and financial levels, they have built synagogues and provide life-cycle services for tens of thousands of Israelis.

But sometimes they feel all their efforts are but a drop in the ocean, or, rather, the beating of butterfly wings against a glass wall, on the other side of which the life and death of the Zionist dream is being acted out.


Montreal’s Jews aren’t going anywhere
By Yoni Goldstein, Haaretz

Yoni Goldstein is an editorial writer at Canada’s National Post, and a columnist at the Canadian Jewish News

Perhaps the time has come for Israel in general to reevaluate its relationship with Diaspora Jewry and acknowledge that there are other places in the world perfectly suited to Jewish living.


Ghosts & Goblins
By Rabbi David Forman

To think we are beholden to rabbinic ghosts and goblins for decisions that might affect the welfare of the Jewish state is spooky.

We must stop seeking spiritual guidance from our Ovadia Yosefs, who tell us we are cursed, deserving of some dreadful calamity because of a defective mezuza or irregular attendance in synagogue.

Chief Rabbi visits [U.S.] to deal with conversion
By Jennifer Siegel, The Forward

The Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel traveled to the United States last week to hammer out the specifics of a new agreement on Orthodox conversion practices.

Over the coming year, according to Rabbi Basil Herring, executive vice president of the RCA, the RCA plans to open 20 conversion courts throughout North America.

They will operate according to centralized procedures intended to ensure that all conversions are recognized in Israel, but this will also make conversions harder in many cases.

According to guidelines for the courts, released last April, judges will refuse to convert the adopted children of Jewish couples if the parents do not practice a fully Orthodox lifestyle.

“In America, we have about 21% of affiliated Jews who are Orthodox, versus 39% Reform and 31% Conservative, so you can see this is a minority that is claiming authority for the majority,” said Kathy Kahn, director of the Department of Outreach and Membership at the Union for Reform Judaism.

“The [conversion] ritual performed [by a Reform or Conservative rabbi] could be completely authentic, but if the rabbi is not recognized, it does not matter.”


Friedmann: High Court should address Jewish citizenship only
By Shahar Ilan, Haaretz

The High Court of Justice should not review petitions by non-Jews on citizenship issues, Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann recently told the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee in a request to limit such petitions to the jurisdiction of administrative courts.

If the committee accepts Friedmann’s proposal, the High Court of Justice will only rule on immigration matters that pertain to Jews, relatives of Jewish immigrants and collaborators who worked with security services.

Supreme Court rejects petition – religious court judges to be sworn in
By Kobi Nahshoni, (Hebrew edition)

The Supreme Court rejected the petition brought against the committee responsible for appointing religious court judges.


18-year aguna suing Justice Ministry
By Dan Izenberg,

Rachel Avraham waited 18 years for her divorce.

She was 36 years old when she left her husband, home and all her property behind in Yavne and took a cab with her five daughters and one son, ranging in age from 14 years to half a year, to her parents’ home in Binyamina.

Last month, in an unprecedented lawsuit, Avraham, backed by the non profit organization, Center for Women’s Justice (CWJ), sued the Justice Ministry, which is in charge of the rabbinical courts, for NIS 4.5 million in Ramat Gan Family Court.

Attorney Susan Weiss, the founder of the Center for Women’s Justice, told the Post that the Avraham case was a classic one for revealing so many different faults in the rabbinical court system – for example, that there is no finality in its rulings, that it allows husband to manipulate the system and that the courts themselves indulge in a power struggle with the secular courts.
She said since the Justice Ministry was in charge of the religious courts, they were ultimately responsible for its faults.

“In this lawsuit, we’re saying, ‘Something’s wrong, and someone must take responsibility,'” said Weiss. “And it’s not just the husbands or the rabbinical courts.”

Panel: Recognize Theofilis as rightful Greek patriarch
By Meron Rapoport and Barak Ravid, Haaretz

The decision, spurred by American pressure and the personal involvement of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, is supposed to put an end to a convoluted affair in the course of which various parties in Israel tried to condition the patriarch’s appointment on his selling real estate properties to Jews.

Israel to recognize Greek Patriarch
Ronny Sofer,

The Israeli government decided to recognize the appointment of Greek Orthodox Patriarch Archbishop Theophilus III on Sunday after he made clear that he had no obligation to give a list of church land holdings to Jordan or the Palestinian Authority.

The patriarch doesn’t get mail
By Shahar Ilan, Haaretz

On one thing the Internal Affairs Committee was in agreement: Patriarchs without property have it a lot easier in Israel.

For more than two years Israel has not recognized the Greek Orthodox patriarch Theofilos, whose church is among the important landowners in the country.

Israel’s only crematorium to re-open
By Matthew Wagner,

Just months after a religiously motivated arson attack destroyed Israel’s only crematorium, the Aley Shalechet Funeral Home announced Sunday that in the coming month it would import a new machine to be installed at a secret location.

“We don’t plan to give in to violence or threats,” said Alon Nativ, owner and manager of Aley Shalechet (Autumn Leaves).


J’lem church officials suspect extremist Jews behind arson
AP, Haaretz

A church in central Jerusalem was set afire before dawn Wednesday and suffered extensive damage, police said. Arsonists, suspected to be extremist Jews, forced their way into the church and set it afire, church officials said Wednesday.

The sanctuary used by four separate congregations, including Baptists, had been burned down in 1982 by an ultranationalist Jewish group and later rebuilt, said a pastor at the church, Charles Kopp.


Evangelicals bring Iranian Jews to Israel

Evangelical Christians in US convince dozens of Iranian Jews to move to Israel offering cash incentives of $10,000 and claiming Iran’s tiny Jewish community in grave danger.


From blessing to curse
By Ofri Ilani, Haaretz

The kabbalistic pulsa denura curse entered the parlance of the broad Israeli public in October 1995, after the airing of a film depicting its being cast against Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. One month later Rabin was assassinated.

Most people assumed that the curse was of ancient mystical origins, but a recent study shows it was in fact invented and used to political ends by officials within Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community.

Girls must not miss Torah studies during teachers’ strike’
By Kobi Nahshoni,

“Each day that girls go idle and do not study the Torah causes them irreversible psychological damage.

Appropriate facilities where they can study the Torah during the strike must be found,” said Ramat Gan’s Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, a veteran rabbi from the Religious Zionist community, when relating to girls missing their Torah studies during the ongoing teachers’ strike.


After lengthy struggle, Herzl’s grandson to be reinterred in Israel
By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz

The remains of Theodor Herzl’s only grandson, who committed suicide 61 years ago, are to be brought to Israel next month and buried on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.

Two months ago, permission was granted by Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who also approved the reinterment of the Herzl children, although Norman was a suicide and was not mentioned in Herzl’s will.

Ultra-Orthodox women, unite!
By Tamar Rotem, Haaretz

Last week 15 kindergarten teachers suddenly appeared at the office of the Education Ministry ombudswoman.

Their excitement was obvious as they handed her a sheaf of papers: the Tel Aviv Regional Labor Court decision barring the Agudat Yisrael nursery school network from firing them.

Chairs were brought in from other rooms, and finally they told their story, the story of the women who created the first ultra-Orthodox labor union.

The kindergarten teachers shattered a taboo in ultra-Orthodox society – fighting for one’s rights.


Mother, what is sexual harassment?
By Sami Peretz, Haaretz

In the end, the goal is to increase awareness and reduce the amount of sexual harassment. If we have to skirt around the wording in order to do so, it is still kosher.

Preventing sexual harassment is more important than educating the ultra-Orthodox sector by force.

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