Religion and State in Israel – November 19, 2007

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Religion and State in Israel
November 19, 2007
Editor: Joel Katz


Breaking with tradition

By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz

In Rabbi Benjamin Lau’s eyes, each one of these incidents demonstrates an abdication of national responsibility by the rabbinical establishment, in the face of its preference for narrow sectarian interests.

“We allowed the rabbinate to become the preserve of political interests and rabbis who are taking orders from the Lithuanian leadership, which has no stake in the national interest. “There is no logic in allowing ultra-Orthodox-run rabbinical courts,” continues Lau.

“This is one of those places where Israeli society comes into contact with the world of halakha. When a couple comes in for a divorce, I expect the rabbi to understand their social background.
But, if he hasn’t gone to the army, and he’s lived a life closed off from the Israeli street, you’re going to have a cultural collision.”


Divorcing the rabbinate

By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz
Although Tzohar was founded a decade ago, it was only this past March that this group of maverick Orthodox rabbis took the highly unorthodox step of challenging the Chief Rabbinate in Israel’s Supreme Court.
“We weren’t happy to do it,” says Rabbi David Stav, one of Tzohar’s founders.
Stav says he felt “that the group there in the Chief Rabbinate was just so corrupt, a group of ultra-Orthodox apparatchiks deciding who should be a judge.”

“We never meant to be the enemies of the Rabbinate,” says Rabbi Yuval Sherlo, one of Tzohar’s founders, “but they gave us no choice.


The right to self-determination

By Ruth Gavison, Haaretz

The attempt to uproot Jewish nationalism as a central component of the State of Israel is therefore contrary to Zionism, contrary to the history of establishing the state, contrary to the international decisions that recognized the rights of the Jews to self-determination, contrary to the views held by most of the Jewish inhabitants of Israel – who want Israel to continue to be their nation-state – and contrary to the position of the Arab citizens of Israel, who regard themselves as Palestinian Arabs in nationality and as Israelis only in citizenship.


A stupid demand

By Yoel Marcus, Haaretz

We exist, and we are a Jewish state. The whole world has recognized us as a Jewish state. The Arab countries that attacked after Israel’s Declaration of Independence did so because it was a Jewish state


Still a democracy?

By Shulamit Aloni, Haaretz

The government of Israel, with all due respect, does not represent the Jewish people but rather the citizens of the State of Israel who elected it.


Rabbi Mordechei Eliyahu: Forbidden to even pass by Reform or Conservative ‘prayer-house’
By Edan Yosef, (Hebrew)(translated excerpts)

Rabbi Mordechei Eliyahu is considered the spiritual leader of the Sephardic Religious Zionist community.

He explained to his audience that when he was in a Diaspora community, he was invited to be the ‘sandak’ in a building where there were three synagogues in a 3-story building.

“I saw in the entrance a sign indicating that on the first floor was a Reform ‘prayer-house’ (beit tefila) and on the second floor was a Conservative synagogue, and only on the upper floor was the ‘Orthodox’ beit-midrash where I had to go. And I stopped to think – how could I enter and go past these synagogues?”

According to the Halacha, it is forbidden to also pass by the entrance of a house of idol worship.

Rabbi Eliyahu added and said that in this spirit he asked if there was another way to go up and they responded that there was a side-kitchen where one could go up without going past the entrance of the Reform and Conservative ‘batei-tefila’.

“I said to them that I would only go up using this kitchen and only if I wouldn’t pass the entrances of the forbidden synagogues.”

NFC Footnote: One of Rabbi Eliyahu’s students wished to clarify that the Rabbi spoke about the difficulty of entering [such a building] and all the more so – to be photographed as he entered an entrance where it is written “Reform Synagogue” and “Conservative Synagogue”.


Fallower than thou

By Yair Ettinger, Haaretz

The shmita crisis, whose first chapter ended in an ultra-Orthodox defeat at the High Court of Justice, has diverted attention from a no less fervid ideological battle raging within religious Zionism.

On the surface, this is about a dispute in rabbinic law. Beneath the surface, this is a stormy fight that touches upon the political agenda within religious Zionism.

Rabbi Benny Lau, the rabbi of the Ramban Synagogue in Jerusalem, told Haaretz recently that rabbis must denounce the oppression of manpower company workers just as they must thwart the threat hanging over most producers and consumers of produce in Israel.

“The title ‘rabbi’ has to come with collateral,” he said. “What is happening now in religious Zionism is bringing us closer to intra-Zionist solidarity. Rabbis want to see religious services as a more central core of Israeli society while saying what needs to be said in the face of ultra-Orthodox violence.”


Finance Minister signs reduction of customs for shmita

By Amiram Cohen, Haaretz

Finance Minister Roni Bar-On signed at the end of last week a directive to reduce customs levies on fresh agricultural produce imported for the ultra-Orthodox during the shmita, or sabbatical, year.

Most of the imports will be fruits and vegetables for those choosing to strictly observe the halakhic proscriptions of using produce grown on Jewish-owned lands in Israel.

Bar-On emphasized that the order is for one year only, and will not harm local farmers. The order will allow imports of up to 10 percent of the produce used in Israel, or about 100,000 tons.

Many of the imports will come from Jordan, with which Israel already has mutual zero-customs agreements.

Other produce, for example potatoes and carrots, may come from Turkey or Cyprus and customs duties on these products will be cut by 50 percent.


Haredim win apartments at cut rate

Reform Movement’s Israel Religious Action Center highlighted on Israel TV

VIDEO – Israel Channel 2 Ulpan Shishi ( (Hebrew) (8.5 minutes)

A special program operated by the Ministry of Housing and Construction: the State sells the land at discount price to contractors and they sell the apartments at convenient prices to customers. Since 2002, the Haredi sector is the only one to benefit.

(Rabbi Gilad Kariv, Associate Director, Israel Religious Action Center; Attorney Orly Erez-Likhovski interviewed)


Jewish disengagement

By Naomi Chazan,

Many American Jews know little, if anything, about the main domestic issues facing Israel today.

While they may have read about corruption in the corridors of power, they are not conversant with the constitutional debate in the country.

They are familiar with the monopoly of Orthodoxy, but ignore its ramifications for human and civil rights.

Multiple Jewish voices reengaged with Israeli concerns can contribute enormously to defining Israel’s longer-term interests and placing current policies in perspective.

They can help fortify the country’s democratic foundations. And, ultimately, they can sustain the increasingly tenuous connection between Israel and world Jewry so apparent in Nashville.


Two imperfect models of Jewish conferencing

By Haviv Rettig,

If this isn’t done, the American Jewish community may continue to raise lots of money, but it will become an old-age home. In Israel, we may find a Hebrew-speaking nation running a country that has little to do with the world Jewish community.

At this GA, while some interesting things were said about endowments and programming benchmarks, the opportunity for a serious discussion about cultural renewal was missed.


‘Micro-communing’ on campus

Nathalie Gorman, sophomore and president of the Chicago Friends of Israel student organization. In business management terminology, it’s an “actionable” idea for American Jewish educators.

“There’s a very frail basis for most [young] people’s support for Israel,” she says. “They’ve been shown a video, given flags and candy. They’re told Israel is good and you should like it.

So when they get to places like this where their views are challenged, that knee-jerk support doesn’t hold up – not in this [college] setting, and certainly not in the adult world.”


Haredim and State

By Esti Keller,

Dr. Aviad Hacohen, Dean, Shaarei Mishpat Law College:
“Haredi communities have recognized the Supreme Court’s existence only in the past 10 to 15 years, a development which is the result of their continued Israelization [integration into Israeli society] during this period,” he says.

“This is demonstrated in the increasing numbers of haredim in the work force, the gradual decline of their use of Yiddish in favor of Hebrew and their increasing participation in politics, among other factors.”


Haredi men in pursuit of spiritual excellence

By Rabbi Levi Brackman,

According to some reports, 51% of haredi Jews in Israel live below the poverty line.
In addition the fact that the Israeli government has to support these families, who for the most part do not go to the army, causes social strife with secular Israeli Jews.

Add to this the fact that most of the students who are studying in the yeshivas and kollels are not quite cut out for full time learning, and it becomes obvious that a change of track is needed.

The orthodox world needs to strike a balance between intense scholarship and seeking a career.
The pursuit of learning is noble and must be supported. But making it into an obligatory full time occupation for the entire society has social consequences that are unsustainable in the long run.

One hopes that the religious leaders in those communities would have the courage to look at other models more beneficial for both their own communities and for Israeli society as a whole.


Passion, not poison

By Jonathan Rosenblum,

The outcome in the clash between these two opposing approaches within the haredi world is of vital importance, not only for the haredi world itself but for the larger Jewish community that desperately needs to be touched by the haredi passion for being Jewish.


Jaffa Muslims sue for access to Waqf funds

By Yigal Hai, Haaretz

The first in a series of legal deliberations were held yesterday in Tel Aviv to address a suit filed by the Muslim community in Jaffa against the state, and the committee that is the caretaker of Waqf properties in the Tel Aviv-Jaffa metropolitan area.

The suit, filed by a human rights organization representing the community, is demanding a detailed listing of all Waqf properties as well as the income derived from them, either by sale or rent, since 1996.

Attorney Hisham Shbeita, representing the community, said that the issue is not the right of return, but funds to which they are entitled for community purposes, which have not been paid by the state.


Vatican: Ties with Israel worsening

Associated Press

”If I must be frank, the relations between the Catholic Church and the state of Israel were better when there were no diplomatic ties,” said Archbishop Pietro Sambi, interviewed earlier in the week in Washington, where he now serves as Pope Benedict XVI’s envoy to the United States.

”The Holy See decided to establish diplomatic relations (in 1993) with Israel as an act of faith, leaving to latter the serious promises to regulate concrete aspects of the life of the Catholic community and the Church” in Israel, Sambi said.


Palestinians clean Joseph’s Tomb

By Efrat Weiss,

This is a positive turnaround – the beginning of a ray of light, members of the Committee of Samaria Dwellers, of Breslov Hassidim, after learning that Palestinians have begun cleaning Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus.


Poll: Seculars stick to religious bar mitzvah ceremony

By Kobi Nahshoni,

A breakdown of the results by religious affiliation indicates that while 100% of parents who identified as observant, religious and ultra-Orthodox said they would celebrate their child’s bar mitzvah in accordance with Jewish Law, only 79% of secular parents said the same.

The remaining 21% of secular parents said they would not tie religious tradition to the birthday.
The numbers show that Orthodox synagogues are still the most popular venue with 65% of respondents saying they would likely hold the bar mitzvah there. 26% answered they would prefer the Western Wall and only 6% opted for a Reform or Conservative synagogue.


Haredi Hooligans

By Michele Chabin, The Jewish Week

“It wasn’t until 1,500 people stood on a street corner that the police and the municipality began to take us seriously,” said Sharon Raanan, who recently created the “Action Committee Against Violence in Beit Shemesh,” what she called an “activist organization to fight haredi violence.”

The municipality and local people decided to go public after the attack on the Egged bus passenger.

“It was the proverbial straw,” Lerner, who wears the knitted kipa of a Modern Orthodox Jew, said of the incident. Lerner said the demonstration was organized “to send a message.”
Raanan says she is still waiting for the community’s haredi rabbis “to come out with a public statement that the hooligans are rodfim”- pursuers who threaten the lives of others – “and to require their followers to photograph the hooligans who are perpetrating the violence.”


Campaign launched to boost recruitment to haredi army unit

By Matthew Wagner,

As part of IDF efforts to reduce draft dodging, the heads of the Nahal Haredi battalion have in recent weeks been working aggressively to mainstream army service for dropouts from haredi yeshivot.

Sources within the battalion recently leaked the names of current or former Nahal Haredi soldiers who are the sons or grandsons of prominent haredi rabbis and MKs.

Meanwhile, last week Nahal Haredi officials inundated haredi neighborhoods with flyers modeled after pashkevilim, the black and white notices ubiquitous in these communities, that called on “young yeshiva students not currently enrolled in a Torah institute” who want to “earn a respectable salary” to call a toll free number.

The Jerusalem Post called the number that appeared on the flyer titled “Have you thought about your future?” and was answered by an IDF induction clerk.


Shabbos Water Tower Inaugurated in Modi’in Illit

By A. Cohen, Dei’ah veDibur

According to a Mekorot representative, the new water tower, which will allow Modi’in Illit to have completely Shomer Shabbos water, was built 340 meters (1,100 feet) above sea level, is 45 meters (150 feet) in diameter and cost NIS 7 million ($1.8 million) to construct.

Seventy percent of the funding came from the Modi’in Illit Local Council and 30 percent from Mekorot.

Mekorot Chairman Mr. Eli Ronen said the “Shabbos tower” allows Modi’in Illit residents to lead their lives as they require and to receive water on Shabbos without human intervention.

The water tower is filled to the top before Shabbos and the pumps bringing in water from Mekorot are turned off at the beginning of Shabbos. At the beginning of each week the council receives a graph showing water consumption every Shabbos.


Venture proposes kosher Internet solution

By Noa Pereg,

Neto Shops Ltd. and entrepreneur group DSK are planning to launch a private venture for the haredi (ultra-orthodox) community early next year – an Internet search engine of websites and information pages with no direct link to the Internet.


The newest rave: Shabbat gadgets

By Tani Goldstein,

Observing Shabbat but have to call your grandmother? Have to have a cup of coffee when you come back from weekend services? The Halachic Institute for Science and Technology has just the thing for you.


Chabad leaders arrested for alleged theft, money-laundering

By Nurit Roth and Roni Singer-Heruti, Haaretz

The leader of the “Young Chabad” movement in Israel and four other suspects were arrested by Israeli police on suspicion of embezzling $60 million from donated monies, tax evasion and money-laundering.

The arrests of Yosef Aharonov, his assistant and the others followed a collaborative secret eight-month investigation by the Central District Fraud Squad and the Tax Authority.

Young Chabad is a nonprofit organization dedicated to spreading the word of Torah and the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic messages. It was founded by the Lubavitcher rabbi (and is also known an Lubavitch Youth), to serve as the operational arm of the Chabad movement.

It is the most dominant of the ultra-Orthodox movement’s arms in Israel, and runs on a budget of about NIS 30 million a year. From that amount, about 20 percent is allocated by the state. For the rest, Chabad relies largely on donations, including from leading business figures in Israel.

By the way, that annual figure of NIS 30 million (and NIS 7 million from government) is based on reports by Young Chabad to the Registrar of Associations.


Knesset panel to discuss painful Jewish Agency FSU cuts

By Haviv Rettig,

According to MK Ze’ev Elkin (Kadima), the move represents an “incredible ideological revolution. This opens a new page in the relationship between the state of Israel, the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization.

The Agency is saying that Hebrew instruction is not one of its priorities, but only what the [American Jewish] federations [who fund most of the Agency’s budget] want.

In fact, the Agency today functions as just one more non-profit working to get American money. If the Agency is just another non-profit, maybe the state should relate to it differently, since it would no longer be part of the national institutions.”


New bill would give citizenship to thousands of non-Jewish children

By Ruth Eglash,

Roughly 6500 children of Israeli citizens live here without clear national status. Some even serve in the IDF without being granted full-blown citizenship.

This dubious status is held by two main groups of immigrant children – those who are fourth-generation Jews, i.e. they have a Jewish great-grandfather and are not entitled to automatic citizenship like their parents (4000 children); and children from a Jewish Israeli’s non-Jewish spouse’s previous marriage, neither of whose biological parents were Jews (2500 children).


Husband signs divorce papers 20 years after disappearing

By Raanan Ben-Zur,

Twenty years after disappearing and leaving his wife “agunah” (bound in marriage by a husband who is missing) a French Jewish man has been located in an Israeli jail and has agreed to give his wife a divorce.

Rabbi Vizner managed to locate the prisoner and tried to persuade him to give his wife a divorce.

After the man eventually agreed, rabbinical judges arrived at the court, got the man declare that he was giving his wife a divorce and to sign the divorce papers, and the woman was finally released from marriage.


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