Religion and State in Israel – November 19, 2007

By ,

Religion and State in Israel
November 26, 2007
Editor: Joel Katz


Much ado about Rabbi Eliyahu
By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz

There are a wealth of plausible reasons for the failure of the non-Orthodox versions of Judaism to gain a foothold in Israel, but the lack of public or private funding doesn’t appear to be one of the main ones.

Despite the stranglehold of the ultra-Orthodox politicians over the state coffers financing religious activity, there are still hundreds of Orthodox synagogues and communities that don’t receive any public funding and still have no problem attracting large numbers of members the year round.

By contrast, the few successful Reform and Conservative communities in Israel are still isolated islands of pluralism. It might be easy to get all worked up about Eliyahu’s slur, but the Reform and Conservative leaderships would do better to worry about a comment made by another rabbi.

A few weeks ago, I asked Rafi Feurstein, chairman of Tzohar, the group of liberal-minded Zionist-Orthodox rabbis currently challenging the Rabbinical establishment over a wide range of issues, whether he would consider coordinating any of Tzohar’s battles with Reform and Conservative leadership.

“No,” he said. “They’re nothing more than an esoteric phenomenon in this country, with no real relevance to Israeli society.” He wasn’t saying this out of instinctive hostility; it was just his honest assessment.


Rabbi Eliyahu never said anything about “reek of hell wafts” from Reform and Conservative synagogues

By Aviad Fenigstein ( editor) (Hebrew)

In defense of Rabbi Eliyahu, Aviad Fenigstein points to the fact that in the AUDIO tape of the rabbi’s sermon, there is no mention whatsoever of the Reform and Conservative synagogues “reeking of hell wafts”.

[The writer of this e-newsletter listened to the AUDIO sermon and Rabbi Eliyahu did not use the terms mentioned in the WRITTEN text: see Kol Tzofaich, Shiur 425 – Time: 37:30 – 38:45]

[However, Aviad Fenigstein fails to explain why the editor of sermons included the phrase in the WRITTEN text.]


Masortim threaten suit over leading rabbi’s insult

By Yair Ettinger, Haaretz

Israel’s Masorti (Conservative) Movement is threatening legal action against former Sephardi chief rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu for [reportedly] saying that “the reek of hell wafts” from Reform and Conservative synagogues, and it is therefore forbidden to walk by them. Eliyahu, a leading religious Zionist rabbi, [reportedly] made the remark last week during his weekly Torah lecture.

It was later reprinted in the bulletin Kol Tzofayich, which was distributed in synagogues throughout Israel over the weekend.


Reform Reflections: But what do you believe?

By Rabbi Michael Marmur,

Reading through the responses to my previous blogs, though, I have discovered that it hardly matters what I write. Since it appears under the heading ‘Reform Reflections’, the article is to be decried, and its author accused of sundry misdemeanors.

There is a reason for this knee-jerk condemnation of any expression of Reform Judaism. It stems from the fear that any legitimacy given to non-Orthodox religious voices within the Jewish conversation will somehow weaken the basis of Judaism. The argument goes that if you read this and agree with it, mixed dancing and intermarriage cannot be far behind.

The question can fairly be asked: but what do you Reform Jews really believe?

I believe that Judaism is the ever-changing response of the Jewish people to God’s word.

I believe that in every generation Jews have been called upon to express their highest commitments and yearnings in the language formed through millennia of Jewish expression.

I believe that in our generation the time has come to re-calibrate the roles allocated to men and women within Jewish tradition.


IDF: Full-time Torah studies, draft-dodging harm our ethic

By Yuval Azoulay, Haaretz

In a decade, around 25 percent of young people eligible to be drafted into the Israel Defense Forces will not serve due to full-time yeshiva studies, the IDF’s human resources chief, Major General Elazar Stern said.

Stern also advocates increasing the numbers of ultra-Orthodox men serving in the Nahal Brigade.

By establishing this unit, “the IDF pulled the rug out from under the excuse of the ultra-Orthodox not to serve. There are conditions there they don’t have in Bnei Brak [a heavily ultra-Orthodox town]. The food is not only glatt kosher, but they also force them to go to prayers. They put burlap up so they won’t see a female clerk 300 meters away, even if she is dressed properly.”


Stern: Draft Evasion ‘Creeping’ into National-Religious Camp

By Gil Ronen,

The ‘hesder’ yeshivas, which combine religious study with army service, were not spared from Stern’s tongue-lashing either. He said too much of their activity, like that of the Nahal Brigade’s soldiers, was socially oriented, and that the IDF can no longer afford that in the present situation.

“The IDF Chief of Staff has already asked the hesder yeshivas to increase the period of service from 16 months to 24,” he told the audience. “Bearing in mind the IDF’s needs and the security needs, we think this should be considered positively.”


Your values are not mine!

By Yoseph Goldsmith,

Because Stern is a religious man, we need to speak out loudly and clearly against his claim and stop the naïve from believing his words and thinking that it is possible to combine ultra-Orthodox life and the army.

The reality is very different – his values are different than ours!

His ideals are not ours! And his goals are not ours! We have the Torah to live by, the Torah that is true, real and eternal. We live our lives by the Torah alone!


Religious edict puts ILA in a bind

By Miriam Bulwar David-Hay,

Residents of the moshavim Batzra, Bnei Zion, Harutzim and Rishpon are taking advantage of the current shmita year to avoid paying for using supposedly agricultural land for commercial purposes reports the Hebrew weekly Ha’ir-Tzomet Hasharon.

They say the Israel Lands Authority cannot sue them for putting the land to extraordinary use this year, because the authority has “sold” the land and no longer owns it.


When the price is ripe

By JJ Levine,

“I looked into the issue because I know that many of my customers will not buy heter mechira,” says Moti Bouenos, the owner of Super Hamoshava on Rehov Emek Refaim. “But heter mechira is simply much cheaper and much better quality. Also, there are problems with the supply of produce [from Otzar Ha’aretz].”

Both Badatz and Otzar Ha’aretz are supposed to have signs with the exact source and halachic details of every vegetable and fruit, but this reporter found that the majority of stores did not have such information posted.


“No” expanding Rabbinical Court jurisdiction

By Rivka Lubitch, (Hebrew)

Kadima and Shas are planning on passing a law that will expand the legal authority of the rabbinical courts regarding civil matters.

The Center for Women’s Justice
The goal of the Center for Women’s Justice (CWJ) is to safeguard the basic human rights and dignity of Jewish women who appear before the rabbinic and family courts in the State of Israel.


Philanthropist Leviev’s Judaism Program – Rejected

By Hillel Fendel,

The Pedagogical Council of the Education Ministry, headed by Dr. Anat Zohar – Associate Professor at the School of Education in the Hebrew University – rejected the program for its being too religious and “not suitable for public elementary schools.”

“Despite the fact that many of the curriculum’s units clearly deal with values such as charity, truth, and honoring parents,” the council states, “the Orthodox approach is blatant, dealing chiefly with principles of faith and customs, and less with values.”

The Education Ministry’s rejection is considered to be largely a formality, and will not stop the program from being taught in the 70 schools in which it is already part of the schedule. It is taught for two hours a week to grades 1-6.


Diamond Billionaire Takes New York

By Marissa Brostoff,

At the Chabad event, he spoke at length, in Hebrew, about the profound influence Chabad has had on both his personal and business philosophy. The late Chabad leader Menachem Schneerson blessed him, he said, when Leviev was a young man with no money to his name.

“I did better in every business venture since,” Leviev said.


Gaydamak hopes to exploit ultra-Orthodox infighting on his way to Jerusalem city hall

By Yair Ettinger, Haaretz

David Silberschlag, Gaydamak’s advisor who has been appointed head of Bikur Holim’s management, says Gaydamak would only have a chance to win the ultra-Orthodox vote if the community is torn apart.

This rupture is appearing now. In addition to making large contributions to ultra-Orthodox institutions, some of them discretely, Gaydamak has made three friends who may help him win.

One is MK Ravitz: Gaydamak has financed a chain of ultra-Orthodox girls’ hostels he set up. Another is Porush: Gaydamak is financing a children’s school for him. The third is MK Litzman, who influenced Gaydamak to contribute $500,000 to the Gerer Hasidim hospital being built in Ashdod.


Gaydamak’s party – Seeking universal appeal

By Lily Galili, Haaretz

Gaydamak’s rescue of Jerusalem’s Bikur Holim Hospital, for instance, could attract support from local ultra-Orthodox, which he hopes could then spread to the ultra-Orthodox in other cities.
Jerusalem, of course, is the crucial test.

He is likely to know soon which ultra-Orthodox sects will support him, but even ultra-Orthodox and Arabs together are not enough to give him the mayoralty. Therefore, Gaydamak is now seeking a lever with which to attract secular Jerusalemites who might otherwise stay home on Election Day.


The next haredi candidate?

By Peggy Cidor,

A new, intense and for the moment relatively secret internal war threatens to tear apart the haredi leadership in our city: A new player has entered the political arena and he’s shaking up the system – Arkadi Gaydamak.


Israeli military’s top rabbi stresses role of religion on battlefield

By Lee Chi-dong, (Seoul, South Korea)

Hat tip to Prof. Howard M. Friedman,

“In the Israeli army, the spiritual side is very significant component in the matter of strength,” Brig. Gen. Avi Ronzki, chief rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), said in an interview last week.

“There was a great fear that our country was in a situation of danger that it never faced before. It made us think that the Jewish people were facing annihilation,” he said. “In terms of religion, it was a very clear understanding of why we fight.”
He said his [Yom Kippur] war experience was behind the decision to become a rabbi.


Barkat: Municipal rabbis selection turning political (Hebrew)

Jerusalem opposition leader, Nir Barkak and MK Uri Ariel petitioned the Supreme Court against the new regulations for selecting municipal rabbis – Rabbi Eliyahu supports move.


Shas turns down Rabbinical Court summons

By Hillel Fendel,

MKs of the hareidi-Sephardic Shas Party have been served with papers calling them to a Din Torah – a Torah court lawsuit – regarding their refusal to quit the government.


Survey: Only 20% of Israelis consider themselves secular

By Yair Ettinger, Haaretz

Just 20 percent of Jews in Israel describe themselves as secular, according to a recent poll.
Since the early 1970s, surveys that have measured Israeli Jews’ affinity to tradition have fluctuated among various communities. But the recent figures represent a new low point for the secular community.

For example, in 1974, the number of those describing themselves as secular stood at more than 40 percent.


A fifth of the populace says it does not observe religious traditions

By Matthew Wagner ,

Eliyahu Sapir, a doctoral student in Political Science at Hebrew University, added that the gradual rise in the number of religious Israelis over the past three decades is definitely due in part to higher natural growth among the religious and the traditional.


Ideological change in South Africa

By Cnaan Liphshiz, Haaretz

Joel Pollak, who has extensively studied post-Apartheid politics in the South African Jewish community, says he believes the community’s religious and ideological makeup is changing. That change, Pollak says, is affecting the makeup of the expatriate community in Israel – and maybe Telfed as well.

Another young secular Jewish activist who wished to remain anonymous talked of “an explosion” in religious Judaism in South Africa. “We were always considered a traditional-secular Zionist community but many young Jews are now observant and their connection to Israel is very religious in nature.”

After elections, prominent volunteers leave Telfed


Cremation site discovered in Moshav

By Ido Yosef, (Hebrew)

The ZAKA organization claims that it has succeeded in discovering the cremation site and prevented it from being built.


‘Bringing homosexuality up for discussion in haredi world’

By Yoav Friedman,

Chaim Album’s film, V’ahavta, depicting turmoil endured by homosexual yeshiva student who falls in love with another man, wins award for best feature film produced at Ma’ale religious film school this year.

Album ‘outed’ himself during production of this film, and based film loosely on his own experiences as a gay ultra-Orthodox man.


Let my people go to work

By Laura Goldman,

All sides have refused to come together to find innovative solutions to the problem of haredi poverty and unemployment.

People often chuckle that it will be easier for the Palestinians and Jews to come to terms.

I do not understand why we are all burying our head in the sand. Self interest should rule. It is our tax dollars that are paying for the yeshiva stipends and the National Insurance Institute Child Allowances.

We need to confront the reality that the Tal Law has been a dismal failure. It has not forced haredim into the IDF. It has just institutionalized poverty. It is time for Tal Law 2.0. Let’s transform the haredi winter of despair to a spring of hope.


Gavison’s research institute tries to prove that there’s no contradiction between Judaism and Liberalism

By Yair Sheleg, Haaretz (Hebrew)

Prof. Ruth Gavison, Metzilah: Center for Humanistic, Liberal, Jewish and Zionist Thought


Haifa police forcibly evacuate secular study group from synagogue

By Fadi Eyadat, Haaretz Correspondent

‘The police evacuated from a synagogue Jews who want to fulfill their freedom of religion,’ said Yisrael Bar David, who lives in Haifa’s Romema neighborhood where the synagogue is located.
Haifa police Chief Dudu Ben Attia: ‘Women are forbidden from entering the synagogue when there are men present,’ he said. ‘These are the religious rules.’


Safed rabbi: Reconsider alliance with Druze

By Kobi Nahshoni,

“If many Druze allow themselves to vote for Balad, if they burn Jewish homes in Peki’in, if they take a Jewish policewoman captive – we need to reconsider our alliance,” according to Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, Safed’s rabbi and one of the Religious Zionism leaders.


Outlawed Pigs: Law, Religion, and Culture in Israel

By Prof. Daphne Barak-Erez, Tel Aviv University

Book Review

The prohibition against pigs is one of the most powerful symbols of Jewish culture and collective memory. Outlawed Pigs explores how the historical sensitivity of Jews to the pig prohibition was incorporated into Israeli law and culture.

Daphne Barak-Erez specifically traces the course of two laws, one that authorized municipalities to ban the possession and trading in pork within their jurisdiction and another law that forbids pig breeding throughout Israel, except for areas populated mainly by Christians. Her analysis offers a comprehensive, decade-by-decade discussion of the overall relationship between law and culture since the inception of the Israeli nation-state.

By examining ever-fluctuating Israeli popular opinion on Israel’s two laws outlawing the trade and possession of pigs, Barak-Erez finds an interesting and accessible way to explore the complex interplay of law, religion, and culture in modern Israel, and more specifically a microcosm for the larger question of which lies more at the foundation of Israeli state law: religion or cultural tradition.


Back in the driver’s seat

By Gail Lichtman,

This Pisgat Ze’ev mother of seven claims to be the city’s only haredi female taxi driver and the only cabbie offering a taxi service exclusively for women.


Niddah – the animated version

Click here for Dafna Sudri’s animated clip “A Day in the Life of a Couple Practicing Niddah,” exploring this ritual in a humoristic way.


Pray for the train to be on time

By Kobi Nahshoni,

The Union of Synagogues approached Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, asking that the first wagon of every train be designated as a synagogue.

Simultaneously, the Union’s members are searching for a donor who’ll sponsor the Torah Scrolls and Holy Arks needed.

The Union advertises a schedule for prayers held on the Beit Shemesh and Nahariya trains. In the near future, they will do the same for the trains to Modi’in.


About Us

Religion and State in Israel is not affiliated with any organization or movement.

Please send your comments or suggestions to

No comments yet.

Your Thoughts