Religion and State in Israel – December 10, 2007

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Religion and State in Israel
December 10, 2007
Editor: Joel Katz

Forging the Israel connection – Israel Reform Rabbi Meir Azari
By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz

Meir Azari, rabbi of the Beit Daniel synagogue in Tel Aviv, home to the largest Reform following in Israel, has a dream:

“I’d like to see large groups of Reform and Conservative Jews on El Al flights from the U.S. – not just the many ultra-Orthodox, blocking the aisle with minyanim.”

“I don’t think the Reform movement is giving enough guidance to its donors. Habad rabbis tell me they have many Reform donors, as do a number of extreme right-wing yeshivas.

The Reform movement has to launch a significant campaign to strengthen its contributions to Israel.

I just want our donors to be aware that they can achieve all this – improvement in the fields of education, social welfare and higher learning – through the Reform movement in Israel.”


Reform Reflections: My Hanukka, Your Hanukka
By Rabbi Michael Marmur,

In an excellent article published this week in a major Israeli daily, my colleague Rabbi Gilad Kariv, a brilliant young Israeli Reform rabbi, offers a compelling and relevant reading.

Gilad, like others who espouse a liberal philosophy of Judaism, is not threatened by the notion that there is historical change within Judaism, or that our culture is constantly soaking in influences from outside.

On the contrary: far from being threatened by this fact, he is emboldened and inspired by it.
Rabbi Kariv points out that the development of the festival of Hanukka in December may well be connected to the existence in many cultures of a festival of lights at the very darkest time of the year.

He shows that our ancestors may well have been engaged in a polemic with surrounding cultures, opposing their pagan theology while adopting many of the forms and themes of the festival.


Seculars not going anywhere
By Kobi Nahshoni,

Yair Lapid says that a change that did take place in the State of Israel in recent decades is that many more seculars feel they lost Judaism to the religious and have decided they wish to take interest in Judaism and deal with it in their own way.

“In my view this is a positive thing,” Lapid says, and adds: “Judaism is a great and noble thing, and to say ‘we’ll leave it to the Orthodox and religious without taking any interest’ is irresponsible.

For years Judaism has been a sort of product put on the religious shelf, and on holidays we would take it off the shelf and let seculars play with it for a bit.
Now, Judaism is going back to being something that more closely touches everyone.”


Court rules: Time of day is irrelevant in couple’s race to file first divorce suit

By Ofra Edelman, Haaretz

Dr. Halperin-Kadari, head of the Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women at Bar-Ilan University, believes that if the husband had filed suit 15 minutes before his wife, the rabbinical court would have upheld the law, asserting that “fifteen minutes is fifteen minutes” and ruled it was authorized to hear the case. “This ruling is an obstacle in advancing Israeli women’s inferior status in divorce conflicts,” she says.

“When the rabbinical court hears property matters, it’s very easy for the husband to set conditions for agreeing to divorce his wife.”

She says this gives men the power to extort and blackmail their wives.


Widow threatened with deportation

By Shahar Ilan, Haaretz

In early 2006, the Israel Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism filed 10 petitions to the High Court of Justice on behalf of widows of Israeli citizens.

IRAC claims they are entitled to citizenship under Israeli law, and wants the court to compel the Interior Ministry to introduce a procedure for widows’ naturalization.

Haaretz Editorial

Due to the desire to close Israel’s gates to non-Jews, the officials at the Population Administration are ignoring the law, their own regulations and humanitarian considerations, and are creating countless human tragedies.


Bacon and Egged?
By Matthew Wagner,

The caricature appears on a pamphlet published recently by “The Council For Kosher Transportation – Har Nof, Givat Shaul” that blames Egged for being insensitive to haredi customers’ religious strictures which require strict separation of men and women on buses.

The rabbis complain that the excessive crowding on the 11 and 15 buses forces passengers to transgress prohibitions against coming into contact with the opposite sex. The close proximity of men to women also causes men to fantasize, another prohibition.

Efforts to Persuade Bus Companies to Provide Mehadrin Service

By Yechiel Sever, Dei’ah veDibur

The rabbonim said they have been discussing various matters with Egged and Transportation Ministry representatives in order to make special arrangements that meet halachic requirements.

Vaadas HaRabbonim decided to look into a recommendation to bring before gedolei Yisroel the need to call upon the public to stop chartering Egged buses for special occasions and to assess preparedness to organize a large demonstration to be led by gedolei Yisroel, in Jerusalem or in another location.


Bureaucracy stymies converts’ aliyah plans

By Cnaan Liphshiz, Haaretz

“It is unfortunate and regrettable that obstacles are being put in the way of the Levy family, who should be fully treated as fellow Jews by the state of Israel,” Rabbi Uri Regev, the Israel-based president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism.


Interview with OC Chaplaincy Brig.-Gen. Ronzki
By Matthew Wagner,

OC Chaplaincy Brig.-Gen. Avichai Ronzki admits that for him, Halacha takes precedence over the IDF code of ethics.

“It is clear that a man of faith is obligated first and foremost to adhere to God’s commandments,” he says.

“I want the Torah and Judaism to be part of every soldier in the IDF,” he says.

“Increasing Jewish consciousness is where the IDF rabbinate is devoting most of its energies. We organize lectures, classes, events, all sorts of things to increase soldiers’ awareness of their Jewish heritage.

That is the reason I came to the IDF rabbinate. I am not here to serve the religious soldiers. I am here to reach the entire IDF – all the soldiers, secular especially.”

Nahal Haredi Video

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Israeli Holocaust survivor’s last relative may be forced to leave

By Shahar Ilan, Haaretz

Last month Anna Jagnos-Paliashkon, 80, petitioned the High Court of Justice to protect what is left of her family. Jagnos, a Holocaust survivor, immigrated to Israel five years ago with her family from the Ukrainian city of Simferopol.

The petition by Jagnos and Dzhedan, both Be’er Sheva residents, was filed by attorney Sarah Lewis of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), the Reform Movement’s legal arm.


MKs debate what equality means

By Shahar Ilan, Haaretz

MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) said he was in favor of a constitution, on principle, but only on condition that equality is carefully defined. “I am among those who want a constitution,” MK Gafni said: “[But] we must decide what the word ‘equality’ entails.

[Does it relate to] marriage and divorce? Yeshiva students? Laws of kashrut?”

He said that if equality means the cancellation of those things, then it would “cancel the idea of Israel as a Jewish state.”


Renaissance women

By Cnaan Liphshiz, Haaretz

Immigration from North America has been central to giving modern-Orthodox women in Israel more control over their lives, Dr. Zehavit Gross from Bar-Ilan University told Anglo File last week, after speaking at the World Emunah conference in Jerusalem.


“Military exemptions for Yeshiva Students – a cancer we must annihilate”

By Tani Goldstein,

RAD Group founder Zohar Zisapel at the Israeli Business Conference in Tel Aviv:

“We can allow a few dozens of students a year (to continue in yeshiva), as in the original agreement, and as the religious world requires to fill its reserves with the rabbis of the future.
We need to demand that every school implement the core curriculum- including mathematics and English, not just Gemara and Aramaic.”

As the panel continued, Zisapel expressed his opinion that the government must transfer funds currently marked for yeshivas to support IDF soldiers.


Hanukkah: 83% say they will light menorah daily

By Koby Nahshoni,

According to a joint poll conducted by Ynet and the Gesher Institute, 83% of the Jewish public in Israel will gather daily around variously styled menorahs and light the holiday candles accompanied by traditional prayers.

15% said they would make an effort to do so at least once over the course of the holiday.

Only 2% said they would not celebrate Hanukkah at all.

A breakdown of the figures reveals that 68% of respondents who identified as secular planned to light the candles daily compared with 91% of religious respondents.


Where the ultra-Orthodox are the moderates

By Yair Ettinger, Haaretz

A tour of Beit Shemesh shows that the fanatic element here also has complex and tense relations with the ultra-Orthodox community, which is identified mostly with Agudat Yisrael, Shas and Degel Hatorah.

These extremists comprise an estimated 2 percent, no more than 15,000 of the Israeli ultra-Orthodox community. They are a minority in Beit Shemesh as well, but wield considerable power and influence.

The fanatics are mostly followers of Rabbi Shaya Rosenberger, a right-wing Satmar Hasid. Another group, a separatist group of Breslav Hasidim led by Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Marmelstein, is even more extreme.


State to disclose secrets of citizenship process

By Shahar Ilan, Haaretz

Attorney Oded Feller filed the petition on behalf of five human rights groups: The Association for Civil Rights in Israel; Israel Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Hotline for Migrant Workers; Kav La’Oved; and the Center for the Defense of the Individual.

“It is not for no reason that all the organizations dealing with human rights united to file the petition,” the judge wrote. “It’s enough to look at the longstanding ‘history’ of refraining from publishing rules and regulations by the respondent to grasp the seriousness of the situation.”


Restoring truth’s good name

By Avi Sagi and Yedidia Stern, Haaretz

Who will pick up the gauntlet of infusing the combination of “Jewish” and “democratic” with theoretical and practical content?

When will someone formulate an approach that is equally committed to religion and pluralism?
Can one be “security-oriented,” but also mindful of human rights? Can the cultural dichotomy of Western tradition and Jewish tradition coexist?

How does one maintain a deep emotional bond to the Jewish homeland while resolving the conflict with the Palestinians? What is the role of a nation-state in today’s global reality?


If I Forget Thee,

By Gary Rosenblatt, The Jewish Week

Now is a good time for diaspora Jews to start thinking about the differences between the ideal Israel and the real Israel.


The donkey’s burden

By Nehemia Shtrasler, Haaretz

“Secular teachers are not teachers, they are donkeys,” declared Shas’ spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, in his weekly sermon Saturday night.

They are donkeys because they do not teach the Torah, he explained to his audience.
But it seems not only the teachers are donkeys.

Israel’s entire secular population takes pains to ensure its children study mathematics, English, science, history and Torah, so they can become productive citizens living by their labor and paying high taxes – which are then divided among Yosef’s followers.

They also enlist in the army, are wounded and killed – in part, to protect Yosef’s home.


Muslim clerics light Hanukkah candles

By Koby Nahshoni,

Delegation of Muslim clerics arrives in Israel as part of initiative launched by Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Clerics will visit Sderot, Western Wall and light holiday candles with yeshiva students.


Kfar Saba struck by religious storm
By Miriam Bulwar David-Hay,

A religious storm has broken out in Kfar Saba after the head of the city’s religious council announced that he was taking over the issuing of kashrut certificates from the municipal kashrut department, complaining of “irregularities” in how the department has operated, reports

The 15 kashrut supervisors employed by the department have all resigned in protest against the take-over, and Mayor Yehuda Ben-Hamo has asked the Religious Affairs Ministry to intervene, saying the council has overstepped its authority.


Knesset rejects bill regulating common-law partnerships
By Amnon Meranda,

Following the vote, MK Beilin said that the coalition’s success was a Pyrrhic victory:
“I told the religious MKs that they were blind if they don’t realize that more Israelis get married in Cyprus than Cypriotes. They think they can enforce their values on the secular majority.”


Israel Reform Synagogue breaks ground

“Kehillat YOZMA is on the brink of realizing our dream of praying in a dedicated sanctuary on our own plot of land! Last week, the tractors arrived!

Within the coming weeks, the city of Modiin is scheduled to complete the foundation to install the prefabricated structure that will accommodate our praying community until we raise the necessary funds to build YOZMA’s permanent Sanctuary and Community Center on that very site.”


Peres plans international prayer session for Israel’s 60th

By Haaretz Service

President Shimon Peres is initiating a sabbath prayer session for all the world’s Jews marking Israel’s 60th anniversary, the spokeswoman for the President’s Residence said Thursday.

Peres proposes to call on all the world’s Jews to come to the synagogue and say a special prayer on a Sabbath around Israel’s 60th Independence Day.

Peres wants to expand the prayer beyond the Jewish world’s limits to churches and mosques, so that Muslims and Christians would say it too.


Working on Shabbat

By Haim Bior, Haaretz

The Tel Aviv Labor Tribunal has thrown out charges that Home Center, which is owned by business baron Eliezer Fishman, employed workers on Shabbat in violation of the law.

Simply, the statute of limitations on the offense expired, even though Home Center itself had sought the day in court.


Mega Sport – Jews working on Shabbat
By Fadi Eyadat, Haaretz

The Mega Sport athletic goods store and two of its managers are being sued in the Haifa regional labor court for hiring Jews to work on Shabbat, in violation of the law.

According to the indictment, Arab Shabbat inspectors who work for the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry discovered the violations while on their rounds.


A temple-state clash in Israel

By Ashraf Khalil, Los Angeles Times

The ultra-Orthodox, who make up about 12% of the country’s population but 30% of Jerusalem’s, have never accepted the heter mechira concept.

During Shmita years, they buy only imported goods or produce grown on Arab-owned land in Israel.

“They always presented [heter mechira] as an example of the theological and religious weakness of the modern Orthodox community,” said Rabbi Gilad Kariv of the Israel Religious Action Center.


The Rabbinate begins to respect the ‘heiter mechira’
By Amiad Taub, (Hebrew)

Tzohar rabbis will restrict their kashrut supervision to only problematic areas.


Religious Observance Survey
By Eliyahu Sapir,

Aapproximately one fifth of the adult Jewish population defines itself as secular, one third as religious, and one half as traditional.


The impossible forfeit
By Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman, Haaretz

The writer is the co-director of the Shalom Hartman Institute

We Israeli Jews have to understand that Israel, as a Jewish and democratic state with both Jewish and non-Jewish citizens, must have multiple narratives that inform its national identity.

There must be a Jewish narrative and a broader Israeli narrative that creates a collective space with bonds of loyalty toward citizens of the State of Israel who are either non-Jews or for whom the state’s Jewishness is not the central feature of their national self-understanding.


Russia wants its emigrants back

By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz

The Russian Embassy in Tel Aviv is operating a branch of a government body whose goal is to persuade Russian emigrants to return, under the guise of a cultural center, Israeli intelligence bodies said.

According to Immigration Ministry statistics, more than 100,000 Jews who came to Israel from the CIS have returned to Russia and Ukraine, and an estimated 70,000 Israelis are currently living in Moscow.


Israel Zionist Council blasts cabinet over program to bring back ex-pats
By Haviv Rettig,

“Financial incentives are not a factor for Israeli ex-pats who are considering returning home,” said Israel Zionist Council head Moshe Ben-Atar on Sunday in response to government approval for an NIS 150m. incentive program to bring Israeli yordim back to Israel.

Instead, argued Ben-Atar, whose organization is the Israeli branch of the World Zionist Organization, the effort and money “must go in a different direction, in fostering Jewish identity and a connection to Israel among the children of yordim,” many of whom grew up or were born outside Israel.


Plan launched to bring Israelis home

By Ruth Eglash,

Noy said although there have been previous attempts to persuade Israelis to return to Israel, nothing has ever been done on this level.

According to a recent study conducted by the ministry, roughly 700,000 Israelis live outside of the country, with 60 percent in North America, 25% in Europe and 15% spread across the rest of the world.

Some 70% of those living abroad are aged between 20-44, with 40 as the average age.


How to bring them home Editorial

It is time for the Jewish state to think seriously about investing in Jewish education both in Israel and in the expat communities overseas. It would help solve a whole host of difficulties.


Jewish ignorance in Israel Editorial

Israeli education must unabashedly strive to impart to half of the world’s Jewish children placed in its care an understanding of the world Jewish community in its entirety.

A competitive modern education is the right of every child. But identity, too, is a birthright. In failing to prepare our schoolchildren to be citizens not only of Israel, but of the Jewish people, the state is contributing to the growing cultural gap that is pulling the Jewish people apart.


AJC head Harris: Israel needs to learn about US Jewry
By Haviv Rettig,

Keeping the Israeli and American Jewish communities connected “requires rethinking education [in Israel] on American Jewry,” according to American Jewish Committee head David Harris.


Labor MK: Put Ethiopian children in secular schools

By Ruth Sinai, Haaretz

“No ethnic group or immigrant group is required to study in one system.

We need to stop discriminating against the Ethiopian sector and to endlessly find faults with their Jewishness,” Labor MK Ophir Pines-Paz said in initiating a bill to facilitate secular education for Ethiopian children.


‘We’ll cut off schools segregating Ethiopian students’

By Raanan Ben-Zur,

Petah Tikva Mayor Itzhak Ohayon also spoke out against the City Rabbinate’s directive that Ethiopian immigrants undergo a more stringent conversion and be placed in government-sponsored religious schools.

“We have four government-sponsored religious schools in the city as well as 13 public schools, said Ohayon, “but because of the Rabbinate’s directive Ethiopian immigrants cannot be placed in public schools and this causes a strain on the religious school sytem.”


Absorbing Ethiopians is a mitzvah, too

By Israel Harel, Haaretz

One of the rabbinate’s conditions for converting members of the Ethiopian community (especially those in the Falashmura who converted to Christianity) is for the children to study in religious schools.

But when they apply to study in these frameworks (not the state religious schools but the separate networks), most are rejected as “unsuitable.”


Due to Haredim demands: El-Al to supply non-Jewish produce
By Idan Yosef, (Hebrew)

Fruits and vegetables served to El-Al passengers in reception area will not include Jewish agriculture under ‘heiter mechira’.


U.S. ‘Marranos’ seek a home in Israel, but the welcome isn’t warm

By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz

“Israel is taking in non-Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union along with Ethiopian Falashmura and Indian people claiming to be Jewish,” he says.

“How come it won’t accept us – the descendants of proper Jews who have gone through the persecutions of the Spanish Inquisition?”


Rabbi plans for autonomous Jewish state

By Tovah Lazaroff,

The time has come to prepare to secede from the State of Israel and to present initial steps for the creation of an autonomous state in Judea and Samaria, should the government move forward with plans to withdraw from those areas, said Rabbi Shalom Dov Wolpe.


Jews don’t evacuate Jews

By Tovah Lazaroff,

Rabbi Shalom Dov Wolpe and the head of the Rabbinical Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, Rabbi Dov Lior, embarked this week on a effort to encourage newly drafted soldiers to place a letter in their files upon entering the army in which they state that they would not participate in activities relating to the evacuation of Jews from their homes.


From plowshares to prayer

By Oren Majar, Haaretz

Last year, Danny Fuchs, a native of Kfar Neter who has become observant, offered to bring a few friends in to ensure a full minyan for Rosh Hashanah.

“Fuchs said he had friends who could complete a minyan,” recalls Moshe Romem, chairman of the Kfar Neter residents committee at the time.

“But he didn’t tell us that they were members of Chabad [the Lubavitch Hasidim], including Naftali Mintzberg, the rabbi who teaches him kabbala.

[Fuchs] asked that they be given three months to operate the synagogue on Shabbat so that a minyan would be formed among the residents of the village who were interested.

Their assumption was that if the synagogue was open, residents would come, and later there would be no need for the Chabadniks. So they were given a three-month trial period.”


Muscular Judaism

By Oren Majar, Haaretz

In recent years ultra-Orthodox groups have been making an effort to demonstrate a presence in secular moshavim and neighborhoods, including in the synagogues.

The aging of the veteran population and the dwindling of the congregation of worshipers create a vacuum into which it is easy to inject new content.


Who’s marketing the Temple Mount as a tourist attraction?
By Meron Rappaport, Haaretz (Hebrew)

During Chanukah, a series of radio ads have been broadcast inviting Jewish listeners to ascend to the Temple Mount.

Who’s behind the ads? Rabbi Yosef Elboim of the Temple Institute.


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