Religion and State in Israel – March 3, 2008 (Section 1)

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Religion and State in Israel

March 3, 2008 (Section 1) (continues in Section 2)

Editor – Joel Katz

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

Herzog backs down on rabbinic court bill

By Yair Ettinger, Haaretz February 27, 2008

“Concerns and anxieties over erosion of the status of the justice system have not escaped my attention.” Herzog told Haaretz.

“With the agreement of Labor Party Chairman Ehud Barak, Labor ministers and faction members, I support the freezing of the legislation,” Herzog added.

Labor’s Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon has registered an objection to the bill, and it is to be returned to the cabinet for further discussion.

Friedmann bill ‘aims to stymie Metzger’

The Justice Ministry has prepared a bill aimed at preventing Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger from taking over as head of the Higher Rabbinical Court in April, a ministry source told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.

The amendment states that if both rabbis agree or the Dayanim Election Committee so votes, the two chief rabbis may remain in the same post throughout their 10-year term.

Metzger, who has been head of the Chief Rabbinate Council since being elected Ashkenazi chief rabbi almost five years ago, is due to replace Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar as head of the Higher Rabbinical Court in April.

According to a Justice Ministry source, Friedmann decided that Metzger was unworthy of holding the post of chairman of the Higher Rabbinical Council because of his conduct after being elected chief rabbi.

Shas wants Jerusalem – for Rabbi Ovadia’s son

By Yair Ettinger, Haaretz February 29, 2008

People in the ultra-Orthodox Sephardi party say Ovadia’s eagerness to make his son chief Jerusalem rabbi is one of the main reasons for Shas to remain in the government.

Jerusalem has had no rabbi since 2003, when both its chief Sephardi and Ashkenazi rabbis died. No rabbis have been appointed since then, among other things due to the collapse of the city’s religious council, which is part of the rabbi election apparatus.

Jerusalem’s opposition leader, Nir Barkat said he would compromise if Shas assured him that at least one of Jerusalem’s chief rabbis was not ultra-Orthodox and had done his military service.

“Our insistence is ideological. Most of the city’s residents are not ultra-Orthodox. It is unthinkable that it should have two ultra-Orthodox rabbis,” he said.

Jewish Agency demands Conversion Authority be more independent

The Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors, which met in Jerusalem this week, issued the call to the government after a vociferous debate in the agency’s Committee for the Unity of the Jewish People heard criticism that the current status of the new authority limits its independence.

It is currently classified as a department of the Prime Minister’s Office, making it subject to the PMO’s labor union, legal adviser and financial control.

In its unanimous call, the 120-member agency board called for the conversion authority to be given the status of a government authority, similar to the independent status of the Chief Rabbinate, which would allow it to conduct separate hiring practices, oversee its own budget and not be subject to junior PMO officials.

The agency also called for the government to work more closely with the Institute for Jewish Studies, the conversion education program established by the government and the Jewish Agency according to the recommendations of the Neeman Commission.

How Do You Prove You’re a Jew?


More than any other issue, the question of Who is a Jew? has repeatedly roiled relations between Israel and American Jewry.

Now, as Sharon’s experience indicates, the status of Jews by birth is in question. Equally important, the dividing line is no longer between Orthodox and non-Orthodox.

The rabbinate’s handling of the issue has placed it on one side of an ideological fissure within Orthodox Judaism itself, between those concerned with making sure no stranger enters the gates and those who fear leaving sisters and brothers outside.

The policy of suspicion is applied to all immigrants. Rabbi Rasson Arussi, chairman of the Chief Rabbinate’s committee on marriage, told me that “populations where there is doubt about Jewishness” include those from Western countries, specifically “the sectors connected to Reform Jews.”

“The rabbinate in Israel has put the Orthodox rabbinate” — meaning Orthodox rabbis in the United States — “on the same level as Reform rabbis,” [Rabbi Marc] Angel said.

He now advocates a position once unthinkable among R.C.A. rabbis: Israel would be better off if it instituted civil marriage and cut the state’s ties with the rabbinate.

Not surprisingly, leaders of non-Orthodox denominations in the United States sound both pained and vindicated when discussing the rabbinate’s policies.

“There is quite an irony in this,” Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, told me.

In the past, “Orthodox authorities in America have basically defended the system, and they’ve embraced this religious monopoly as being important and necessary, thinking all the while that it was directed primarily against us, us meaning the non-Orthodox community.”

Now their own bona fides are in doubt.

US conversion courts established

In the end the sides reached a comprise according to which two RCA rabbis and one representative from the Chief Rabbinate will authorize new conversion judges in the US.

Rabbi Basil Herring, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America, said that while there were rabbis who had been excluded from the list of authorized conversion judges, they would have the opportunity to return to their conversion activities after proving that they adhered to the RCA conversion protocol.

RCA Seen Caving On Conversions

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen, February 27, 2008

RCA is establishing a national system of regional religious courts it is calling the GPS Network, for Geirus [conversion] Policies and Standards.

“About two years ago Rabbi Amar came up with the idea of enforcing his standards on all of the rabbis of the geulah [diaspora]. The RCA negotiated this compromise, which is a complete capitulation,” said Rabbi Marc Angel, retired spiritual leader of Congregation Shearith Israel on the Upper West Side, and founder and director of the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals.

“It’s no secret that in Israel today [the Chief Rabbinate] represents the haredi element,” said Rabbi Avi Weiss, leader of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, and founder of “openly Orthodox” rabbinical school Yeshivat Chovevei Torah.

“It seems the RCA has bought into that, and I’m terribly concerned.”

He said the agreement heralds a dangerously slippery slope of potential attempts by the Israeli rabbinate to control what diaspora rabbis do.

Liberal Orthodox rabbis starting new ‘fellowship’ to counter rightward shift

By Ben Harris, JTA February 26, 2008

To its architects, the agreement reached between the Rabbinical Council of America and the Israeli Chief Rabbinate offers a way out of a long-running dispute over the recognition of conversions performed by American Orthodox rabbis.

But a small group of liberal Orthodox rabbis are unhappy with the deal, which was formally announced Tuesday.

They say it represents a broader pattern of what they describe as surrender on the part of the RCA, the primary association of Orthodox rabbis in the United States, to the dictates of a religious establishment in Israel increasingly under the right-wing sway of fervently Orthodox, or haredi, authorities.

U.S. Jews’ opposition holds up Jewish Agency deal with Christian group

By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz February 28, 2008

Opposition from Jewish community federations in the United States is hindering the implementation of an agreement between the Jewish Agency and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, under which the IFCJ was to double its donations to the agency.

The agreement, doubling the IFCJ’s former level of donations, has raised objections from the agency’s main donors in the U.S., where federation leaders have complained of not having been consulted by the Jewish Agency’s chairman before he signed the agreement with the IFCJ.

The main sticking point now is the stipulation in the agreement that the IFCJ would be accorded the status of a funding partner, the same as that of the United Jewish Communities and Keren Hayesod.

A painful bus ride

By Sarah Shein, March 3, 2008

He yelled at me that I’m sinning and making others sin. I expressed my pity, but on the other hand I felt it was a compliment – at my age, as a grandmother, I apparently can still make someone think sinful thoughts. I promise that on my part, there will no trace of sinful thoughts. It’s not my thing.

So what do we have here?

A woman who must not share Torah wisdom, and who must sit at the back in order to respect the men, a public being lied to regarding a non-existent agreement with Egged, humiliation of women under religious pretenses, and much pain over the trampling of the Torah, whose ways are meant to be pleasant and peaceful.

I’m physically scared of their thuggery, (and therefore I did not use my real name,) but I’m even more scared of the dismantlement of the mosaic that brings us together.

Is it possible for my piece of the mosaic and his piece of the mosaic to co-exist?

I hope so, but my doubts grow every day, every time I ride the bus.

Segregated Israeli buses driving critics to court February 28, 2008

The court petition was filed by the Israel Religious Action Center, the legal advocacy arm of Reform Judaism in Israel.

It called the segregated bus lines, in their current format, illegal and discriminatory, and demanded that segregated buses be clearly marked, that parallel lines without such separation run on the same routes and that the operators commit to passenger safety.

“You can’t use the license you have to provide public transportation and allow people to violently enforce their own cultural preferences,” said Anat Hoffman, executive director of the IRAC.

Salvation through the back door

By Yair Ettinger, (Hebrew) February 27, 2008

Beitar-Ilit becomes first city in Israel where every bus-line has separation between men and women.

A proud father of a gay son

By David Fogel, Haaretz March 3, 2008

Full disclosure: I’m the proud father of a gay son. And I’m not the only one. Our prime minister, Ehud Olmert, is the proud father of a gay daughter…

…if I were Ehud Olmert, I would convene all the Shas MKs in a closed room and tell them the following: I have no intention of preaching morals to you and explaining to you what damage you are causing my daughter’s community.

As far as I am concerned, you can continue to think whatever you wish.

But if you dare once again to utter such nonsense in public, you will find yourselves outside the coalition.

Chief Rabbinate Reviews Issue of Co-ed IDF Units

By Nissan Ratzlav-Katz, February 28, 2008

Participating in the special meeting of the committee were Chief Rabbi Metzger, Haifa’s Chief Rabbi She’ar-Yashuv Hacohen, Kiryat Ono Chief Rabbi Ratzon Arousi, Rehovot Chief Rabbi Simcha Hacohen Kook, and other members of the Chief Rabbinate.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the rabbis announced their disappointment that “soldiers who are studying or who graduated yeshivas, and for whom serving in mixed-gender units or participating in courses taught by women is contrary to their Halachic (Jewish law) and moral understanding, were imprisoned for refusing to act against their conscience.”

The Chief Rabbinate is intending to consult further with the heads of the nation’s Hesder yeshivas, as well as with the Minister and Deputy Minister of Defense, the IDF Chief of Staff and the IDF Chief Rabbi.

Through the series of meetings, the Chief Rabbinate is hoping “to draft an appropriate and agreed-upon protocol that will prevent a conflict between a soldier’s Halakhic and moral understanding and the obligation to maintain discipline and obedience in compulsory army service.”

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef: Pray for soldiers’ well-being in synagogue

By Yair Ettinger, Haaretz March 3, 2008

“Our soldiers, the Israel Defense Forces, contribute themselves selflessly, enter the lion’s den… how they need to be blessed. Had it not been for them, would we have time to study the Torah? To turn to the books?” he said on Saturday night during his weekly sermon in Jerusalem.

A prayer for the safety of IDF soldiers has never been accepted by all ultra-Orthodox factions, but Yosef broke the Haredi taboo on this several years ago.

During his address on Saturday, in light of the IDF operations in the Strip, he went further.

“It is not enough [to say the prayer only on Shabbat]. We need to say the prayer on Monday and Thursday too, and pray for them, so that God can save them from any trouble and difficulty, so they can return to their homes for a good life and peace”.

MKs back bill to block porn, gambling sites

By Zvi Zrahiya, Haaretz February 28, 2008

The legal adviser to the Knesset Economic Committee said he would have difficulty defending the law if it were challenged in the High Court of Justice, due to the refusal of Communications Minister Ariel Atias (Shas) to submit to the committee the list of sites that would be blocked to the general public.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) threatened to petition the High Court against the law if it passed its second and third reading.

Internet censorship bill passes first reading

By Zvi Lavi, February 27, 2008

A bill aimed at censoring internet sites with content deemed ‘inappropriate’ for minors was passed in its first reading by the Knesset plenum on Wednesday.

The bill was passed by a 42-20 majority and will be sent back to the Economic Affairs Committee before returning for its second and third readings.

The bill’s initiator, Knesset Member Amnon Cohen (Shas), claims the new law will protect the 60% of Israeli children who come into contact with offensive materials.

Hundreds of millions of shekels approved for Shas schools

By Shahar Ilan, Haaretz February 28, 2008

The Knesset Finance Committee yesterday approved the allocation of NIS 475 million to the educational institutions of the ultra-Orthodox Sephardi Shas party, as part of a coalition agreement. The money will go to religious and orthodox educational institutions.

Four MKs voted in favor: Yitzhak Vaknin and Amon Cohen (Shas), Nissan Slomiansky (National Union-National Religious Party) and Elhanan Glazer (Pensioners Party). MK Haim Oron (Meretz) and MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud) voted against it.

Furious Shas leader demands chair of Finance Committee

By Zvi Zrahiya, Haaretz February 28, 2008

Perhaps the real urgency behind Shas’ move is that [Yisrael Beiteinu MK Stas] Misezhnikov last week abstained in a vote on transferring NIS 475 million from the state budget to ultra-Orthodox institutions run by Shas, as had been stipulated in the coalition’s written agreement with Shas.

If [Shas has] to settle for the Interior Affairs Committee, that would give them – among other things – power over daylight savings time policy, enforcement of local government rules regarding observance of the Shabbat, and the power to assist communities at their discretion.

Jewish Renewal grows up

This week, in a move that marks a new, more advanced stage in the development of Israeli Jewish Renewal, a beit midrash (study hall) was established in Ramat Gan that will provide advanced training for heads of Jewish Renewal communities.

Dr. Asher Cohen, a senior lecturer at Bar-Ilan’s Political Science Department who recently wrote a paper on the failure of the Reform Movement to muster a significant following in Israel, said the movement lacked many of the drawbacks of Reform Judaism.

“First of all, there is no God,” said Cohen. “Jewish Renewal is not a religion. So it does not turn off adamantly secular people.

“But more important, Jewish Renewal is a homegrown phenomenon. It is not something that has been transplanted from the US. This is a movement that is succeeding in making inroads in secular Israeli society.”

Diti Peleg-Dagani, like many who are active in the Jewish Renewal movement, started in the Reform Movement. But she soon discovered that Reform traditions were turning Israelis off.

Government to rule as Dan moves to cancel Shabbat bus services

By Shahar Ilan, Haaretz February 28, 2008

Dan, which operates numerous bus lines in the Tel Aviv area, currently runs a number that start at 4:00 P.M. on Saturdays, before the end of the Jewish Sabbath when most public transportation is suspended.

Its decision to postpone the start of its service on Saturdays to 6:00 P.M. during the winter and 9:00 P.M. in the summer – after the Sabbath ends – was announced over the past few days in notices put up at the company’s stations.

What, me hire Jews to work on Shabbat? Who knew?

By Haim Bior, Haaretz February 26, 2008

Manager of the Ashdod store ‘Melekh HaJungle’ Avi Levinstein added that most of the workers in the store are of Russian descent, which makes it difficult to identify them as Jewish.

Judge Moshe Tweivh noted Levinstein’s comments, but ruled that he was in violation of the law of work and rest hours when he employed three workers over Saturday.

The judge levied an NIS 18,000 fine against the store, out of a maximum of NIS 37,000.

Religion and State in Israel

March 3, 2008 (Section 1) (continues in Section 2)

Editor – Joel Katz

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

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