Religion and State in Israel – May 19, 2008 (Section 1)

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Religion and State in Israel

May 19, 2008 (Section 1) (continues in Section 2)

Editor – Joel Katz

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

God only knows where this will lead

By Matthew Wagner, May 18, 2008

A high-ranking source in the rabbinical courts said this week that the recent controversy over conversions, pitting rabbi against rabbi, has devastated the rabbinical establishment.

…Rabbi Avraham Sherman’s decision, though more aggressive in its wording, was just another salvo in the ongoing argument over conversions between haredim and religious Zionists.

But it also defined more clearly the delineation between the warring camps, and it placed Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar squarely on the side of the religious Zionists.

Although Sherman’s rabbinic invective focused mainly on Druckman and his former deputy, Rabbi Yosef Avior, the attack was also indirectly aimed at Amar, who is the overriding halachic decisor supervising conversions performed by the Conversion Authority.

If, as Sherman claimed, thousands of converts were passing through the Conversion Authority in a non-kosher way, without any intention of adhering to Halacha, Amar could not escape culpability.

…A near anarchic situation has been created in which one arm of the official, state-funded rabbinate, the High Rabbinical Court, is attacking another, the Conversion Authority – while the chief rabbi, who is the ultimate authority of both, is torn in half, and has yet to issue a definitive stand on the issue.

More importantly, thousands of Israelis who converted to Judaism no longer know whether or not they are Jewish. The answer, obviously, depends on whom you ask.

Jewish Court Questions Conversions

By Michelle Martin, NPR interview May 9, 2008

Click here for AUDIO interview

Click here for Transcript of AUDIO interview

Hundreds – and, perhaps, thousands – of Jewish converts may soon have their status invalidated.

The [Supreme] Rabbinical Court in Israel has questioned the integrity of an official who oversaw their conversions.

Rabbi Shaul Farber, director of the Jewish Life Information Center and Shaney Gilbert, who converted to Judaism 2005, discuss the case and its implications.

Continuing Conversion Crisis

Jewish Press Editorial May 14, 2008

The issue of the underlying halachic imperative surely remains, regardless of the politics and the emotions.

We cannot lose sight of the fact that the seeds of an irreparable schism in Yahadus, with all that means in terms of marriages, is in the making.

No one will be well served if ostensible converts go on with their lives mistakenly believing they will be universally accepted as Jews.

All Sarah’s Children

Contributing Editor Anne Roiphe is a novelist and journalist living in New York.

If all of us in America had gone to the Promised Land, then Israel would by popular democratic consent insist on civil marriage in a civil society. So, in a way, this whole problem serves us right.

…One branch of the Israeli people has arrogated to itself the power to declare and determine the Jewishness of all the people.

This is unacceptable to the rest of us. Here in America we have no vote over Israeli religious matters.

We can’t throw these Orthodox rabbis out of power. We can only rant a little, tossing our displeasure to the political winds.

Public Notice from Vaad HaRabbonim Haolami LeInyonei Giyur

Dei’ah veDibur May 15, 2008

…we hereby commend and support the reputable dayanim of the High Rabbinical Court of Jerusalem, HaRav Avrohom Sherman, HaRav Chagai Izerer and HaRav Avrohom Sheinfeld shlita, as well as HaRav Avraham Attia shlita, a dayan at the Ashdod Beis Din, who resolutely determined in their respective rulings that conversion without accepting mitzvas is not conversion, and that a conversion performed by unworthy dayanim who do not bother to look into whether there was a genuine acceptance of mitzvas is not a valid conversion at all, and the “convert” has a din of a non-Jew for all intents and purposes.

As such this is a sacred call to the Chief Rabbis and all other rabbonim and dayanim in Israel to publicize their support for this ruling and to fulfill the Torah’s exhortation, “Do not be afraid in the face of any man” (Devorim 1:17) in order to stop non-Jews from being assimilated into Am Yisroel.

HaRav Nachum Eisenstein, Vaad HaRabbonim Chairman

An end to religious coercion

Letters to the Editor, Haaretz May 15, 2008

Regarding “Free Israel!” May 7, 2008

It was indeed exhilarating to read Benjamin Lau’s call to “free Israel” from the tyranny of the ultra-Orthodox, non-Zionist rabbinate that now controls state-sponsored Judaism in Israel.

It would certainly be an improvement to have Zionist rabbis serving as judges in the rabbinic courts.

However, Rabbi Lau does not go far enough. To truly “free Israel” from religious tyranny and grant Israelis the religious freedom they were promised 60 years ago in the Declaration of Independence, there must be an end to religious coercion, an end to the monopolistic control that the Chief Rabbinate exercises over such matters as marriage, divorce and conversion.

The rabbinate must be privatized so that individuals have the right to choose their own rabbinic authorities according to their beliefs, or to ignore them.

Only when Israelis have the same religious rights as are accorded to citizens of every other Western democracy will we be truly free.

Rabbi Reuven Hammer


Take Israel’s Declaration of Independence off the wall

Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi, May 7, 2008

While Israel today is witnessing a religious renaissance, with more and more Jews searching for diverse expressions of spirituality and religious meaning, Orthodoxy still holds exclusive control of the country’s religious public sphere, institutions and funding.

We are still a far cry from the freedom of religion envisioned by the founders of this great State.

Aharon Barak: Don’t leave marriage in hands of religious

By Raanan Ben-Zur, May 14, 2008

“Civil marriage laws must be regulated in Israel. The control cannot be left in the hands of the religious alone; an alternative must exist,”

former Chief Justice of Israel’s Supreme Court Aharon Barak said on Tuesday in a conference commemorating 60 years to law in Israel which took place at the the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center.

“I am not in favor of culture clashes, we can conclude this with an agreement with the religious sector,” he claimed. “The Knesset needs to do this in order to provide minimal service to the Israeli citizen.”

Justice Minister Friedmann: Israel must allow marriages for all citizens

By Kobi Nahshoni, May 19, 2008

“Israel needs to find a solution regarding weddings and divorces for citizens who are not considered Jewish according to Jewish law, “Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann said Sunday night.

According to him, the State needs to help them integrate into Israelis’ lives and to accept them even if the Halacha (Jewish law) has difficulty recognizing them as Jews. The present situation, in which they cannot marry, is unacceptable, he added.

…Israel’s Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar also discussed Friedmann’s proposal to arrange weddings for non-Jewish immigrants and noted that

“my past proposal to the justice minister was to allow them to marry one another, just like Christians, Muslims and members of any other sect are permitted to do in Israel.

“However, they are not permitted to marry Jews. We cannot be part and parcel to the plague of the generation – assimilation.”

Beilin and Gafni parry over separation of religion and state

Former Meretz chairman Yossi Beilin said that if haredi MKs agreed to separation of religion and state, it could be a “bridge to understanding.”

But he attacked haredim for refusing to recognize non-Orthodox movements in Judaism that constitute the majority of Diaspora Jewry.

However, if haredim grow to 20% or more of the population, this would be a problem, he said.

…Former Bnei Brak mayor Rabbi Mordechai Karelitz said housing for young couples is one of the biggest problems, and that 80,000 apartments are needed for them over the coming years.

“In the past, haredim lived in mixed neighborhoods and towns,” but now they want to live alone because they need schools, stores, education and standards of modesty that are unavailable among the non-haredi population, he said.

Shas Flexes Its Muscles

By Leslie Susser, The Jerusalem Report May 12, 2008

Shas has also taken a consistently hard line on state and religion.

“No one can show me a single historical instance in which Shas presented a more conciliatory or pragmatic position than the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox Torah Judaism party,”

says Bar-Ilan University’s Asher Cohen, co-author of “Israel and the Politics of Jewish Identity: the Secular-Religious Impasse.”

“When it comes to things like the Tal Law on army exemptions for yeshiva students, work hours on the Sabbath or the hametz law, Shas is never more moderate than the Ashkenazi haredim.”

Nevertheless, in Cohen’s view, the great state and religion compromises brokered by the National Religious Party in the 1950s – on army service for yeshiva students, work on the Sabbath, public observance of Jewish festivals – are starting to unravel and Shas is doing nothing constructive to rebuild them.

“For example, more people work on the Sabbath and many more places are open, because the haredi parties focus their power on sectoral gains and not on the big religion and state compromise agreements,” he avers.

Long arm of rabbinical court reaches LA

By Matthew Wagner, May 19, 2008

She’s an Israeli with US permanent residency rights. He has both US and Israeli citizenship. They were married in Israel, but now they live in Los Angeles. Their four-year-old daughter was born in California, but they both have strong family ties to Israel.

Now they want to get divorced.

She filed in Los Angeles; he filed with a rabbinical court in Haifa. Who will hear the case?

To be or not to be?

By Abe Selig, May 15, 2008

As Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and the Shas party flex political muscle to see the appointment of Yosef’s son as the next chief rabbi of Jerusalem, many of the city’s leaders, religious and otherwise, are playing down the post as either unimportant or completely unnecessary.

…Even the Reform movement seems to be in agreement with Ralbag over the lack of influence such a figure might have on the city’s religious environment.

“With us, the whole story of having a chief rabbi of Jerusalem is just another setback that distances us from the rabbinate,” says Rabbi Gilad Kariv of the Reform movement’s Israel Religious Action [Center].

“In this particular situation there’s more politics involved than religion, more special interest than spirituality. We’re standing on the side and basically saying, ‘We told you so’ as far as the need for a separation between religion and state. If there’s a rav or not, it will influence one thing – that rabbi’s bank account.”

Religion and State: Fundamentalism or Freedom?

Click here for New Israel Fund VIDEO

National Service placements cut

By Kobi Nahshoni, May 15, 2008

The Education Ministry has decided to cancel National Service placements in schools, starting in the next school year. The National Service failed to receive any formal notice of the cancellation, which may result in 3,000 placements being annulled.

…Seminary schools’ graduates have been placed as special-education teachers and seminary school teachers all across Israel as well as caregivers to children at risk, or children living in the periphery.

Rabbi Lior: Meretz harming Israel’s Jewish identity

By Kobi Nahshoni, May 19, 2008

Bnei Akiva’s secretary-general, Rabbi Benny Nechtailer, said in response,

“The Bnei Akiva movement is not afraid of listening to additional voices and opinions from the Israeli public discourse…”

Former Bnei Akiva Secretary-General Dr. Amnon Shapira, who also took part in the discussions, said that he believed Rabbi Lior’s approach was flawed and contradicted Judaism.

“Those who make these claims are trying to push us to the haredi path, where Rabbi Lior’s books are banned from seminaries, as are those of Rabbi Kook and Rabbi Soloveichik. In our library one can also find books by Neturei Karta.

This is the way of Judaism and this is the way of Bnei Akiva, which has always invited representatives from the Shomer Hatzair Movement and the Working Youth movement, and this year the Meretz chairman.”

Hod Hasharon law school to open beit midrash

By Matthew Wagner, May 14, 2008

Sha’arei Mishpat College, a private law school in Hod Hasharon, will establish a beit midrash (religious study hall) on campus as part of an ongoing effort to produce students well versed in Jewish law.

“We want our students to change the face of the Israeli legal system,” said Prof. Eliav Shochetman, a specialist in Jewish jurisprudence and a driving force behind the creation of the yeshiva on campus.

“The idea is to encourage students who already have a strong religious background to apply Jewish law and thus become a force of change.”

Some 20 percent to 25% of the students at Sha’arei Mishpat are religious.

For the national religious camp, a reason to celebrate

By Nadav Shragai, Haaretz May 13, 2008

On Israel’s 60th Independence Day, members of the national religious camp who avoided the holiday and its symbols appeared to be highly isolated − a minority.

Whoever saw the joy expressed by hesder yeshiva students, members of Bnei Akiva and other youth movements, could gain some perspective about what had been presented before the holiday as an attempt to break free of the state and its symbols, following the “Gush Katif expulsion,” and perhaps future uprootings.

Religion and State in Israel

May 19, 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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