Religion and State in Israel – November 17, 2008 (Section 1)

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Religion and State in Israel

November 17, 2008 (Section 1) (continues in Section 2)

Editor – Joel Katz

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

Jewish Agency adopts conversion resolutions

By Ami Eden November 16, 2008

The assembly defeated a stronger resolution, submitted by delegates from Los Angeles, that would have called on the Israeli government to “recognize and accept as Jews” all those converted under the supervision of rabbis from the four major Jewish religious movements, as well as those from “other religious streams of Judaism.”

Professor Yuval Ne’eman, who has been appointed by successive Israeli governments to resolve the controversial issue, had threatened to quit if the stronger resolution was adopted.

JA assembly reaffirms support for nearly all conversions

By Cnaan Liphshiz November 17, 2008

“Conversion is an issue that regularly comes up at Jewish Agency assemblies, but I don’t recall hearing such a sweeping proposal as this one,” Kenneth Bob, President of Ameinu, a New-York based nonprofit promoting “liberal values” in Israel, told Haaretz. 

Jewish Agency calls for ‘independent’ conversion authority

By Haviv Rettig November 16, 2008

Some 300,000 non-Jewish Israelis have made aliya as family members of Jews. They live as members of the Jewish sector, serving in the military and often marrying Jews.

Their conversion to Judaism, say critics, has been held up by demands from the official rabbinate that converts adopt an Orthodox and sometimes haredi lifestyle.

“The governmental bureaucracy is preventing the conversion of many of these people, keeping them from joining the Jewish people,” said Prof. Yaakov Neeman on Sunday. [former chair of the Neeman Commission tasked in the 1990s with reforming Israel’s conversion apparatus]

Jewish Agency adopts conversion resolutions

By Ami Eden November 16, 2008

Resolution number 4

Therefore be it resolved,

1. that JAFI calls or the establishment of courts of Jewish law which will base themselves on appropriate moderate and tolerant prior halachic decisions to allow the conversion process to move forward

2. that JAFI calls for the establishment of an independent conversion authority which will facilitate and assist in the conversion process

3. that JAFI calls upon the chairman of the board and the chairman of the executive to call upon all political parties to commit to this independent conversion authority

4. that JAFI affirms its support for the conversion institute and its goals as it is currently instituted

Resolution number 5

Therefore bi it resolved,

5. that JAFI calls or the establishment of courts of Jewish law which will base themselves on appropriate moderate and tolerant prior halachic decisions to allow the conversion process to move forward

6. that JAFI calls for the establishment of an independent conversion authority which will facilitate and assist in the conversion process

7. that JAFI calls upon the chairman of the board and the chairman of the executive to call upon all political parties to commit to this independent conversion authority

8. that JAFI affirms its support for the conversion institute and its goals as it is currently instituted

10 new conversion judges await A-G’s OK

By Matthew Wagner November 17, 2008

A committee headed by Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar appointed 10 new conversion court judges during a meeting on Sunday in the chief rabbi’s office.

The appointees await the approval of the attorney general, who will decide whether civil service appointments can be made ahead of national elections.

…Rabbi Shaul Farber, head of ITIM, a non-profit organization that helps Israelis navigate the bureaucracies of the Chief Rabbinate, said the appointments were the wrong move at the wrong time.

“A new head for the Conversion Authority still has not been chosen,” Farber said. “The conversion authority needs someone with vision who can map out a new direction, not more judges.”

‘Rabbis stunt Europe’s Jewish growth’

By Haviv Rettig November 17, 2008

Another complaint of Europe’s rabbis was perhaps more surprising. 

Many Israelis attended the conference, including chief rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger.

 The Israelis held the more conservative position throughout, and came to be seen by many participants as unhelpful.

One organizer said that the many Israeli participants “were more trouble than they’re worth. Next year, we’re considering not inviting the Israelis.”

Conversion courts to perform secular conversions which bypass rabbinate

By Shahar Ilan November 16, 2008

The Knesset caucus for secular Judaism and organizations from all streams of Judaism have created a coalition of conversion courts independent from the Chief Rabbinate. 

The coalition, which was approved last week, is being coordinated by PANIM for Jewish Renaissance, an advocacy group for pluralistic Judaism. 

The goal is to create two new tracks in Israel for conversions to Judaism, one secular and one national-religious, both independent from the Chief Rabbinate. 

These come on top of the conversion courts of the Reform and Conservative movements, which produce about 300 converts a year. 

Converts of the new coalition will not be permitted to marry through the rabbinate, but rather in accordance with a ruling by the High Court of Justice that these converts will be registered as Jews in the Interior Ministry’s Population Registry. 

One of the coalition’s main innovations is the inclusion of Ne’emanei Torah Vaavodah, a moderate Orthodox movement, in a forum that recognizes Reform, Conservative and secular conversion.

The chairman of Ne’emanei Torah Vaavodah, Yonatan Ben Harosh, said at the forum’s latest meeting that his movement plans to establish independent conversion courts “in close cooperation with two other organizations: Mavoi Satum (Dead End) and Kolech, Jewish Woman’s Voice.” 

Secular conversions begin cautiously

By Shahar Ilan November 16, 2008

The founding document of the pluralistic conversion forum contains two main innovations.

1. It marks the beginning of secular conversions to Judaism.

2. Moderate Orthodox organizations are willing to try to break the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly on conversion.

In addition, converts who choose this path are not expected to encounter problems with the recognition of their Judaism by the state:

In 2002 the High Court of Justice ordered the Interior Ministry to register as Jewish anyone who converts in the framework of a Jewish community that is recognized in Israel. 

Despite the revolutionary nature of these ideas, they are only the beginning.

More on Secular conversions

By Shahar Ilan November 16, 2008

…The idea behind the secular conversion initiative is that most of those classified as being without-religion in Israel are secular, and thus there is no reason for someone in this category to be obligated to join a religious stream in order to become a secular Jew.

It must be noted that while both Reform and Conservative Judaism are open and liberal they are still religious streams.

In order for secular conversions to become a mass movement, one of two things must occur: Either a powerful secular organization with deep pockets, such as the kibbutz movement, must take on the project, or the Reform movement must win its High Court of Justice case demanding state funding for pluralistic conversions, too. 

At first glance, the road to Orthodox conversion seems much easier.

All the Ne’emanei Torah Ve’Avodah movement needs is to have three rabbis to convert those who have completed their training.

The challenge of this moderate Orthodox organization is to get over the psychological barrier of rebelling against the Chief Rabbinate. Everyone knows the Chief Rabbinate has become Haredi and not Zionist.

But it is very difficult for the national-religious to get used to this idea, and to take action. 

Gov’t approves aliya of some 150 Bnei Menashe from India

By Amir Mizroch November 13, 2008

The Interior Ministry has granted permission to the Shavei Israel organization to bring a group of some 150 Bnei Menashe from northeastern India on aliya, a government source told The Jerusalem Post this week.

…Because the new arrivals will be coming on special tourist visas, and not under the Law of Return, the entire cost of the operation will be borne by Shavei Israel.

The immigrants will subsequently undergo formal conversion by the Chief Rabbinate, after which they will receive Israeli citizenship.

Olmert: 200 Bnei Menashe can make aliyah

By Itamar Eichner November 13, 2008

Sharp drop in Christians converting to Judaism

By Nurit Felter November 14, 2008

A significant decrease was registered this year in the number of Christians who converted to Judaism in Israel. Only 119 Christians chose to become Jewish in 2008, a figure dramatically lower than the annual average in the last 20 years.

According to Immigration Administration statistics, 437 Christians converted in 2003, 884 in 2004, 733 in 2005, 457 in 2006 and only 273 in 2007.

A (Limited) Promise of Marriage in Israel

By Nathan Jeffay November 13, 2008

According to Livni’s promise, made on October 29, people who find themselves unable to get married will, for the first time, have the right to a civil marriage.

…It turns out that under the plan, the 350,000 people caught in the marriage trap are to be allowed to marry only each other.

“Israel is the only country in the Western world in which people cannot marry according to their wishes and people from different faith cannot establish their partnership,” 

said Gilad Kariv, associate director of the Israel Religious Action Center, which is the Reform movement’s lobbying arm and one of the leading pressure groups promoting civil marriage.

Kariv was as outraged as Oigenblick [Association for the Rights of Mixed Families] about Livni’s proposal, saying that it will create a “ghetto of people who are not able to get married through Orthodox means.”

Kadima Eyes the Secular Vote

By Leslie Susser 10 Issue 16, November 24, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report

As for the civil marriage initiative, Kadima’s Menachem Ben-Sasson, chairman of the Knesset’s Law, Constitution and Justice Committee, has been tasked with putting the final touches on the draft legislation.

“What we are proposing is that the family courts be authorized to marry people without religious affiliation,” Ben-Sasson, himself an Orthodox Jew, tells The Report.

“They will register all such marriages and if, at some point, a couple wants to marry in a religious ceremony, they will be able to bring the registration to a rabbinical court.

In the event of divorce, the couple will be able to litigate the same way as anyone else in the civil courts as far as property, custody and alimony are concerned.

The lists kept by the family courts will enable strict monitoring of marriages and divorces to prevent bigamy.”

The Reality of (Legally) Marrying in Israel

Reut: The Center for Modern Jewish Marriage

No couple wants to think about divorce when planning a wedding.

Yet, living in a State where marriage and divorce are controlled by ultra-Orthodox policy-makers, we at Reut believe it essential that marrying couples understand the legalities and implications of marrying and divorcing in Israel.

Many couples during this time of excitement and preparation intentionally avoid or unintentionally neglect these challenging issues which, when a marriage fails, can come back to haunt them.

It is better for couples to enter into marriage wiser and well informed, even if it means bringing them down a bit from the clouds.

Therefore, Reut dedicates an entire seminar evening to the legal implications of marrying in Israel, prenuptial agreements and alternative options to marrying through the Israeli Rabbinate.

Haviva Ner-David, Director Reut: The Center for Modern Jewish Marriage

Haviva Ner-David is a teacher, writer, and activist.  The founding director of Reut: The Center for Modern Jewish Marriage.

She has a doctorate from Bar Ilan University in the Philosophy of Halakhah, and private smikhah from Rabbi Aryeh Strikovsky, an Orthodox rabbi in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Dr. Ner-David, who considers herself a post-denominational rabbi, worked for many years in pre-marriage religious counseling, especially in the area of the laws of nidah—the topic of her doctoral dissertation.

A writer of many articles and essays, she is the author of the book Life on the Fringes: A Feminist Journey Towards Traditional Rabbinic Ordination (2000 JFL Books) and is currently completing a second memoir also dealing with feminism and Judaism.

Rabbi Dr. Ner-David is on the board of Women of the Wall and Rabbis for Human Rights.

UJC, JAFI and JDC officially thank Eckstein

By Jacob Berkman November 17, 2008

Click for VIDEO

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, the president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, got the thanks from the organized Jewish world that he’s been looking for on Monday at a reception at the United Jewish Communities General Assembly.

An Israeli idealist

Jewish Agency Chairman Zeev Bielski

By Greer Fay Cashman November 16, 2008

While acknowledging that some JAFI activities could perhaps be taken over by the government, there are several areas in which JAFI, not only by virtue of its experience but because it is not a government organization, can take initiatives. Jewish education in the Diaspora is one example. Another is a more concerted effort to encourage young Jews to come to Israel.

GA Article Links

Financial crisis crashes GA’s party

After raising almost $2.5b in 2007, American Jewish federations are plagued by profound uncertainty.

One People, One Destiny – GA 2008

How will the financial crisis affect this year’s GA in Jerusalem?

One on One: Israel on his mind

Nachman Shai, the outgoing UJC external affairs director-general, says his goal is to provide GA participants with an experience to keep their connection to this country going strong.

An old-new phenomenon

Philanthropy in Israel must adapt to a changing environment.

Press Releases/Backgrounders

UJC Briefing: 4,000 Join 2008 GA Opening With Israel’s PM

Barak, Bronfman, Peres Outline Vision for Israel, Jews at 2008 GA

PM Ehud Olmert’s address to the General Assembly, Jerusalem, Israel (Israel Foreign Ministry)

800 young Jewish leaders meet to powwow and tour

GA special report / Olmert: Strong Israel is best deterrent protecting world Jewry (Haaretz)

GA special report / Peres to Obama: To help Israel, be a great president for the U.S. (Haaretz)

GA conference / JA Chairman Ze’ev Bielski blames $45 million cutback on financial crisis (Haaretz)

Making an impact (Jerusalem Post) 

Birthright Faces The Chopping Block

By Stewart Ain November 12, 2008

There will be 17,000 fewer young people accepted to the Birthright Israel program in 2009 as the organization slashes its budget by $35 million due to increased costs, an unfavorable exchange rate and a decline in fundraising, according to the president of its foundation, Jay Golan.

Gideon Mark, the organization’s international CEO added that Israel has proven to be the “main bridge for Jewish identity, and we believe American Jews will be able to keep this bridge solid.”

WUJS Getting Back On Their Feet November 12, 2008

Click here for VIDEO

The World Union of Jewish Students has reopened its offices in Israel after recovering from a round of financial difficulties. Israel National News TV has the story.

Partnership 2000 Conference

Click here for VIDEO

‘Environment could be strong connector between Israel, Diaspora’

By Ehud Zion Waldoks November 12, 2008

The Jewish Agency’s Partnership 2000 program has discovered the potential of the environment to unite people and is eager to exploit it.

The program pairs communities all over the world with communities in Israel to collaborate on projects. About 500 communities worldwide pair up with 45 counterpart communities here, according to strategy director Uri Bar-Ner.

JNF branches in US, Israel end feud with new agreement

By Haviv Rettig November 18, 1008

An ongoing feud between the Israeli and American branches of the Jewish National Fund which threatened the 107-year-old organization’s future has ended, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

…The agreement has yet to be finalized, but will likely center on a lease of the trademark to the UK branch and a joint mechanism for choosing projects and transferring funds to them, he said.

Battling over the blue box

By Anshel Pfeffer November 14, 2008

Although 2008 has not quite come to a close, it seems clear that this year’s fundraising figures for the Jewish National Fund in the United States will make grim reading.

The downturn was already evident last year, when fundraising stalled at about $44 million – down from between $50 million and $60 million just two years before.

The malaise that has been eating away at JNF-USA donations is not just an outgrowth of the global financial illness – it is a gradually worsening side effect of a bitter legal feud between the Jewish National Fund’s historic base in Israel, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael, and its two oldest and largest affiliates, the JNF branches in the United States and Britain, over who has the rights to the JNF trademark.

New Jewish Theater Finds Home in Jerusalem

By Maayana Miskin November 12, 2008

The decision to create “Jewish theater” appropriate for the religious public was made due to the discomfort many religious theater fans faced while watching secular performances, Rabbi Lober said. 

The vulgarity and sexual themes in some plays was enough to make religious members of the audience leave before the performances were complete, he said. Aspaklaria’s performances, on the other hand, abide by Jewish law and do not contain inappropriate language.

The purpose of the theater is to renew Jewish culture by producing shows based in Jewish values, members say. 

Its shows deal primarily with the doubts and conflicts faced by many religious Jews and by the interaction between the religious and secular worlds.

Soul music

By David Brinn November 15, 2008

When Eliezer Blumen enters the zone onstage, his eyes close tightly and he begins a peculiar dance – partly Tevye in the shtetl, partly psychedelic free form shuffle.

He handles his guitar like it was an extension of his lanky but sturdy body, and the glorious noise that it emits sounds like wails and squeals emerging directly from his soul. He’s lost in the moment.

Narratives of Israeli Judaism

By Alan Abbey November 11, 2008

Rabbi Dr. Ariel Picard, Hartman Institute Center for Education, talks about Israeli Judaism in this presentation to members of the Hartman Institute’s Lay Leadership Summer Retreat.

In this talk, he makes references to such Israeli cultural figures as Shlomo Gronich, who performed a concert at the Institute over the summer, and Ehud Banai, who have embraced Jewish themes.

Leviev program nixed by schools

By Or Kashti November 12, 2008

An educational program initiated by ultra-Orthodox business tycoon Lev Leviev will no longer be run by the state education system, Education Ministry Director-General Shlomit Amichai told a meeting of mayors yesterday.

Amichai said the decision comes after program organizers decided to discontinue its operation. 

…The directive came after program organizers failed to adhere to two conditions imposed by the ministry:

Instruction must be given by teachers or students in state teaching colleges; and the material must meet criteria established by the 1994 Shenhar Report that recommended teaching Jewish studies in a pluralistic, rather than strictly Orthodox spirit.

Online show produced by J’lem yeshiva students all the rage among religious kids

Click here for VIDEO

By Haaretz Staff and Channel 10 November 13, 2008

When Asi and Tuvia, two yeshiva students at Machon Meir in Jerusalem, finish their Torah studies for the day, they head upstairs to a small TV studio above the yeshiva to produce what has become a major hit among religious children. 

What started as a small online TV experiment a few years ago has become a household name for religious Zionist families, many of which don’t have televisions. 

The affair stirring up Bnei Brak

By Buki Nae November 17, 2008

The ultra-Orthodox community in Bnei Brak is in turmoil over the alleged extramarital affair between a Hasid, the father of several children, and a young, beautiful divorcee, who also happens to be the granddaughter of a very prominent rabbi.

Help Ethiopians in Israel, not the Falash Mura

By Howard Lenhoff and Nathan Shapiro Opinion November 12, 2008

The writers are the former presidents of the American Association of Ethiopian Jews

While it is imperative that the federations help Israel absorb the Ethiopian immigrants already living in the Jewish state, the federations should not press Israel to accept the Falash Mura remaining in Africa—Ethiopians who claim they are linked to descendants of true Ethiopian Jews forced to convert to Christianity.

…Any Falash Mura left in Ethiopia should be accepted into Israel only if they qualify to immigrate under Israel’s Law of Return. Under that law, most Falash Mura would not be eligible.

Was the Aksa Mosque built over the remains of a Byzantine church?

By Etgar Lefkovits November 17, 2008

The photo archives of a British archeologist who carried out the only archeological excavation ever undertaken at the Temple Mount’s Aksa Mosque show a Byzantine mosaic floor underneath the mosque that was likely the remains of a church or a monastery, an Israeli archeologist said on Sunday.

Christian infighting in Jerusalem

By Michael Hirst November 17, 2008

Click here for VIDEO

The argument over rights within Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre is as complicated and seemingly intractable as the Middle East conflict itself.

Religion and State in Israel

November 17, 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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