Religion and State in Israel – June 1, 2009 (Section 1)

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Religion and State in Israel

June 1, 2009 (Section 1) (continues in Section 2)

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Editor – Joel Katz

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

Gov’t urged to obey order to fund non-Orthodox conversions

By Rebecca Anna Stoil June 1, 2009

The Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee held a stormy debate on Monday afternoon over whether or not the state is implementing the recent High Court of Justice ruling requiring it to fund non-Orthodox conversion programs.

The urgent hearing was held at the request of MK Shlomo Molla (Kadima).

“The court was called in to address this matter because the state gave the Orthodox institutions a monopoly on conversion. There is room in Israel for religious pluralism,” said Molla. “That is why the courts passed the reins on to us.”

Molla, in his opening remarks, emphasized that he did not intend to hold a halachic debate on the nature of Reform conversion, but rather to discuss the division of funds for such private conversion centers.

“It cannot be that the Israeli taxpayer is funding only one type of conversion,” he said. “Religious pluralism is a foundation stone of any democratic state. 

The state must therefore view all of the streams of Judaism as equals and the Immigrant Absorption Ministry must carry out the High Court ruling to the letter of the law.”

Neeman: I’ll appoint dozens of former IDF chaplains to conversion courts

By Dan Izenberg May 27, 2009

Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman said Tuesday he will enlist dozens of former military chaplains to serve, on a voluntary basis, as dayanim in the state’s special conversion courts, to speed up the process for tens of thousands of immigrants who are not Jewish according to religious law.

Having so many immigrants who were immersed in society but who were not Jewish was the biggest challenge that Israel faced, he said. If it was not solved, he added, Israel would cease to be a Jewish and democratic state.

Bar-Ilan University law professor Yedidya Stern warned that the country had reached a crisis over this issue.

Stern said it was the haredi parties – Shas and United Torah Judaism – that stood in the way of large-scale conversion and that the religious Zionist, traditional and secular Jewish communities, which constituted the majority, had to join forces to overcome this obstacle.

Beginning of the end of Orthodox hegemony

By Jay Shofet Opinion May 28, 2009

Jay Shofet is a member of the Executive of the Israeli Movement for Progressive Judaism and the Chairperson of the Reform community Kehilat Yozma in Modi’in. He is on the staff of SHATIL, the New Israel Fund’s Empowerment and Training Center for NGOs working for social change.

For as the ultra-Orthodox men who took over the Rabbinate are steadily narrowing its approach, the Israeli public – according, for example, to a recent Market-Watch survey – is becoming more open, more diverse in its Judaism and more nuanced.

The non-Orthodox movements are all growing, and spiritual teachings and pluralistic Jewish learning are on the rise

…Ultimately, this slowly unfolding pluralism will not only change Israeli society at its very core. It just may be the catalyst for a renewed interest in Israel among the increasingly disaffected legions of Reform and Conservative Jews abroad.

Many of them have never been comfortable with the fact that their movements in Israel are still widely perceived as semi-underground insurgencies. Maybe now, as the non-Orthodox streams blossom, they’ll give us a closer look. 

In praise of conversion

By Rabbi Reuven Hammer Opinion June 1, 2009

The writer is the head of the Masorti Rabbinical Court. His most recent book is Entering Torah.

We are allowing a combination of bureaucratic incompetence, unjustified paranoia, overly and unnecessarily strict application of halachic norms and Diaspora-originated fear of the non-Jew to result in counterproductive conduct.

We are, in short, cutting off our noses to spite our faces.

…There are others who suddenly discovered Judaism and sincerely desire to be part of it. There are those from the former Soviet Union who live here and want to be part of the Jewish people.

Should we discourage them or should we be willing to answer their call? It is regrettable that conversion, which has played an important role in Judaism, should today be such a matter of controversy.

Where was Eli Yishai when the Book of Ruth was read in shul?

By Jeff Barak Opinion June 1, 2009

The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.

Today, if a non-Jewish woman (Ruth was a Moabite) would first of all marry a Jewish man (as did Ruth) and only after he died pledge allegiance to the Jewish people (or, in the words of Ruth to her mother-in-law Naomi: 

“For where you shall go, so shall I go. Where you shall dwell, so shall I dwell. Your people are my people and your God is my God.”), the chances of her conversion being accepted by a rabbinical court headed by the likes of Yishai and Yosef would be zero.

Court to state – Ignore the law

By Evelyn Gordon Opinion May 30, 2009

It is a sad day when no less a body than the Supreme Court declares that the law is irrelevant. Yet that is what Israel’s Supreme Court did last week in its ruling on state funding for conversion programs

To quote Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, writing for a unanimous court, “the legal validity of the conversion process… cannot in and of itself justify a distinction” between Orthodox and non-Orthodox programs.

Conversion is not a political football

By Anshel Pfeffer Opinion May 31, 2009

Converting to Judaism is an intimate and personal transformation, not a political football. If Neeman and others see converts merely as more numbers in the demographics game, they will ultimately fail.

A real change in attitude toward those seeking to be accepted into the Jewish people can only happen when we begin treating them as individuals with aspirations of their own. The story of Ruth, Naomi and Boaz teaches us no less

Conversions down 20 percent in 2009

By Ruth Eglash May 26, 2009

Mismanagement and bureaucracy in the country’s conversion process has caused a severe drop in the number of people signing up to convert to Judaism, according to a new report published Monday by Itim, a non-profit organization that assists many Jewish converts to navigate the complicated system.

Itim’s founder and director Rabbi Seth Farber:

“I do not advocate lowering the current standards of conversion,” said Farber. “I just believe that a strong central body that is not subject to political whims or to the influences of the ultra-Orthodox should be established to oversee this process.”

The organization also condemns the Interior Ministry’s treatment of Jewish converts from abroad.

“Even though according to additions to the Law of Return Jewish converts should be permitted to make aliya, in many cases these converts are asked to meet unexplained criteria to obtain Israeli citizen,” observes the report.

Silly minister (of justice), tricks are for kids

By Rabbi Andrew Sacks Opinion May 27, 2009

The writer is Director of the Masorti [Conservative] Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly in Israel

But when push comes to shove – the Rabbinic Courts not only fail to convert in significant numbers – most applicants are never given the opportunity to appear before a Rabbinic Court.

The judges have been heartless and callous. The system, after a series of bureaucratic and procedural changes remains in shambles. Tens of millions of dollars have been poured into a mechanism that has produced few positive results.

But on Tuesday, the very man who designed this failed system pulled a rabbit out of his hat. He unveiled his brilliant solution. MORE OF THE SAME.  

Cash pledged for Reform conversions

Update on Yossi Fackenheim case

By Anshel Pfeffer The Jewish Chronicle May 27, 2009

The Supreme Court’s decision to order the government to explain why a rabbinical court last year revoked all the conversions performed under Rabbi Chaim Druckman was described as “good news” for Yossi Fackenheim, who had his conversion renounced last year due to a lack of religious observance.

London-based Mr. Fackenheim, 29, is the son of the renowned Reform theologian Emil Fackenheim. Mr. Fackenheim’s mother was an Orthodox convert and he too was converted in Canada, aged 2.

He married in 2001 in Jerusalem in an Orthodox ceremony but when he and his wife attended a Jerusalem beth din to obtain a get, or religious divorce, last August, he was told he could not give a get because his religious status had been questioned. His wife, who complained this left her in limbo, was later issued a get.

Mr Fackenheim, who [was to] remarry under a Reform Rabbi in Tel Aviv this [past] weekend, describes the renouncement of his conversion as a “ blight on my life. 

Until the decision is reversed I’m unable to get a civil marriage in Israel as the state only recognises marriages performed under Orthodox auspices.”

Anastasia, tell me who you are

By Doron Halutz May 27, 2009

Interview with MK Anastasia Michaeli (Yisrael Beitenu)

As the first convert to Judaism to be elected to the Knesset, she aspires to

“transfer the authority for conversion from the rabbinical court in Jerusalem to the rabbis of the various cities. Not everyone has the money to travel to Jerusalem. I waited half a year only for a date for conversion, and then they failed me because they saw a cover article in La’isha that I had done in 1999. They claimed it was immodest.”

What do you think of last week’s High Court ruling that calls for recognition of Reform conversion?

“It’s very complicated. In principle I’ll support it, but I’m now a public figure in the legislature, so don’t hold me to my word, I have to examine the law.” 

…Because of [her husband] Yossi she converted and moved to Israel.

“I understood that it was important to his family, it’s not acceptable to them to marry a non-Jewish woman. I told him, you don’t have to worry. The moment I do something, I go all the way with it.” During the conversion Yossi also became more committed to Judaism. “Before that he ate milk and meat together, now he’s totally kosher.”

They married twice. First in 1997, “for the papers” which were meant to arrange her aliyah to Israel. After she completed the conversion process in 2000 they married again, under the marriage canopy, “with three children in our arms. 

I never dreamt of a wedding with 1,000 people and a dress. For me marriage is signing a form. I’m usually not in favor of marrying before there are children; a wedding is designed to arrange the relations between a husband and wife when there are children.

Why do you send the children to a religious school? 

“They won’t get Torah from me, and they have to get to know their roots. I want them to accept religion and understand what it is, during their childhood. If later they don’t want it – they don’t have to, I won’t force them.”

Reports of ‘death’ exaggerated

By Rabbi Michael Marmur Opinion May 27, 2009

The writer is Dean of the Jerusalem school of the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion.

The truth is that there is ample and powerful evidence that a Judaism of meaning aimed at those for whom Orthodoxy is untenable, unpalatable or impossible is more urgently in demand today than ever before. What are suffering are many of the national institutions, the infrastructures of the movements and the seminaries.

The prognosis offered in the name of Lamm is similar to concluding that since people no longer buy vinyl records, music is going out of fashion.

The challenge for my institution, the Hebrew Union College, and for others like it, is to embrace a sustainable model of excellence in teaching and learning. Reform Judaism isn’t dying – it’s changing. That’s what we Jews do best.

Coming full circle

By Ze’ev Segal and Ariel Bendor May 27, 2009

Interview with former Israel Supreme Court President Aharon Barak

Barak is perturbed by the denial of the right of certain individuals to marry and to start a family, as expressed in Israeli law.

“The situation that exists today in Israel is that the state is violating flagrantly and very powerfully one of the basic rights that accrues to a person in a freedom-loving democracy, namely the right to marry.

In the State of Israel a Jew cannot marry a non-Jew, a Christian cannot marry a non-Christian and a Muslim cannot marry a non-Muslim.

In addition, a Jew cannot marry another Jew other than in a religious ceremony, which I am all in favor of, but as an option, not as an obligation. This is an unsatisfactory situation.” 

If it were not for the legal clause stating that the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom cannot affect legislation passed before 1992, would you think that the existing arrangement is not constitutional? 

“Yes, 100 percent so. The preservation of laws plays a very negative part here. But the problem has a solution. 

If we look at the problem from the Jewish point of view – even though it also affects members of other religions – it is claimed that marriage between Jews and non-Jews will cause a rift in the Jewish people. 

That argument might be valid outside Israel. But here, in Israel, I think it is insignificant. If civil marriage were recognized in Israel, it would not lead to an increase in civil marriage in the diaspora.” 

IAF says ultra-Orthodox highly motivated

By Hanan Greenberg May 30, 2009

A year after its launch, the project to recruit ultra-Orthodox soldiers to various positions within the Air Force is a success.

Ynet has learned that in internal polling conducted by the IAF’s manpower branch, headed by Brig. Gen. Rami Ben-Efraim, the ultra-Orthodox servicemen ‘won out’ amongst the various sectors on two vital questions – willingness to stay in the service and willingness to become officers.

More than half – 53% – of haredi servicemen responded positively when asked whether they would consider staying in the Air Force. The percentage is higher than those recorded in eight other projects being run by the IAF.

Rabbis: Soldiers must refuse IDF orders

By Matthew Wagner May 28, 2009

Leading religious Zionist rabbis called Wednesday evening on IDF soldiers and officers to disobey orders to dismantle and evacuate outposts and settlements in Judea and Samaria.

“The holy Torah prohibits taking part in any act of uprooting Jews from any part of our sacred land,” wrote the group of rabbis that included Hebron-Kiryat Arba Chief Rabbi Dov Lior, Beit El Chief Rabbi Zalman Melamed, Yitzhar Rabbi David Dudkevitch, Rabbi Haim Steiner of Yeshivat Mercaz Harav and Rabbi Ya’acov Yosef, the eldest son of Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.

A search for their truth

By Lily Galili May 29, 2009

Although there are no exact figures on the number of immigrants from the former Soviet Union who define themselves as traditional or strictly observant Jews, Hanin estimates their number at 50,000, not counting Jews from Bukhara and the Caucasus, who are nearly all religious anyway. 

Tel Aviv centennial forgets city was once the capital of Hasidism

By Shlomo Shamir May 28, 2009

In all the events commemorating Tel Aviv’s centennial, one unique chapter of the first Hebrew city’s history was left out – for nearly half a century the city served as a center of the Hasidic world. 

For whatever reason, the centennial’s organizers missed the fact that Tel Aviv was the preferred place of residence for senior Hasidic rabbis and their followers; they created a world whose size and quality easily compared to the communities of Central and Eastern Europe before the Holocaust. 

Religion and State in Israel

June 1, 2009 (Section 1) (continues in Section 2)

If you are reading in email or RSS feed, please click here to read ONLINE

Editor – Joel Katz

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

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