Religion and State in Israel – September 30, 2009 (Section 2)

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Religion and State in Israel

September 30, 2009 (Section 2) (continued from Section 1)

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.

Immigrant groups decry sex segregation at Western Wall citizenship ceremonies

By Cnaan Liphshiz September 27, 2009

Plans to separate new immigrants according to sex at Jewish Agency ceremonies near Jerusalem’s Western Wall would both discriminate against the new arrivals and go against their preference, according to immigration-assistance officials.

Paula Edelstein, chairwoman of the immigration and absorption committee at the Jewish Agency, told Anglo File that Rabbi Rabinovitch has for the first time demanded that men and women be seated apart during the ceremony.

“My comments about the ceremony at the Wall were made in a wider context, which was the creeping trend of separation in Jerusalem – in buses, at the Wall and elsewhere. I am not focusing on the Wall, my issue is with separation in general,” she said.

‘Reform claims of gender segregation at Western Wall plaza false’

By Haviv Rettig Gur September 25, 2009

The Western Wall’s Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitz and Jewish Agency officials have blasted critics from the Israeli Reform Movement, saying that their claim that agency events at the holy site could be canceled due to forced gender separation were false.

In recent years, Rabinovitz told the Post, many groups have sought to conduct events and ceremonies at the Wall, “practically turning it into an event hall.”

“Now, none of us want to show up at the Kotel and have to listen to some politicians, or even to the Kotel rabbi, blasting on a loudspeaker,” he explained.

So the Kotel administration decided that henceforth, no non-prayer events – “not for the Orthodox and not for anybody else” – could be held at the site, with the sole exception of national events traditionally held there, such as the IDF’s swearing-in ceremonies and the national Memorial Day service.

To get approval for the aliya ceremonies this summer, “the Jewish Agency presented these olim ceremonies as prayer events,” said Rabinovitz.

After a few such events were held, one of which saw excited Ethiopian olim break into a traditional mixed-gender dance, Rabinovitz approached agency officials and noted that the events were not being conducted as prayer services.

Secular public is just not interested

By Anshel Pfeffer Opinion September 27, 2009

Western Wall Rabbi Rabinovich may technically be a civil servant, but his real bosses are a small number of senior ultra-Orthodox rabbis who lay down the line.

And over the last decade or so, that line has steadily moved away from the Wall and now encompasses the entire area, all the way up to the houses of the Jewish Quarter.

Technically, only the small sunken courtyard adjacent to the Wall is a place of prayer, and therefore divided between men and women.

But Rabinovich, with his small army of publicly-funded guards, has tried to enforce his rule much further away.

Separate entry gates for men and women have been erected, and at every opportunity, ugly wooden fences and signs have also been erected, crisscrossing the entire enclosure in an attempt to enforce the Orthodox idea of modesty – which basically means keeping men and women, boys and girls, apart from each other at the earliest possible age.

Challenging the religious status quo

By Matthew Wagner September 27, 2009

Should marriages performed by non-Orthodox rabbis in Israel be recognized by the state? Should Reform and Conservative conversions performed in Israel be recognized?

And if the authority of non-Orthodox rabbis is recognized should they also be entitled to receive a salary from the state just like Orthodox rabbis?

…MK Uri Orbach (Habayit Hayehudi) said he also opposed the [civil marriage] initiative.

“This is a Jewish state and we should not be allowing intermarriage.” Commenting on Hiddush’s initiative, Orbach said, “Every so often the Reform Jews try to strengthen their hold here in Israel under a different guise.

“But until the Reform movement manages to bring to Israel half a million Jews, they will remain an organization that makes its impact by petitioning the Supreme Court and by publicizing provocative press releases like this latest initiative.”

Hiddush’s Rabbi Uri Regev, who as former head of the Reform movement’s Israel Religious Action Center is a veteran activist for religious pluralism, admitted that in the current political climate it would be difficult to dismantle the Orthodox monopoly over religious services.

“The challenge we will present has value in itself even if we do not manage to bring change immediately,” he said.

Shas MK: Ease Conversion for IDF Soldiers of Jewish Descent

By Gil Ronen September 23, 2009

MK Rabbi Chaim Amsalem (Shas) is vigorously pursuing a plan that would ease the conversion to Judaism (giyur) of descendants of Jews who immigrated to Israel and served in the armed forces.

The plan is seen as a revolutionary one, coming as it does from a rabbi and politician who belongs to the hareidi-religious stream, which is not known to favor military service at all.

MK Rabbi Amsalem has now completed an essay explaining his idea and sent it to 1,000 rabbis from all orthodox streams in Israel, in the hope of receiving their support and comments for the plan.

Two decades later, FSU immigrants making their mark in Israel

By Dina Kraft September 17, 2009

…More significantly, [there are] hundreds of thousands of immigrants not considered Jewish according to halachah, or traditional Jewish law.

That has forced Israel to grapple with some fundamental questions about its Jewish identity. Israel’s Law of Return allows only for those with at least one Jewish grandparent to immigrate, along with their spouses.

Many immigrants from the former Soviet Union want the government to ease its immigration criteria to allow non-Jewish family members to come to Israel.

Immigrants and their children who have grown up in Israel and encounter this problem say they are resentful of a system that readily accepts them for military conscription — one in five Israeli soldiers hails from the Russian-speaking immigrant community — but does not consider them full Jews.

“It’s an issue that hurts many,” said Michael Zinigrad, a chemistry professor who emigrated from Russia in 1992 and is now rector of the Ariel University Center.

Elazar Leshem, an immigration expert affiliated with the Hebrew University and Ariel University Center, says one of the main reasons potential immigrants from the former Soviet Union who have not come to Israel are staying away is the sense that families with mixed Jewish parentage suffer discrimination in Israel.

“Israel is losing out on a huge human resources as a result,” he said.

Asking for forgiveness from the convert

By Rabbi Seth Farber Opinion September 25, 2009

The writer is the founder of ITIM: The Jewish Life Information Center and rabbi of Kehillat Netivot in Ra’anana.

Hundreds of Orthodox converts have “reconverted” in the past year, in order to stay ahead of the curve, but more worrisome is that thousands haven’t. And they live in fear and trepidation that their Jewishness will be denied.

Al het that we didn’t speak up louder to help those seeking to convert.

Al het that we didn’t cry out when conversions were annulled.

Al het that we didn’t scream when rabbis wantonly rejected other rabbis’ converts – without looking at each case individually.

Al het that we allowed converts to be oppressed, and politics to guide religion.

And perhaps the worst al het of all:

Al het that we don’t believe in ourselves to stop this horrifying treatment of fellow Jews.

On Yom Kippur night, when we ask God to forgive the sins of the converts, let us include a prayer, to forgive our sin against the convert.

Who is a Jew? The great debate September 30, 2009

The recent Court of Appeal ruling over school admissions has brought the issue of Jewish identity into sharp relief. Four thinkers, from across the communal spectrum, tackle the issue in a round table discussion with Gerald Jacobs.

“It is going to take another 100 years for Israel to find its religious identity. The strictly-Orthodox Jews living in Bnei Brak could be living in a Polish ghetto.

So many of the “halachists” — whose decisions we are touched by — are people who have no concept whatsoever of what it is to have a child coming who is, for example, converted by a Reform Beth Din.

What do they know about a Reform Beth Din? Or interaction with the non-Jewish world? The things that we struggle with on a daily basis.”

Shouldn’t Religion in Israel Attempt to ‘Wear’ All the Colors of the Rainbow?

By Rabbi Andrew Sacks Opinion September 24, 2009

The writer directs the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel and the Bureau of Religious Affairs of the Masorti [Conservative] Movement.

The Jews of Israel are torn as to what should be the nature and place of Judaism in the Jewish state.

Ought it to mirror the black of the ultra-Orthodox haredi world or reflect the colors of the rainbow, as Israelis allow themselves to realize that there is more than one way to live as a Jew?

Repent the day before you die

By David Forman Opinion September 27, 2009

I choose not to universalize the mandate for contrition. Instead, I will primarily address one particular segment of the population, those who claim for themselves the title “true believers” – Orthodox Jews.

I do not intend to impugn all Orthodox Jews with crass generalizations.

…The silence of the religious establishment during the riots in Jerusalem implies complicity on the part of too many of our Orthodox rabbinic leaders.

Secular-Friendly Yom Kippur Services

By Hillel Fendel September 24, 2009

Over 170 gatherings have already signed up for special Yom Kippur services for the uninitiated, sponsored by the Tzohar Rabbis Organization.

Tzohar means “window,” and the organization says it’s a “window between worlds” – the religious and the secular. It is dedicated to reaching out to the secular public and helping to fashion the country’s Jewish identity via dialogue and “the search for common elements of identity.”

“Our goal is to help secular Israelis feel less alienated when it comes to religious practice,” says Rabbi David Stav, Chairman of Tzohar.

“We want to show them that there are many ways to embrace religion and become spiritually involved with one’s Judaism.”

Secular yeshiva marks Yom Kippur with meditation

By Kobi Nahshoni September 30, 2009

The Bina Center for Jewish Identity and Hebrew Culture marked the holy day this year, for the fourth time, in a Jewish-Israeli version, with the atmosphere of a yeshiva.

On the agenda: A prayer, “a personal conversation with Hayyim Nahman Bialik,” meditation and blowing a shofar. On the menu: An optional fast.

Bina, which operates as part of the network of seminaries in Israel, has not avoided questions such as “who do I pray to?” and throughout the years has formed a version combining segments from the festival prayer book with Hebrew literature and poetry, and an agenda which includes traditional customs alongside more “Israeli” content.

The Zionist loss of nerve

By Yehezkel Dror Opinion September 27, 2009

The writer is a professor emeritus of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and was founding president of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute.

MASA’s misguided PR stunt should not cause Zionist leaders and organizations to retreat from an essentially correct, substantive message

…while the new chairman of the Agency was right to halt the campaign, Zionist leaders should have strongly criticized the denial of the truth by some strident Diaspora leaders and insisted on the validity of MASA’s main message.

Not doing so constituted a clear loss of Zionist nerve.

Birthright breakaway announces own program, says he will help underwrite it

By Raphael Ahren September 27, 2009

Roughly two months after a split over ideological differences, the president of Birthright Israel’s largest trip organizer told Anglo File this week that he personally would help fund his new initiative to bring Diaspora Jews to Israel on free 10-day trips.

Shlomo Lifshitz, who heads Oranim Educational Initiatives and is widely known as Momo, says he left Birthright after he was told to stop urging participants to marry Jewish partners and consider moving to Israel.

The strength to face each other

By Natan Sharansky Opinion September 26, 2009

The writer is chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel

There are two great Jewish communities on the face of this earth – Israeli Jewry and Diaspora Jewry.

A bridge connects us – and however convenient it might seem to occasionally turn our back on this bridge, we must not do so.

Each community must engage the other – and understand that our own, continued existence is bound up in the continued ability of the other community to flourish alongside us.

$6m. gift earmarked for TA’s Museum of the Jewish People September 29, 2009

Last week’s $6 million gift from Russian-Israeli billionaire Leonid Nevzlin to Beit Hatefutsoth, the Tel Aviv-based Nahum Goldmann Museum of the Jewish Diaspora, is the start of a major international effort to help fund a vast new Museum of the Jewish People targeted at Israelis.

According to experts, most Israeli youth pass through the state education system without a single lesson on the Diaspora.

More than 60 percent of 150 history and civics teachers polled said the subject of Diaspora Jewry had never entered their classrooms, according to a 2006 study by the American Jewish Committee’s Israel/Middle East Office and the Levinsky College of Education in Tel Aviv. Another 25% said they did not know if it had been taught in their classrooms.

Only 13% said they had taught it or heard of it being taught at least once.

A new edge for Jewish philanthropy

By Ruth Eglash September 29, 2009

At first glance, looks like any other Jewish organization’s Web site.

Listing a variety of social welfare and cultural projects in Israel and the Jewish world, encouraging surfers to “get involved” and volunteer, Jgooders could, in fact, pass for its own philanthropic organization attempting to rally the international Jewish community for support.

However, Jgooders runs no projects of its own and fund-raises nothing for itself, rather it is a Jewish philanthropic “start-up” offering individual donors and Jewish or Israeli charities the chance to raise money with ease via new technology and social media promotion.

Right of Reply: Bnei Akiva – today & tomorrow

By Yona Goodman Opinion September 23, 2009

Newman goes on to accuse Bnei Akiva of looking back over its “right shoulder” to see whether it satisfies the demands of the haredi community.

Well, we see nothing wrong with learning good things from anybody, including the haredi world. But the truth is that Bnei Akiva’s main effort is not looking backward, but forward, toward the great challenges that face Israel, and to strive to contribute in coping with them.

In reply to: Bnei Akiva – then & now

By David Newman Opinion September 7, 2009

In the past it used to look over its left shoulder to ensure that it was given a kashrut certificate for being Zionist enough by the world of secular Zionism, while today it looks over its right shoulder at the Orthodox world for recognition that it is Orthodox enough.

The ties that continue to bind

By Tamar Rotem September 27, 2009

For the constantly expanding group of people who call themselves “datlashim” – a Hebrew acronym for “formerly religious” – the prolonged search for a new identity that still corresponds in some way with the old one becomes an end in itself, because they do not consider secularism an appropriate alternative.

These are mainly young people in their late twenties, or thirty-somethings, who come from religious-Zionist circles, who do not lead a religious lifestyle and do not consider themselves bound by halakha (traditional Jewish law).

“When you leave religion, first of all everything falls apart. Mainly the connection between belief in God on the one hand, and religion and ethics on the other. At first you become a nutcase.

After all, there’s nobody to punish you. Then you go to look for new ethics. During the first years you don’t pray either. You try to understand your limits. But after a while you say to yourself: There’s no God, f— it, but I want to feel.”

The formerly observant, he continues, are yet another group seeking a new era, and perhaps looking to strengthen the turn back to traditional Jewish literature, and to support the various secular batei midrash.

With God’s help

By Ben Shalev September 27, 2009

Interview with musician Etti Ankri

A few years ago, Ankri began covering her hair, a choice that surely did not help her career. But here, too, she had no choice. “I yearned to put on a head covering,” she says.

Might she stop performing in front of men? “It’s strange that the secular media of all things is constantly preoccupied with this,” she says.

“One thing is important for me to say. There are people who don’t buy tickets because they think the concerts are just for women.

They should be aware that I am not at that level. I can’t say where I’ll be tomorrow. I hope that I will grow closer to the Holy One Blessed Be He, but I can’t be sure.”

When she is asked again about this, more directly, she answers, “It’s too intimate. I’ll tell you but don’t write it.”

When the interview ends and it turns out that the battery in the tape recorder ran out before Ankri discussed this sensitive subject, she smiles and says, “Does that seem like a coincidence to you?”

When ignorance isn’t bliss

By Ruth Beloff September 26, 2009

As the co-founders of Choice of the Heart (Bechirat Halev), a marriage education program for newlyweds and “nearlyweds,” the two women are striving to equip couples with the tools to launch them into a loving and lasting relationship.

Based on the Prepare/Enrich mentoring program developed in the US after 30 years of research by social scientist David Olson, Choice of the Heart ( is a series of workshops dedicated to empowering married and engaged couples to learn to communicate and understand each other.

“Religious couples are trained in Halacha, but they need to know how to communicate, which is the key to intimacy,” she asserts. “In the religious world, men and women are separated from early on. In our workshops, they are all together.”

As for Haredi couples, the Miller and Lurie team can work with them one on one.

Opening the ‘present’ together

By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Opinion September 26, 2009

Certainly it behooves us to partner with the nearly two billion Christians to teach the message of ethical absolutism.

These Noachide commandments of universal morality such as “Thou shalt not murder” must be accepted by every human being, alongside religious pluralism, granting everyone the right to pray to God in his own way, or even not to pray at all.

…Given this understanding, we can and we must partner with the Christian world for the sake of the God of love, peace and morality – the only hope for a future world.

This, however, with one strong proviso: We cannot partner with any group whose raison d’être is to convert Jews to Christianity now. We ask to be respected as we are now, with all our failings, just as we respect the Christian world as it is now.

They pray to Jesus, don’t they?

By Akiva Eldar Opinion September 30, 2009

In order to grasp the extent of the crisis between religious Jewish settlers in the Binyamin region and their Christian Evangelist benefactors, have a look at the Web site.

In the middle of the site’s home page, between a call to return to the evacuated community of Homesh and request for contributions to reestablish Gush Katif evacuees in communities in Judea and Samaria, the surfer is invited to watch a report aired on Channel 1.

…Receiving tens of millions of dollars annually from Christian preachers and enlisting their support against political initiatives is a great mitzvah. But exposing our children, heaven forbid, to their doctrines? There is a limit.

Bible politics and Palestinian Zionists

By Tristan Sturm September 27, 2009

For as many as 1,000 other Protestant Palestinians who are the protégés of American Baptist missionaries, the conflict is refracted through the lens of American millennialism. The result is a rapidly growing number of Palestinian Christian Zionists.

…These Christians have found a new meaning in their role in the land, by forming proselytizing missions to convert the Jews. Most espouse an End Time theo-politics borrowed from Christian millennialism that shares much with the religious Zionism formulated by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook.

They not only believe that the return of the messiah hinges on Israeli territorial maximalism but also – like most American Evangelicals – believe that Jews have a special biblical role as the chosen people.

Religion and State in Israel

September 30, 2009 (Section 2) (continued from Section 1)

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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