Religion and State in Israel – June 6, 2011 (Section 1)

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Religion and State in Israel

June 6, 2011 (Section 1) (see also Section 2)

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Editor – Joel Katz

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

2010 sees drop in applications for IDF conversions

By Jonah Mandel June 1, 2011

While the number of conversions in Israel rose slightly in 2010, there was a significant drop in the number of soldiers who signed up for the military’s Nativ conversion courses, according to data presented at the Knesset’s Aliya, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee on Tuesday.

According to Col. Orna Asoulin, who is in charge of manpower in the IDF Manpower Directorate, the reason there were 82 fewer soldiers in the Nativ course in 2010 than in 2009 (when some 800 took part), was the public uproar over the conversions.

Hiddush Shavuot Campaign: Who Revoked Ruth’s Conversion?

See here for Hiddush letter

For decades, Jews around the world have been advocating that conversions of all major streams in Judaism be equally recognized in Israel.

Yet, even after the High Court of Justice ordered the State to recognize Reform and Conservative conversions, grant the converts rights under the Law of Return and register them as Jews – still none of these converts can legally marry in Israel.

Why the rabbis are hated

By Assaf Wohl Opinion June 4, 2011

I will attempt here to present the arguments against the Rabbinate as reflected by the responses to the recent pay raise.

Firstly, the Rabbinate has become the “military wing” of the haredi community. Through it, the haredim abuse the rest of the population.

…Secondly, the Rabbinate is perceived as a corrupt body that produces nothing but jobs for its close associates.

…Thirdly, there’s the issue of the economic situation and market conditions.

The coercion, the costs, the hunger for power, and the translation of Judaism into money all prompt open hostility towards the Rabbinate and Judaism. The solution can apparently be found in the American model…

J’lem rabbi candidate calls for religious tolerance in city

By Jonah Mandel June 2, 2011

The national-religious candidate for the position of Jerusalem’s chief rabbi warned against a reality in which the capital becomes a city for religious Jews only, and called for more tolerance – from both secular and religious residents – to prevent such a scenario.

“It must be a capital for all the people, a united city,” Rabbi Aryeh Stern said on Wednesday.

Chief Rabbi Metzger: I won’t seek 2nd term, unless rabbis tell me to

By Jonah Mandel June 6, 2011

Metzger also confirmed a weekend report in haredi newspaper Bakehila, where he was quoted as saying that even if the recently proposed bill to enable chief rabbis to contend for another term passes in the Knesset – something he doubts will happen – he still would not seek another 10-year stint in the position.

He made sure to add that if senior rabbis – such as those who helped him attain the position of chief rabbi – ordered him to seek a second term, he would have to heed to them, despite the fact that he had prepared to step down after holding the position for a decade when his term ends in 2013.

Bill granting rabbis immunity for incitement charges shot down

By Jonathan Lis June 6, 2011

The ministerial committee on legislation yesterday unanimously voted down a bill that would grant rabbis immunity to prosecution for incitement based on their published opinions on religious matters.

The bill would have shielded rabbis from criminal responsibility for published works or for both written and oral opinions on their published works.

Gay pride event in Knesset outrages Haredi parties

By Lahav Harkov June 6, 2011

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin plans to meet with leaders of the gay community in Israel in honor of Gay Pride Month on Monday, raising the ire of haredi MKs.

“I am astonished over the Knesset Speaker’s decision to host so-called gay families,” MK Nissim Ze’ev (Shas) said. “I can’t understand his motive.”

From Periphery to Core: Analyzing the Rabbinate’s position on conversion June 3, 2011

Dr. Zohar is Chauncy Stillman Professor of Sephardic Law and Ethics at Bar Ilan University, and a Senior Research Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. This article appears in issue 10 of Conversations, the journal of the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals.

In this article, I survey and analyze major stages in the fascinating growth of extremist positions on conversion to Judaism (giyyur) within Israeli rabbinic circles in recent years, up to September 2010.

(The current hot-spot of controversy, relating to giyyur within the Israeli Defense Forces, is still “in process” and thus not covered here.)

Throughout the article I make some general observations, and toward the end I also make draw some conclusions as to what all this reveals. Hopefully, the reader will gain some insights into interesting aspects of the history and the contemporary reality of the Orthodox rabbinic world in Israel.

VIDEO: Women of the Wall

Click here for VIDEO May 8, 2011


An Aliyah Journey

By Bonnie Riva Ras Opinion May 29, 2011

Rosh Chodesh Adar Aleph was a cold, rainy, dreary morning. A security guard at the Kotel stopped me and two other women and insisted that we could not go into the plaza with our tallit bags because “Women are not allowed to have a tallit at the Wall.” We argued until they finally let us in.

I volunteered to take a shift holding the sefer Torah outside the plaza so I had a good view of the security guards as they opened all the women’s bags. Men were allowed to walk right in. When my relief arrived, the guards would not allow me back in wearing my tallit under my coat. I argued in my best beginner’s Hebrew.

I refused to remove my tallit and I refused to leave. My relief went back to the Kotel and brought back our female police officer, and she escorted me into the plaza. I felt a little like Rosa Parks.

Rosh Hodesh Sivan June 3, 2011

“If women are silent and passive these prohibitions and decrees with grow and we will find ourselves being told not only where to go, how to dress, what to say and carry but also how to breath,” said Anat Hoffman chair of Women of the Wall.

After 20 Years of Activity, The Daniel Centers Receive Financial Support for Education Work From Israel’s Ministry of Education

The Daniel Centers for Progressive Judaism Celebrate their 20th Anniversary June 4, 2011

This year, the Daniel Centers reached a critical milestone. Their Judaic education work in Tel Aviv’s elementary schools has been recognized by Israel’s Ministry of Education in the most concrete and tangible way, with a $30,000 renewable grant. Joining the Daniel Centers in receiving a first ever government grant to a Reform organization involved in Judaic education is the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism.

Seculars: Religious education intolerant June 5, 2011

Asked “In which of the following areas should religious education improve?” more than half of respondents (58%) said it should stop segregating itself from the Israeli society.

Seventeen percent believe religious education should reduce its involvement in politics and stop sending its students to political protests. Seven percent said it should be “more serious” in terms of religion, and 5% stated that it should become less elitist. Five percent chose other points for improvement, and 8% did not respond.

Rabbi Benny Lau slams blind obedience to rabbis

By Kobi Nahshoni May 30, 2011

Rabbi Dr. Benny Lau has called on the national-religious public to reduce its dependence on rabbis and become “free”.

According to Lau, the blind obedience which has infiltrated the Zionist-religious society in recent years is an inappropriate phenomenon stemming from a “paralysis of fear”.

He implied that criticism against religion, even if it causes some people to leave, is not as serious as blind obedience: “The crisis of those who make themselves a rabbi and hope to avoid doubt is seven times bigger than that of a person who made choices and didn’t find his way.”

Going back to the Bible

By Avi Rath Opinion June 2, 2011

After trying so many ineffective PR methods, perhaps we would do well to go back to the simple approach – the Bible. After all, we are speaking to the Christian and Muslim worlds. These two religions recognize the Biblical story, the Bible’s truth and its sanctity. Both religions admit that the Jewish People is the people of the Bible.

So instead of seeking security arguments to justify our right for this land and for Jerusalem, let’s go back to our roots and speak the Biblical language which the world understands.

Poll: 42%: Rabbis worsen conflict with Arabs June 2, 2011

The poll also showed that the more religious the public, the more positive its stand towards rabbis as moderators: Thirty-five percent of the ultra-Orthodox public see the rabbis as reconcilers, compared to only 6.7% of seculars.

On the other hand, 63% of seculars see rabbis as an element worsening the conflict, compared to 5% of haredim.

Bible lessons move to Facebook

By Tomer Velmer June 1, 2011

The new instruction program, called “The Bible on Facebook”, was developed by Dr. Ilan Abekasis and Shirley Natan-Yulzari, experts in Bible teaching from the Levinsky College of Education, and it is aimed at teaching the students the Bible profession by surfing in the social network.

Yom Yerushalayim 5771

By Rabbi Barry Leff Opinion May 30, 2011

This year I’m still ambivalent. Sadly, while there has been physical reunification, we seem more fragmented and less unified than ever on the spiritual / political front.

Things have gotten so bad with some sectors of the haredim that the police are afraid to go into Mea Shearim (I’m not kidding, you can read about it here).

It seems like the haredim are mad at everyone: they battle the modern Orthodox over conversions, the Reform and Conservative are heretics, and they don’t want to let the secular do what they want on Shabbat without interference.

‘Religion and Peace Should be Researched’

By Elad Benari & Yoni Kempinski June 3, 2011

A special conference was held in Israel this past week on the subject of “Religion and Peace: Peace in Monotheistic Traditions.”

The conference was initiated by the International Organization for Comparative Ecclesiastical History (CIHEC), an international academic organization which brings together scholars of history and theology, mainly in Europe and the U.S. It included discussions about Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

Tel Aviv weighs plan for cheaper, smoother out-of-court divorces

By Ilan Lior June 2, 2011

The Tel Aviv municipality is giving serious consideration to a proposal meant to facilitate divorces in the city.

No city in Israel currently offers divorce services to its residents on a regular basis, but a few months ago Dlayahu’s group launched a pilot program in Ramat Gan, where the municipality reports that it has been very successful.

Searching for Normalcy in the Holy City

By Elan Ezrachi Opinion June 1, 2011

Dr. Elan Ezrachi, a native of Jerusalem is an independent educational consultant to international Jewish organizations, and a chair of a community council in Jerusalem.

Throughout my adult life, I have felt that living in Jerusalem is somehow counter-cultural, going against the norms of most of my peers and likeminded people.

What is it about Jerusalem that compels its best and brightest to leave? Why do Israeli friends of mine constantly ask me how I can still live in the city or wonder when I’m going to move to Tel Aviv already?

Jerusalem neighborhoods to get Hebrew names

By Tzvika Brot May 30, 2011

The new bill would apply to any neighborhood with Jewish residents, with the old name to remain unchanged on condition that it follows the new, Hebrew, name of the various neighborhoods.

Jerusalem Day

Cross-posted at June 3, 2011

In Israel, when crowds of religious, patriotic young men have an occasion to celebrate, they put their arms around each other and dance. If I try to imagine their American cultural analogs (flag waving, beer-drinking, church-going sports fans) doing the same, it’s laughable, but in Israel, it seems quite normal.

The Statistical Yearbook of Jerusalem 2011

Residents of Jerusalem, aged 20 and above, based on definitions of their own degree of religiosity:

29% as ultra-Orthodox; 20% as observant; 31% as traditional; 20% as non-observant/secular.

Rabbi Shapira to Netanyahu: We’re Happy You Came June 1, 2011

Rabbi Yaakov Shapira, head of the Mercaz Harav yeshiva in Jerusalem, blessed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for coming to take part in the yeshiva’s Jerusalem Day celebrations on Tuesday evening.

Complicated Emotions on Yom Yerushalayim

By David Levy June 1, 2011

David Levy is the editor of

Today, June 1st, is Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, marking the reunification of Jerusalem during the Six Day War in 1967. This is both an Israeli state holiday and a rabbinically mandated minor religious holiday, which means it’s celebrated both with parades and liturgy.

I’ll admit that this mixing of politics and religion makes me deeply uncomfortable. Attributing military and political victories to God is a step further down the slippery slope of political demagoguery than I’d like to take.

Old Time Religion

By Rabbi Marc Rosenstein Opinion May 31, 2011

I have joined this pilgrimage several times over the years, since my first visit as a curious teenager. This year I went again, with a small group of British gap-year students.

We started on top of Mt. Meiron, the highest mountain in Israel (until we conquered Mt. Hermon in the Golan), where we could look down on the hundreds of buses lined up to shuttle pilgrims to and from the site, as the highway was closed in the area.

…Herzl imagined the Jewish State as a kind of fin-de-siecle Vienna on the Mediterranean. Good thing he didn’t live to see what became of his vision. When we get carried away with our own visions of modern or post-modern high-tech Israel, it’s good to come to Meiron for a bit of a reality (?) check.

Eve-Olution: Jewish Education for Girls and Women in Israel

By Judith Landau Conversations Issue 10

Judith Landau was born in London and made aliya in 1976. She lives and works in Jerusalem and has five children and seven grandchildren. This article appears in issue 10 of Conversations, the journal of the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals.

The empowerment of women today in Modern Orthodox society in Israel is a direct result of the number and range of education opportunities now available—and a very welcome and necessary development considering the multiple halakhic issues affecting them.

The emergence of Batei Midrash for women and the courses provided at all levels—from the high school to midrasha to adult education—have bred a new generation of learned women who have become active members in the community and participants in the halakhic decision-making framework in issues pertaining to them.

Connecting to Create the Jewish Future May 31, 2011

As cyber-activism and Facebook revolutions sweep the Middle East, 150 Jewish social and business entrepreneurs, technology whizzes, thinkers and artists from Hong Kong to Zagreb, Sao Paulo to San Francisco, and Melbourne to Beersheva, will converge on Jerusalem for the ROI Global Summit of Young Jewish Innovators, to connect and create new tools and novel approaches to shape the Jewish world and beyond.

Turning Failings into Mitzvot: Classic, but Pathetic

By Rabbi Reuven Spolter Opinion May 31, 2011

Essentially, Rabbi Yanklowitz argues that Judaism’s values prompt us to not only live in Israel, but also to fulfill our national mission in the Diaspora. To put it bluntly, he’s wrong, not only Judaically, but factually as well.

It’s best, I think, to rebut his short essay point by point.

… Sadly, Rabbi Yanklowitz has, through a series of logical jumps that are both specious and unrelated, transformed that important feeling of guilt and anxiety into a positive. Don’t feel bad not making aliyah. You’re not supposed to. You should repair the world!

Hi-tech hub Ra’anana added to Birthright travel itinerary

By Gil Shefler June 2, 2011

…But now a new and unexpected stop with no historical or religious relevance has been added to the list: Ra’anana, one of the main hubs of Israel’s hi-tech industry.

Thousands of Birthright participants gathered on Tuesday night at an auditorium in the upper-middle class suburb of Tel Aviv for the group’s semi-annual Mega-event.

Earlier in the day, Birthright groups visited nearby software companies like Amdocs, HP and Microsoft to learn about the Silicon Wadi, Israel’s equivalent of the Silicon Valley. Participants met with management and heard lectures.

Taglit-Birthright Israel Launches Summer Fellowship for Future Leaders in Business and Technology June 2, 2011

Twenty juniors and seniors from top U.S. universities are taking part in an exclusive summer fellowship, mentored by CEOs of leading companies in Israel, as part of an initiative to create a cadre of future Jewish business and technology leaders who are closely connected to Israel and the Israeli private sector.

Are Young Rabbis Turning on Israel?

By Daniel Gordis Opinion June 2011

All this is simply a reflection of the decreased role of “peoplehood” in Judaism. What we are witnessing is a Protestantization of American Jewish life.

By and large, today’s rabbinical students did not grow up in homes that were richly Jewish. More often than not, these students came to their Jewish commitments as a result of individual journeys on which they embarked.

Jewish Agency to Close For Two Weeks to Save Money June 3, 2011

The Jewish Agency for Israel will close for two weeks over the summer and deduct several days’ pay from employees’ paychecks in a bid to close a budget gap of some $3.5 million.

Jewish Agency employees to volunteer work days

By Gil Shefler June 1, 2011

Facing a hard choice of letting people go or cutting salaries, the Jewish Agency for Israel and its union have agreed that employees across the board will donate six free work days in 2011, a source said.

This decision will affect approximately 500 people who will each give a free day of work a month until the end of the year.

Striking teachers fail Schechter Institute plan to pass students

By Raphael Ahren June 3, 2011

The Schechter Institute is seriously endangering its academic credentials by announcing it will give students a passing grade this semester if a current teachers strike has not ended by Monday, the institution’s workers committee said this week.

The teachers added that the president of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, Rabbi David Golinkin, lacks the authority to pass students in lieu of a settlement.

Schechter Institute gives lecturers until Monday to end strike over pay

By Raphael Ahren June 2, 2011

The Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies threatened yesterday to give students passing grades if lecturers do not end their strike by Monday, three weeks from the official end of the semester.

The Jerusalem-based school also announced that it would freeze employees’ salaries until August 1 if the strike does not end by Monday.

A gilded landsmanschaft

By Elli Fischer Opinion June 3, 2011

Cross-posted on

Rabbi Elli Fischer is a writer, translator, and editor from Modiin. He serves as a gabbai at Kehillat Shaarei Yonah Menachem

After all, Israeli society has turned out to be a cholent pot: Not a melting pot in which the identities of the ingredients are homogenized, nor a salad bowl in which each element remains unaffected by the elements around it.

In a cholent pot, each ingredient retains its identity even as it adds and absorbs flavor, scent, and texture from every other ingredient.

Op-Ed: I am a Zionist?!

By Rabbi Andrew Sacks Opinion June 2, 2011

Rabbi Andrew Sacks is the Director of the Masorti [Conservative] Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly in Israel

Let me add that I believe that there is more than one way to be a Zionist. I chose the path of Aliyah. Others express their Zionism differently.

But there is one thing we all have in common – we support the State of Israel. We do not always support the government or its policies. We may be deeply critical. But we love Israel deeply enough that we are obliged to criticize. We do so in order to build a Zionist State that reflects the values we feel must be a part of our Jewish State.

But am I a Zionist?…

New Reform head is friend of Israel

By Rabbi Robert Orkand Opinion May 11, 2011

I read with great sadness and considerable anger the editorial in the May 6 Jewish Ledger by Carol Greenwald, Ph.D., about the selection of Rabbi Richard Jacobs as President of the Union for Reform Judaism.

The Israel-Diaspora Gap, Up Close

By Rabbi Sid Schwarz Opinion May 31, 2011

Rabbi Sid Schwarz is the founder of the PANIM Institute for Jewish Leadership and Values and the author of “Judaism and Justice: The Jewish Passion to Repair the World.” He is currently a senior fellow at CLAL and the director of the Jewish Journey Project in New York.

I had the privilege of being one of 120 participants at a unique conference that took place in mid-May. Siach (conversation) was a gathering of Jewish social justice and environment professionals from Israel, Europe and the United States.

…I am keenly aware of the large gap between Israel and the diaspora. This gathering convinced me that the gap is even larger than I feared.

False Premise

By Isaac Shalev Opinon May 31, 2011

American Jewish culture has flowered independently of Israel, too. If there is to be a new consensus on Israel, perhaps it should be founded on the dignity of Jewish life outside of Israel, alongside the bravery of Jewish life in Israel.

Religion and State in Israel

June 6, 2011 (Section 1) (see also Section 2)

Editor – Joel Katz

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

All rights reserved.

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