Posts Tagged With: Egalitarian Minyan

Non-orthodox religious leaders: Israeli Hotels Refusing Torahs to Egalitarian Minyanim

Torah service at Moreshet Israel, a Masorti congregation in Jerusalem

The directors of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism and The Masorti Movement  have sent a letter to the government complaining that hotels are refusing to allow egalitarian minyanim to use hotel rooms and Torahs for fear of losing their kashrut certificate.

The Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism and the Masorti Movement represent the interests and religious needs of non-orthodox religious Israeli Jews and Diaspora Jews visiting Israel. The letter was sent to both the ministry of Tourism and the ministry of Diaspora Affairs. According to Ynet, the letter concluded:

We ask that you find the proper public manner in which to make it clear that this is an invalid policy that is not compatible with the law, a policy that damages relations with Jews in the Diaspora and the image of the State of Israel as a Jewish democratic state.

The complaint follows an incident last month when a group of American high school students were refused a Torah for their Shabbat minyan. The hotel belonged to a non-religious kibbutz and advertized itself as a place that would meet all the needs of bar and bat mitzvahs. However, when the group asked for a Torah for their morning Shabbat service, the hotel religious supervisor informed them that they couldn’t have the Torah unless they agreed to a service with a mehitza where only boys read from the Torah.

The rabbinut denied that this was an official policy but did concede that local rabbinut may have different rules and that these may be responsible for the difficulties.

Loss of a kashrut certificate has severe economic implications for hotels. Hotels have little recourse when a local kashrut supervisor threatens to withdraw their kashrut certification.

At least two cases complaining against the policy of bundling non-food related behaviorial requirements with kashrut certification have gone before the Israeli Supreme Court.  The Kashrut (Prohibition of Deciet) law prohibits a food-service establishment from claiming it is kosher unless it receives a certificate from the state run rabbinut.

In the 1980’s the rabbinut tried to withhold kashrut certificates from establishments that allowed belly dancers on the premises.  In 1989 the Supreme Court ruled that it was not the intent of the Kashrut Law to empower a rabbi to force a business or its customers to act in compliance with religious law on non food related matters.    They could not use kashrut to prohibit belly dancers, New Year’s parties, or even Christmas parties.

In 2009, the Supreme Court found that a kashrut certificate could not be withheld from an Ashdod baker even though she believed Jesus was the Messiah.  The court ruled that “The Kashrut Law states clearly that only legal deliberations directly related to what makes the food kosher are relevant, not wider concerns unrelated to food preparation,” .

The bundling of rules about how a Torah may be used with kashrut certification is clearly against the Supreme Court ruling.   However fighting a loss of kashrut certification in the Supreme Court is a potentially lengthy process.   In the meantime the restaurant risks loss of revenue from kashrut observant clients.

Even with a successful suit, it may be difficult to get the relevant ministries to comply with the Supreme Court decision.   It is not uncommon for civil rights organizations to have to file additional Supreme Court suits when a ministry fails to follow through on an earlier Supreme Court decision.  Thus many establishments prefer to play by the local rabbinut’s rules regardless of their legal rights or the rights of their customers.

Related articles in Jacob’s Bones:

Categories: Building a Just Israel, Exclusion of Jews | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Israeli Hotel Refuses Torah to Egalitarian Minyan

A boy and two girls relaxing at Kibbutz Shefayim's Water Park

This year seniors from the Solomon Schechter School in Westchester county New York had first hand experience of how the Israeli religious establishment treats women when they were unable to have a Torah service at Shabbat morning Shachrit.

The students were in Israel as part of their two month senior trip to Poland and Israel. When the school made reservations at the hotel on Kibbutz Shefayim near Hertzliya, the leaders had requested a room for their prayer services and the hotel offered use of the hotel synagogue after the hotel sponsored Orthodox minyan had completed their prayers. The hotel did not inform them that Torah scrolls were only available for services with mechitzas where only men read. They arrived at the hotel and found out on Shabbat morning that they could not use the hotel’s Torah. The group was forced to pray Shabbat Schachrit without a Torah service.

The Solomon Schechter schools are run by the US Conservative (Masorti) movement. Conservative Jews, count women in their minyans and allow women to be called up to the Torah. The school staff and rabbi considered the inclusion of women a matter of obligation and could not accept use of the Torah under the hotel’s conditions that women not read from the Torah.

When the Jerusalem Post contacted the hotel, they insisted that their policy is that groups provide their own Torah if they want to conduct their own services apart from the hotel’s standard morning minyan. The hotel refused to comment on the specific incident except to say that no formal complaint had been made.

The school group leaders contradict this explaination. They say they asked for the hotel Torah prior to their morning service. The hotel’s religious supervisor said that he would be willing for them to use the hotel Torah but only if they agreed to a mechitza and only if males alone read from the Torah.

It should be noted that the kibbutz hotel advertises itself as “especially suited to celebrate different occasions also for the religious sector: Bar/Bat Mitzvah, and Groom Saturdays are a true experience, will make available everything required.”

If the hotel follows orthodox standards then the Bat Mitzvah must take place in a private woman only minyan. This would imply that they do indeed allow private services using the hotel Torah. Surely they don’t expect families to arrive with their own Torah for Bar and Bat Mitzvahs?

It should also be pointed out that the kibbutz runs a water park that does not in any way adhere to Orthodox standards of modesty. Thus it cannot be said that the kibbutz is merely enforcing its own adherence to an Orthodox interpretation of Judaism. Orthodox Judaism believes Torah should affect all of life and cannot be limited to the synagogue only.

The Talmud specifically allows women to be called to the Torah and to read it and specifies that the only impediment is the “honor of the congregation”:

The Rabbis taught (teno) that anyone can be numbered among the seven [called to the Torah on Shabbat], even a minor, even a woman. But the Sages said that we do not call a woman to the Torah because of Kevod HaTzibur (the dignity of the congregation). (Megillah 23a).

Non-orthodox Jews believe that the context of the phrase and also interpreters such as Rashi require us to read “kevod haTzibur” as an insult or annoyance to the congregation, rather than a violation of the fundamental nature of the congregation. Thus many non-orthodox Jews believe that saying women insult the dignity of the congregation is an insult to the dignity of women and has no place in modern Judaism.

Orthodox partnership minyanim also agree that today one can no longer say that women reading from the Torah imperils the dignity of the congregation. Today women study Torah on level of equal sophistication to men. Orthodox minyanim that disallow women reading from the Torah argue that “k’vod ha tzibbur” reflects a timeless category that has nothing to do society’s view of women or women’s scholarship.

The school chose to use the incident as a teaching moment about conflicts in Israeli society. The group’s leader told the Jeruslaem Post:

We wanted to stick to our values of having an egalitarian service…we also saw it as an educational moment and explained to the group participants that this is one of the biggest conflicts within Israeli society – the meaning of what a Jewish state should be. The goal of Zionism today should be to try and perfect the country we have, not to get frustrated and work against it, even when the government or the mainstream religious establishment rejects us.

Rabbi Andrew Sacks, head of the Rabbinical Assembly of Masorti Rabbis in Israel stressed the importance of respecting Diaspora religious traditions:

In light of all of the difficulties we face at the moment, it is particularly problematic that we would make it more difficult for the Diaspora community to practice their Judaism when visiting the Jewish state.

Non-orthodox Judaism is not strictly a Diaspora phenomenon. Collectively non-orthodox religious Jews make up about the same percentage of Israeli society as do Haredim (Ultra-orthodox). According to the Avi Chai/IDI study 8% of Israeli adults identify as either Reform/Progressive or Conservative/Masorti. Haredi Judaism also represents 8% of Israeli adult society.

Despite this Haredim control official religious life in Israel. Reform and Conservative rabbis cannot hold government jobs as rabbis no matter how well they know Jewish tradition. Nor can they serve as judges in religious courts. Women are also excluded from all these roles.

The state will not recognize marriages performed by non-orthodox rabbis. Religious non-Orthodox couples must leave the country and have a second marriage in a foreign country in order for their marriage to be recognized in Israel.

Even though Reform and Conservative conversions are recognized as Jews for citizenship under the law of resturn, they do not have the right to be married or buried as Jews in Israel. Nor are the children of women converts recognized as Jewish. They are not allowed to marry Jews or be buried as Jews.

Women in Israel are also constrained in their ability to worship as they wish. Women, for instance, may not pray at the Western Wall with a Tallit, nor may they have a Torah service if they pray as a group at the Western wall even if the minyan is composed exclusively of women.

Categories: Extremism, Gender Segregation | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

First Ever Egalitarian Mincha in the Knesset Synagogue

Tuesday was a moment of triumph and a reminder of troubles faced by religious non-orthodox Jews in Israel. On Tuesday, January 24, for the first time in the history of the state of Israel, an egalitarian minyan prayed mincha in the Knesset synagogue.

The service was lead by Canadian Rabbi Jennifer Gorman. Two days later she wrote in her blog:

On Tuesday I led Mincha in an egalitarian minyan at the Knesset. It happened quietly, no fanfare at the time, but the joy and pride in the room was palpable. I’ve been jotting down notes since, trying to get the experience on paper, but, while I have pages of notes for every other day, my notes on this experience seem to consist of fragments and single words. The emotion is like a balloon inside me that seems to keep inflating. I left the Knesset shaking, tears in my eyes, my cheeks hurting from smiling, but even so, it wasn’t until the following day morning, seeing it in the news, that the significance really hit me. It’s like waking over and over on my birthday to the greatest present ever. With all my oral skills, the word that keeps repeating is, “wow.”

Rabbi Alan Silverstein, chari of the US Masorti Foundation, told the Jerusalem post:

It was an inspiring service and we were extremely happy to be praying in the beautiful synagogue of the parliament of the Jewish state. Each Shabbat we pray for the well-being of the State of Israel in Conservative communities worldwide, and here we had the opportunity to do this great mitzva in the synagogue of the Israeli Knesset, one of the most important symbols of Jewish sovereignty.

But there were also reminders of predjudice against non-orthodox practices, beginning with the way the historic minyan was reported in Israeli newspapers. The two major Israeli news services that covered the story could not bring themselves to acall the prayer service a minyan. The Jerusalem Post called it a “prayer service”. Ynet called it a “quorum”.

Haredi Members of the Knesset were unhappy but felt they had little ground for objection since the knesset synagogue was a public space. MK Israel Eichler (United Torah Judaism) told Ynet “Unfortunately, I know where we live. There’s nothing we can do about it.”

MK Nissim Zeev (Shas) equated the service to an arab prayer service and said that the only reason that the egalitarian minyan was tolerated was that the minyan was not at the regular time. At the regular prayer time it would have been a disgrace and provocation. . He referred to the egalitarian minyan as a “glorification of women” and told Ynet:

Even if Muhammad asks to pray there, I’ll say ‘tfadal’ (‘go ahead’ in Arabic)….”Thank God, Israel doesn’t have many communities of this kind, which sow the rift among the people of Israel … But when they arrive, you can’t prevent them from doing so in a public place like the Knesset.

In a phone interview with the Canadian Jewish News , Jennifer Gorman said that they were not “looking to make waves”. Masorti Jews davened every day and had asked in advance if the chapel would be available for them to use after their meetings with Knesset leaders.

Earlier in the day delegates from the Masort/Conservative movement met with MKs from Labor, Kadima, Likud, and Israel Beiteinu. The meetings focused on the impact of religious extremism on Israelis abroad.

The problem of viewing non-orthodox Jewish ritual as some sort of “less than” ritual with the same standing as Arab prayer is well known.

David Lissy, executive-director and CEO of the US Masorti Foundation observed

All of us love and support Israel and members of our communities are part of the central leadership of AIPAC, Hadassah and the Jewish Federations but the State of Israel degrades us time and again when it says that we are second-class Jews that are rabbis cannot conduct wedding ceremonies here and that our converts are not considered Jewish enough for the Jewish state. The discrimination against non-Orthodox movements in Israel does massive damage to the image of Israel as a state for all Jews.

Israeli Seth Farber, director of the ITIM religious rights group and an Orthodox rabbi seconded that observation. He told The Jerusalem Post that

…some very difficult decisions lie ahead. A lot of work still needs to be done to make Jews of all denominations feel comfortable in Israel, There isn’t enough strategic thinking going on to think about how Israel can be a homeland for all Jews. The state wasn’t founded to be insular and indifferent to Jewish people and so there needs to begin a sincere dialogue with Diaspora communities to tackle these issues.

You can see more pictures of the minyan here.

Sources:

Categories: Exclusion of Jews, Signs of Progress | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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