Author Archives: jacobs0bones

Happy New Year 2012 (5773)

Wishing all our readers a sweet and happy Rosh HaShanna.  Shofar blowing by Jews around the world.

Categories: Moments of Hope, To Be a Jew | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Creating Am Shalem — A Complete Nation

Editor’s Note: the following article was written in early February during MK Haim Amsalem’s visit to the USA.

by Leslie Dannin Rosenthal, cross-posted with permission  from Leslie’s Laptop, United Jewish Communities of Metro-West New Jersey.

Did you ever see something and say to yourself, “I can’t believe I just saw that — and when can I see some more?” No, I don’t mean Mario Manningham’s sideline catch on Sunday, although I hope we do see many more of those next season. What I’m referring to is a visit to the MetroWest and Central NJ federations by Rabbi Haim Amsalem, MK (member of Knesset).

Rabbi Amsalem is an ultra-Orthodox, haredi Sephardic rabbi who entered the Knesset as a member of the right-wing Shas party. Concerned about the growing social problems in Israel, and most concerned about the issues that divide the ultra-Orthodox and the rest of Israel, he left Shas and founded the Am Shalem political party. He came to speak to our two communities about his vision of what needs to take place in Israel if it is to be both Jewish and democratic; about what it will take for Israel to be am shalem — a complete nation.

Rabbi Amsalem spoke in Hebrew. His translator was Dov Lipman, a charming young Orthodox rabbi who shared his own experience with intolerance in Beit Shemesh, where he lives, and which galvanized him into joining Am Shalem. There were about 100 people in attendance, including the folks from Central who attended via live video feed. There were clearly Hebrew speakers in the audience, because Rabbi Amsalem quickly got two sets of applause — first when he spoke in Hebrew and then again after Rabbi Lipman translated. I experienced my usual frustration of understanding only small amounts of the Hebrew, but what I heard in translation was very exciting. Continue reading

Categories: Building a Just Israel | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Service for All: 82% of Israeli Jews support a law of mandatory conscription for yeshiva students

by Hiddush staff, crossposted with permission from Hiddush blog.

Nahal Haredi Soldiers

68%, more than two-thirds of the Jewish population of Israel, including 81% of Likkud voters, support withholding public funding for yeshiva students if they refuse to enlist in military or civil service. 82% of the Jewish Israeli population hold that in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s ruling that invalidates the Tal Law, a new law must be passed to enforce mandatory conscription of all or most yeshiva students into service. 69% support the Supreme Court’s decision to invalidate the Tal Law.

These are the findings of a new poll conducted by the Smith Institute on behalf of Hiddush – Freedom of Religion for Israel, Inc. The poll was conducted in the last week of February, based on a representative sample of 500 adult Jews in Israel.

Hiddush President, Rabbi Uri Regev says “The poll proves unequivocally that the Israeli public is sick and tired with politically motivated mass exemption [currently app. 60,000, about 14% of the conscription] and is demanding mandatory service for yeshiva students. Integration of the ultra-Orthodox population into service will only happen if public funding for yeshiva students is conditional upon that service. The question is whether the government leaders will stay true to the voters who elected them and to the core values of Israel”

69% of the Jewish Israeli population, 83% of secular Israelis and 84% of recent immigrants (typically from the Former Soviet Union) support the Supreme Court decision invalidating the Tal Law. 29% are opposed to the decision. 86% of the ultra-Orthodox population opposed it. Of those who supported the Court decision: 87% of Yisrael Beiteinu voters, 73% of Likud voters, and 30% of voters for ultra-Orthodox parties. This somewhat surprising result can be explained by the fact that among Shas voters, there is a significant number of traditional and religious Jews who oppose army exemption for yeshiva students.

52% of the Israeli Jewish public support the passing of a new law that requires service, either military or civil, of all yeshiva students, and another 30% support recruiting all except for a limited number of outstanding yeshiva students. Altogether, 82% are in favor of mandatory recruitment for all or most yeshiva students into service. Of secular Israelis, 96% are in favor of such a law. Among religious respondents who are not ultra-Orthodox, 51% are against such a law and 49% are in favor. 91% of Likud voters are in favor of such legislation, 95% of Yisrael Beiteinu voters and 100% of Kadima voters.

85% of secular respondents, 87% of recent immigrants and 68% of the Jewish Israeli population as a whole are in favor of denying subsidies for those yeshiva students who do not serve. Of all respondents, Likud voters showed the highest support for such withholding of subsidies, 81% supporting, more than the 79% of both Yisrael Beiteinu and Kadima voters. 52% of voters for right wing religious parties supported withholding subsidies.

*The Tal Law, named after Justice Tal who chaired the committee that recommended it, was passed in 1999 and was meant to provide a legislated framework to the long standing administrative practice of exempting yeshiva students from military service. It was intended to encourage greater participation in both military and civil service, as well as the workforce. In six months, the law will expire and it is widely held that it failed its purpose and provided for only negligible growth in each of these areas.

HIddush is an organization dedicated to promoting religious freedom and diversity and realizing the promise of Israel’s Founders as expressed in the Declaration of Independence.

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Exclude the Excluders, Hiddush’s Visual Protest

by Hiddush staff, cross-posted with permission from the Hiddush Blog

Click image to go to Gallery

Recently, Israel has been facing a growing phenomenon of segregation and marginalization of women rooted in Jewish religious extremism. It has also taken the form of literally erasing women’s images from advertisements, news sites, and public posters. In protest, Hiddush has launched a campaign to “Exclude the Excluders”–Hiddush has blurred the images of Knesset members, ministers, and other ultra-Orthodox men who have supported and aided this exclusion. As women are being blotted out from the public sphere in the name of religious “modesty”, it is critical to protest the deep disrespect of this practice toward women, and toward the community at large.

Elected officials are furthering exclusion of women in the public sphere.

All politicians in the gallery promote the exclusion of women in the public sphere, either through segregated buses, banning women from singing in public, their role in political parties that will not include women as representatives, or activities that deny women selection for public positions. Politicos of the ultra-Orthodox party United Torah Judaism and its news outlets continuously further gender-segregated public bus lines. Their Knesset members leave the Knesset hall when women are singing. Shas’ most recent activity was to prevent representation of women on the nominations committee for religious judges. In the years since Shas has controlled the Ministry of Religious Affairs, not a single woman has been appointed to head a religious council..

Among the people that appear in the gallery:

Continue reading

Categories: Building a Just Israel, Gender Segregation | Tags: , | Leave a comment

The Slippery Fish of News; or Gender, Politics and the Exclusion of women

by Elana Stzokman, cross-posted from JewFem Blog

Gender is like the slippery fish of news and politics. It doesn’t stay in the hand for too long, always slithering away as other issues that are considered “bigger” or “more important” take its place. At least that’s the impression I’m getting over the past few months’ of public activity around the exclusion of women in public spaces in Israel. Certainly the issue of gender segregation has arrived. But it is quickly swimming away as the public moves on. Indeed, even some advocates are bent on shifting the discussion elsewhere.Women and the slippery fish of news

Take, for example, the subject of women singing in the army, and controversy over whether religious soldiers should be penalized for walking out of official events where women sing. Although this particular topic is not exactly highest on my agenda – it bothers me much more that *The Knesset* has not had a woman singer in years in deference to religious politicians; I care much less about a few confused young men than I do about governmental policy that excludes talented artists to appease religious men with power – nevertheless, the legislative activity on this issue has been disturbing.

MK Tzipi Hotoveli, the Knesset member who heads the Committee on the Status of Women, recently submitted a bill, along with MK Yakov Katz that would give the IDF rabbinate power to decide on what soldiers should be allowed to do, and ensuring that soldiers will not be penalized for “religious” issues. The bill would effectively authorize the exclusion of women in the IDF. Despite intense pleas by women’s groups, Hotovely came down on the wrong side of this issue. Thankfully, the bill failed to pass today in its initial reading. But this apparently had nothing to do with gender: Defense Minister Ehud Barak said blatantly that his objection had nothing to do with gender but is about his concern about the “damage to army hierarchies”.

In shifting the discussion away from gender onto other things, Barak has company. The former chief rabbi of the Israeli Air Force, Rabbi Moshe Ravad, who was connected to the Shahar program to recruit haredi Orthodox men to the army, said in his recent resignation over women’s singing that he “always relied on the fact that I could allow haredi men who enlist to maintain an ultra-Orthodox lifestyle and observe their faith.” The army’s decision to allow women to sing, he wrote, fails to “protect the beliefs of God-fearing soldiers”. Ravad, like many others, is trying to turn the exclusion of women into an issue of religious versus secular issues in the army and society. It is almost a veiled ultimatum, as if he is saying that the army has to choose between haredi soldiers and women singers. It’s easy to see where this is going. Women are going to be asked to move aside for the “larger” issue of haredi integration in the army. Thus far, the army has been on the women’s side, but it’s not clear how long the pressure will hold.

It is not only politicians, soldiers and haredim who have a gender problem; it’s also the media. A few weeks ago, the New York Times published a story about women’s exclusion – and quoted almost exclusively male sources. (One woman, Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich, was the only female sources, brought at the very end of the article, after seven men.) Indeed, the Huffington Post published an article on the topic that did not have any women quoted at all. It’s easy for the media to point fingers at haredim, but they are at times clueless about what the exclusion of women really means.

Even among some activists leading the fight, there have been issues about staying focused on the issue of gender. In the Beit Shemesh rally in December, men completely dominated; ten men in a row got up to speak, leaving important women till the end. There was a clear sense that many speakers were climbing on an anti-haredi bandwagon that had nothing to do with gender issues. Some leading (male) activists have said explicitly that they are not really interested in gender at all (e.g., women’s exclusion in politics, economics or the media) but only the extent to which it connects to the “larger issue” of haredi power in Israeli society. For some of us, the “larger issue” actually is gender.

I don’t know why some people find it so difficult to get fully behind the issue of gender discrimination, why women sitting on the back of the bus is urgent but women earning 65 agurot on the shekel is not, why the status of women is only “interesting” if it is connected to something else deemed more worthy. When members of the government and the media stay on gender without slipping away into religion versus state or IDF power, when our leaders are willing to look at their own sexist practices and not just those in the haredi world, then I will know that change is truly in the air.

Dr. Elana Maryles Sztokman is the author of “The Men’s Section: Orthodox Jewish men in an egalitarian world” and managing director of  Spirit Consulting, a cause marketing firm. She holds a PhD in education and sociology from Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Categories: Building a Just Israel, Gender Segregation | Tags: | Leave a comment

My Sister, Debbie Friedman

Editor’s Note: Last week marked the first Yahrtzeit of Debbie Friedman. Following are remarks offered by her sister Cheryl at a memorial concert in Debbie’s honor at New York’s Central Synagogue, February 1, 2012 and originally published in eJewishPhilanthropy.

by Cheryl Friedman

A couple of weeks ago, mom and I were driving back to our home in Orange County from a day in LA. I asked her to pick her choice of music for the ride home. I began to read the playlists on my iPod. When I got to Peter, Paul & Mary, she stopped me. Many of you heard Debbie say that she was inspired by Peter, Paul & Mary, Joan Baez, Judy Collins and, others like them. When I was a young person, these were the people who gave me a voice. There was no “Not by Might,” no “Miriam’s Song,” or “Thou Shalt Love.” No “One People.” Instead, we had “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “The Times They Are a Changin’,” “If I Had a Hammer.”

What did these musicians have in common? They were folk singers, they sang with a guitar, they composed, they spoke to social issues. These people raised their voices, at the risk of incurring the wrath of those in positions of power and popularity – they challenged the system – the status quo. Sound familiar?

But Debbie’s influence and inspiration was indelibly etched on her heart long before those folks came along. My mother, Freda, and her mother and father before her, Bubbe and Zadde Chernoff – they were Debbie’s first and real inspirations. From them flowed her passion for love, justice, honesty and humor. Even her, often irreverent, humor found its source – mostly in Zadde’s humor and my mother’s after him.

In the 1920’s and on, Bubbe’s and Zadde’s home was marked by Hobos as a place to go for a meal and a safe place to sleep. Some might have said that it was irresponsible of them. After all, there were five young children in the home and barely enough food to provide for them. What were they thinking? Opening their doors to strangers? They gave anyway.

My grandfather, known as Billy the Jew, in his hometown filled with anti-Semites, shared food with people even when he knew how they felt about him. He would take money, much to my grandmother’s chagrin, to buy cigarettes for people in the local jail.

Almost two months ago, Debbie’s dog, Gribby, was out for a walk with a neighbor. The man dropped the leash and Gribby ran. She was fatally injured when a car hit her. I can’t find words to describe our anguish and pain – it was as if we lost Debbie all over again. In the midst of Mom’s pain, she said to me, “I know you’re not going to want to do this. Go to Costco. Buy a chicken and some potato salad. Take it over to Don. He must be so upset.” In the midst of Mom’s pain, she looked outside of herself to attend to Don’s pain – the man who was responsible for the death of our dog, Debbie’s dog.

So, you see, Debbie had great teachers. They were wired Jewishly. They might not have been able to quote chapter and verse. But, they knew what was right. Their lives pointed Debbie in the direction she would go.

But, Debbie had a choice, as we all do. With a huge heart and a tender soul, Debbie chose to continue to walk the path the origin of which came from Bubbe and Zadde and Mom, giving life to the concept of L’dor V’dor.

With that solid foundation, Debbie was well on her way to becoming Debbie Friedman, the liturgist, the composer, concertizer, student, teacher, daughter, sister, friend and more.

Her music touches people in myriad ways. Her music compels the willing soul to pray in a different way, see others through different eyes, understand ways to give that were previously unknown, find deeper parts of ourselves that were hidden. Her music makes Judaism accessible to all who are open. Through her music’s spirit and energy, we can see the wonder of Judaism. The mysteries of our beyond-brilliant teachings and exquisite prayers were waiting for someone to unfold them, to unwrap them.

Her songs, the prayers for which she found melodies are for everyone. As is true in our teaching, we are a community. But, a community is made up of individuals. And, Debbie spoke to the community through its individuals. We are healed one person at a time, one soul at a time. As Debbie would say, “First I will sing for you … ”

Miram, (c) 2012 Yoram Raanan, used with permission

Debbie was gifted beyond measure. But, first she was a good person. She gave and gave selflessly, often to her own detriment, for the enrichment of our People and Judaism. It is true that her work was born in the Reform movement. But, her brilliance was in her commitment to speak the truth of what we, as Jews, are to be to each other and to all people. Her consistent message brought people together from every corner of the Jewish world and beyond. We respond to a messenger who lives what she speaks – what she sings. That is why Debbie’s impact was so profound. Her values were reflected in her music – and in her life. She lived Torah. Ever the student, she never ceased to strive, to study, to learn.

Not to take anything away from Debbie’s achievements or gifts, but, like us all, Debbie was human. She was cursed and blessed with the same frailties with which we all struggle.

But, in the end, Debbie got up everyday and went to work. When she came up against the barriers of sexism, patriarchal biases, politics, arrogance – impediments that would have caused a lesser person to give up – she kept writing, she kept singing and, she kept believing.

Her greatest dream was realized when she joined the faculty of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. I can say with confidence that every achievement in her life paled in comparison to the joy and fulfillment she experienced sharing herself with her HUC-JIR students.

To her students who are here tonight, you are amazing people. You gave her joy beyond measure. She would be elated. She would be touched. Her eyes would sparkle, when she talked about you – when she thought about you, her students.

I’m tempted to say that Debbie was proud of you, her students. But, to say she would be proud, would suggest that she felt responsible for your gifts and achievements. Debbie’s sole focus was to provide an environment of freedom to let you become more of who you are. Metaphorically and, as I have been told, literally, when you were on the bima, she would whisper in your ear and then slowly step back, little by little by little, to let you come into your own. All she ever wanted was for you to find yourselves.

To you, my friends who are really young and really old and every one in between, whatever your education, whatever your chosen way of expressing your Jewish identity, gender, sexual orientation, even religion, each of you and all of you together can have an unimaginable impact on the world. Too big to grasp? People say that Debbie had an unimaginable impact on the Jewish world – and I say, the world. None of us will ever be able to do what Debbie did. We are not Debbie. But, we, too, can have an unimaginable impact on our world. And those we affect, will in turn, affect another and another and another.

If we choose to get up every day and do what we do best, if we do what we love and that for which we have passion, when we lie down, when we rise up, and when we go on our way – just as students of the student, my little sister, Debbie, we can all be inspired to inspire others.

Im tirtzu ain zo agada – if you will it, it is no dream.

Cheryl Friedman, JD, PsyD is a psychoanalyst and mediator who lives and works in Laguna Hills, CA,
(c) Cheryl Friedman; published with permission.

Categories: Building a Just Israel, To Be a Jew | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

LA Jerusalem Mashup

by Edoe Cohen, cross-posted with permission from eJewishPhilanthropy

I was neither born nor raised in Israel. My Israeli parents moved to the States in the late 70s and I grew up in Los Angeles, where I never really felt very American. I also never appreciated or understood why my parents insisted on sending me to Hebrew school and summer programs in Israel. Looking back, I think I did understand that my family was different. That all of us Israeli transplants, my parents, their Israeli friends and all the kids, were different.

We moved to Israel when I was a teen and settled near Jerusalem, but it took me nine years to really and truly feel and identify as an Israeli. It is strange to imagine the Jewish people returning to their homeland after two thousand years of exile and then the first generation of Israeli-born children finding their way back into exile. My grandparents came to Israel from Romania, Bessarabia, Iraq and Morocco; my parents came to L.A. from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. I sometimes joke that I have all the Jewish geographic extremes in my blood – Ashkenazi and Sephardi, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, America and Israel. Is there something inherent in the Jewish psyche that drives us to explore, to move, to not feel settled for too long in any one place?

What once confused and frustrated me, this mixed identity and time spent in Israel and abroad, today inspires me, forms my identity and shapes my vision and work. Having lived outside of Israel, my army service was infused with the knowledge of exile, a sensation my tzabar (native Israeli) friends did not share. Although I did not grow up with anti-Semitism in my life, I was able not to take the Jewish state for granted; a frame of mind that guided my infantry army career of six years, a career that in my American youth I could have never imagined.

And when I arrived on the Columbia University campus in New York after my military service, I arrived as an Israeli, my American identity only on display when I flashed my American passport in JFK and or spoke in my accentless English. Most of my Israeli friends on campus focused on exploring the city and excelling in their studies. I also studied hard, but my Israeliness was hard earned and I could not remain passive as my country was publicly bashed on campus. Interestingly enough, my approach to Israel advocacy centered around cultural diplomacy. Here I was, bringing Israeli bands and films to an American campus – artifacts belonging to a culture that was foreign to me, but now my own. Sort of.

On campus I saw the different chapters of my life, my different personalities, manifested in entire Jewish sub-communities: Israeli students, orthodox, conservative, reform, secular Jewish students. I identified with each, because I was each. In the IDF, a sense of shared mission and purpose helped me and my comrades transcend our socio-economic, religious, ethnic and political differences. As a student activist on campus, I had no way of importing that experience. But I could import the soundtrack. I could bring to campus the sounds, colors and tastes of the Israel I had learned to love. An Israel that will without mercy challenge and push you forward to discover your potential, then call you achee (my brother) and mean it. A country that goes through the impossible every single day, but has the songs and celebrations to get us through. An Israel whose sons and daughters sacrifice so much, but have developed a creative energy that gives them a competitive edge to inspire the world.

It was this Israel that I tried to bring to campus through music, concerts, film festivals and the student run Cafe Nana. It was this Israel I saw unite students on campus when they all danced together to songs of Hadag Nachash and ate hummus with Lemonana.

And now I am back in Israel working to bring this culture online for the world to discover and for Israelis to rediscover. I definitely believe that as Jews we have a calling to explore, to move, to not feel settled, to chase justice and create peace. I believe in the power of art, music and culture to challenge us, to nurture our drive and to bring us together.

Edoe Cohen is the creator of Omanoot – Israel through Art, an e-commerce website that enables users around the world to explore Israeli art and culture online. Cohen served in the IDF’s infantry as a company commander. A graduate of Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary, Cohen is currently pursuing his MBA from the Kellogg-Recanati International EMBA program.

Categories: Diaspora and Israel, To Be a Jew | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Watching Birds at the Kotel

by Jonah Rank, cross-posted with permission from Jonah Rank on WordPress

Editor’s note: Women of the Wall (נשות הכותל ) is an international group of Jewish women who are working to grant women the right to wear prayer shawls, pray and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall (Kotel) in Jerusalem, Israel. Each month on Rosh Hodesh they gather early in the morning to pray at the Kotel.

"White Birds", by Ayelet

The Scene

Men praying in the Men’s section specifically with Women of the Wall were few. I only counted one friend of mine and myself.

It was a cold, windy morning with a slight drizzle. This means the weather wasn’t clear enough for the reappearance of the guy who shouted some angry polemics at me last month. Nobody bothered to substitute for him.

I stood fairly close to the mechitzah (partition) that divides the men from the women. I was able to hear the women’s voices just clearly enough to sing along from my side of the Wall.

No one stopped me. I was permitted by all.

Today was the first time I’ve prayed with Women of the Wall without talking to a single police officer or curious onlooker. I felt a greater sense of freedom today than I have ever felt at the Wall.

The Birds

Amidst this quietude and liberty, my friend Sam pointed out to me a whole collective of birds watching over us as we prayed.

Contemplating those birds seated at the top of the Wall before us, my mind immediately turned to all those birds intermittently referenced in the Psalm for Rosh Chodesh (Psalm 104): “Alongside them, the birds of the sky dwell, and amidst the foliage, they give voice;” (verse 12), “thereupon birds nest, and, for the stork, the cypresses are her home” (verse 17).

The Psalm for Rosh Chodesh envelopes the worshiper with flora and fauna from all over the natural world as the human choir joins a choir of birds.

The Dream

Reflecting on the chirping birds above and the officers presiding almost invisibly in the back, I find increasingly profound inspiration in Sam’s musing.

Today, I felt my actions were carefully watched by neither police officers nor other men. I was just there. Praying. With birds.

If anyone other than the Divine needs to watch me in my prayer, and if I need to be aware of their presence, I hope that they won’t always be police officers.

Today was quiet enough to give me hope that maybe one day we won’t need policing at the Wall. Maybe we won’t need to fear there that one Jew will hurt another because of our differences. Maybe the only ones who will come to watch us at the Kotel will be birds.

It might be a Messianic dream, but I don’t think we’re too far away.

After all, wouldn’t that be a real Rosh Chodesh?

Jonah Rank is a musician and a rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary currently studying at the Schechter Institute in Jerusalem. His writing appears on his personal website, Oholiav: A Community for Viewing Arts & Entertainment Through a Jewish Lens (which Jonah co-founded), and elsewhere.

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Occupy Haagen-Dazs?

by Sid Slivko, cross-posted with permission from Got Talmud?

Two weeks ago, the Israel Rabbinate ruled that Haagen Dazs ice cream is no longer kosher. The reason: Haagen Dazs is made with real milk processed by non-Jews.  And while this may be kosher enough for the Orthodox Union (OU) which provides Haagen Dazs’ with its kashrut certification, it’s not sufficient for the Israel Rabbinate.

This is not the first time the Rabbinate has clashed with Diaspora rabbis in recent history .

In 2006, my wife, Michele Chabin, broke the story in the New York Jewish Week that the Israel Rabbinate would no longer automatically recognize Orthodox conversions from the Diaspora.  The Rabbinate demanded that Orthodox rabbis in the Diaspora prove that they and their conversions met the criteria and standards set by the Rabbinate.  This unilateral decision, which took the Orthodox rabbis by surprise, meant that even those rabbis ordained by the most prestigious Orthodox institutions and respected in their communities, now needed the Israeli Rabbinate’s approval.

Two years later, after a series of frustrating negotiations, between the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) and the Israeli Rabbinate, an arrangement was finally worked out which stipulated that  only those Orthodox conversions in the Diaspora that receive the official approval of  the Bet Din of America will be recognized by the Israel Rabbinate.  Furthermore, only those Diaspora rabbis on the Israel Rabbinate’s ‘short list’ would be authorized to do conversions. Those who were not could find their conversions disqualified by the Chief Rabbinate in Israel  – even retroactively – unless they could prove that their conversions met the standards set by the Rabbinate!

Why does this matter?  Because the Rabbinate is afraid that these Orthodox converts or their children will eventually come to,  and possibly seek to get married in, Israel — a very likely possibility.  And how can they possibly endorse a marriage when the bride or groom may not be Jewish according to their standards? (Remember, the Rabbinate has sole authority over Jewish weddings and divorces).

So, the Orthodox rabbis in the Diaspora gave the Israel Rabbinate the keys to the kingdom.

Not everybody has been happy with this arrangement.   Even in Israel, the number of “dati” couples who turn to Itim and Tzohar – organizations that provide religious services and support outside the Rabbinate – is on the rise.  Today, in 2012, imposition of Israel Rabbinate standards on Diaspora communities, which the Rabbinate called “leShem Shamayim” – for the sake of heaven, has alienated a significant Jewish population and fragmented a global Jewish community that just cannot afford to be divided.

So what will be the Diaspora rabbis’ response to this ice cream freeze-out? Fight?  Give in?  Wait for the Israel Rabbinate to force its decision on Jewish communities around the world?  Occupy Haagen Dazs?

Talmudic tradition shows that these Israel/Diaspora rabbi wars go quite far back, and offers the following sound byte which seems aptly ironic:

אמר רבי אלעזר אמר רבי חנינא: תלמידי חכמים מרבים שלום בעולם, שנאמר כל בניך למודי ה’ ורב שלום בניך, אל תקרי בניך אלא בוניך. שלום רב לאהבי תורתך ואין למו מכשול; יהי שלום בחילך שלוה בארמנותיך; למען אחי ורעי אדברה נא שלום בך למען בית ה’ אלהינו אבקשה טוב לך;ה’ עז לעמו יתן ה’ יברך את עמו בשלום. (ברכות סד:א).

Rabbi Elazar said “Disciples of the Sages increase the peace in the world. As it says ‘All your children shall be taught of the Lord and great shall be the peace of your children [banayikh].  Do not read banayikh but bonayikh  [your builders]” – namely, rabbis.  (Berakhot 64a)

The Rabbi Elazar quoted here is Elazar ben Pedat, a Diaspora scholar who moved to Israel.  At first, his Diaspora behavior did not find favor among his colleagues in Tiberias, but he gained their respect and eventually became the head of the academy there.

Perhaps one day the Israel Rabbinate  will recognize that the their  Diaspora colleagues are no less learned than they are — maybe even in our generation —  and are responding legitimately and halakhically to a need the Israel Rabbinate just cannot appreciate.

Sid Slivko is an Orthodox Rabbi and Jewish educator living in Jerusalem, Israel. He studied and received ordination from Yeshiva University and the REITS rabbinical program

Categories: Diaspora and Israel, Exclusion of Jews | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Abandon the Rhetoric of Tomorrow

by Aner Shalev, cross-posted with permission from HaAretz

"Tomorrow's Starting Now", painting by Sarah Hinckley

"Tomorrow's Starting Now", oil on canvas, by Sarah Hinckley

What do the following statements have in common? The Tal Law (which allows full-time yeshiva students to defer national service ) should be extended by five years. The Tal Law should be extended by one year. Israel will present its position on borders at the end of the three months given by the European Union. Israel will present its position on borders after security arrangements are agreed by both sides. Medical residents will receive their full wage increment in nine years. Yes, all of these statements involve the future.

In our post-ideological times, it’s great to be exposed to a powerful ideological dispute, just like in the good old days. What’s more, this dispute involved major figures, the prime minister and the defense minister, on a subject of the highest principle – whether to extend the Tal Law by five years or one year. At this point, the prime minister dropped his maximalist position and preferred to postpone any discussion on the matter.

The Tal Law is but one of a long series of benefits the government grants to the ultra-Orthodox. As well as this sweeping exemption from military service, enshrined in an infuriating law passed by the government of Ehud Barak, Haredi schools are exempt from the core curriculum. Then there are the cash benefits: allowances to yeshiva students and children, welfare payments, affordable housing, huge discounts in municipal taxes, and more.

The state’s subsidizing of the ultra-Orthodox exacts a huge cost from us, an issue that has been widely discussed. It is a loss that grows with the ever-increasing Haredi population, and pushes Israel closer to the abyss. What is less known, but no less important, is that the Haredi population also pays a heavy price for the reverse discrimination it receives from the authorities.

A comparison of the socioeconomic status of ultra-Orthodox groups in Israel and New York is illuminating in this regard, and fascinating conclusions may be drawn. Haredi groups are not offered special subsidies or easier conditions there, and yet the ultra-Orthodox population is flourishing. While most Haredim in Israel – despite, or perhaps because of, the benefits heaped upon them – suffer poverty and many other hardships.

Indeed, the lack of a core curriculum severely impairs the wage-earning abilities of those wishing to work, and the various allowances encourage dependence, passiveness, unemployment and increased numbers of children, all of which prevent Haredim in Israel from thriving like their brethren in New York. Vocational training in certain fields, which military service sometimes provides, is also denied to most Haredim.

The abnormal relations between the state and the Haredi population is damaging to both sides. And yet it seems that this discrimination, harmful to all, will go on; that the Haredim will never enter the job market despite the recommendations of the Trajtenberg committee (which suggested new incentives and training programs ); and that the Tal Law will be extended repeatedly, with the only ideological conflict being whether to extend it every year or once every five years.

Similarly, Israel will probably never present the Palestinians with its position on borders, because prior agreement on security arrangements will never be attained, or the date for drawing the proposed borderline will be postponed ad nauseam. The future is politicians’ warm, safe shelter.

In his book “The Invention of Tomorrow,” Daniel S. Milo argues that the concept of the future is what makes the human race unique and defines it. Other species have no such concept; they live only in the present. The invention of the future has allowed the human race to develop quickly and take control of the world, but it is also a source of humanity’s suffering and unsolved problems.

Our politicians contribute generously to this suffering. What differentiates them from the rest of the population, and puts them at the top of the evolutionary chain, is that they, almost exclusively, use the future tense. Therefore, they will never solve our problems. Without change now, we have no future.

Aner Shalev is a math professor, novelist, and a social commentator.

Categories: Building a Just Israel, Calls to Action | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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