Building a Just Israel

Essays about how one can build a just, democratic Israel that represents the diversity of the world’s Jews.

Neshama Carlebach’s Inclusive HaTikva

At the invitation of the Forward, Neshama Carlebach has recorded a new version of the first verse of HaTikva, Israel’s national anthem.

The Forward’s goal was to start a debate about how the wording of HaTikvah could be made more inclusive for Arab Israelis by setting new words to the prayerful voice of Neshama Carlebach. The lack of inclusiveness made headlines earlier this spring when an Arab Israeli Supreme Court judge, Salim Joubran, stood for the anthem but did not sing the words aloud.

The lyrics are a joint effort of Forward blogger Philologos and Neshama Carlebach. Philologos made suggestions for replacing several phrases that excluded non-Jewish Israelis. Carlebach added a repeat of the last two lines of HaTikva using the original words. Thus the inclusion of non-Jewish Israelis wouldn’t be at the expense of the Jewish Israeli experience.

Here are the revised lyrics. Changes are in bold with the original words following in brackets.

As long as the heart within
An Israeli [Jewish] soul still yearns
And onward, towards the East
An eye still gazes towards our country [Zion]
We have still not lost our hope
our ancient [2000 year] hope
To be a free people in the land of our fathers [our land]
in the city in which David, in which David encamped [land of Zion and Jerusalem]
To be a free people in our land
In the land of Zion and Jerusalem

For Philologos, these lyrics represent a change of heart. Back in 1998 when Israel made it to the World Cup, the anthem had also made the news. One of the Israeli team members, an Arab Israeli named Walid Badir, also stood but stayed silent. At that time Philologos had believed that there was nothing that could be done to make the words acceptable and people like Badir would just have to settle with standing and staying silent. This spring, after the Joubran story made headlines, he wrote,

I’ve changed my mind about “Hatikvah.” The successful integration of Israeli Arabs into Israeli life, on which the country’s future depends, has to have its symbolic expression, too. It’s unacceptable to have an anthem that can’t be sung by 20% of a population. Permitting it to stand mutely while others sing is no solution.

Neshama Carlebach is very aware of the sensitive nature of the song. As she explained to the Jerusalem Post,

I think it was a very controversial move, because to change the lyrics to a precious song like ‘Hatikva’ is a very big statement… It’s not about leaving the world we were in behind; it’s about opening our doors wider. I feel that if the world sees, in my own humble opinion, that Israel is not just a small exclusive group that they can’t touch, but a larger entity that’s willing to wrap our arms around the whole of humanity or even change our anthem, we’re opening our doors, and maybe the press would be better.

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Ynet Joins JPost for Jerusalem Bus Ad Fight Blooper Award

Ynet wins this month’s award for completely inappropriate pictures of women. Today, Ynet posted an update on the campaign to show the faces of modestly dressed Jerusalem women on Jerusalem bus ads. The picture accompanying the article shows the bottom half of a woman’s body (no face) and is focused on her crotch.

This is not a fight about advertisers wanting to put sexy women on buses, but rather a fight over whether serious public service advertisements including women can be displayed. The matter goes back to 2008 when Egged refused campaign advertisements that featured the face of Rachel Azaria, running for city council as head of the newly formed Yerusalmim party. They told her ‘No pictures of girls on buses in Jerusalem. Not a 3-year-old and not an 80-year-old.”

The battle heated up again last fall when Egged refused to display women on posters for a public service campaign to increase organ donors. Once again the pictures showed only faces. There were no exposed shoulders or any other form of provocative dress. None the less, Egged’s advertising agency asked the National Transplant Center (ADI), to replace the advertisements with ones showing only men. The advertising agency explained that a 2007 campaign which showed an organ donor and her son had been vandalized and the bus set on fire.

In November, Yerushalmim tried to place posters of the faces of women living in Jerusalem on buses. The campaign was titled “Women of Jerusalem, Nice to Meet You”. The women were fully dressed in “regular, completely modest, unrevealing and unoffending clothes.” None the less, they were told that they would have to deposit 50,000 NIS for any damages to the buses caused by the posters.

In December, Yerushalmim and several Jerusalem residents took the matter to the Supreme Court. This most recent article describes the Supreme Court’s request to the government to clarify two questions:

  • “why it [the government ] does not stipulate that licenses for operating public transportation will only be issued to companies that avoid activities that may include gender-based discrimination. “
  • “why it [the government] does not impose real sanctions on Egged when it goes against basic constitutional principles”

This is not the first time an update to this story has been posted with an inappropriate picture. At the beginning of March, the Jerusalem Post selected a picture of a woman licking a plate to accompany the article.

Jacob’s Bones asked Ynet how it chose the picture.  Ynet explained:

In this case, I assume we can both agree the photo used is that of a woman, and it very much looks like an ad. As such, it seems at least partly relevant to the story, and certainly to the story’s headline. I think that’s good enough.

Were there really no pictures that looked like a woman, looked like an ad, and showed her face? What about a breast cancer awareness ad?  Or the ADI organ donation ad featuring a woman that was rejected from Jerusalem buses?  Or one of the rejected pictures from the Yerushalmim campaign that triggered the supreme court case?

As unimaginable and as crazy as it sounds, the Haredim here aren’t complaining about sexy Jeans advertisements.  That might be understandable.

They are complaining and sometimes vandalizing buses with fully clothed women doing public service announcements.  What has women in Jerusalem upset is that even modest practical pictures of women can’t get on buses.

Haredim claim that women should not be displayed on buses because a picture of a woman is inherently sexual. Picture selections like these only serve to reinforce social attitudes that women in the media equals sex in the media.

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Israel Celebrates Earth Day: North, South, East and West

On Sunday, April 22, 2012, Israel celebrated Earth Day with events from southern most Eilat to northernmost Acco, from coastal Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on the edge of the West Bank, from the Negev to the Galilee.

The days events cumulated with an hour long rolling “lights out” in 23 cities across Irael, including the capital Jerusalem. The cities were divided into four groups turning off their lights in ten minute intervals at 8:00, 8:10, 8:20, and finally 8:30. The IDF also turned out the lights on all bases for one hour starting at 8:00pm. The Israel Electric Company (IEC) reported that during the half hour where all 23 cities had their lights partially or fully out, nationwide electricity usage dropped by 35%.

The hour long black out was inspired by “Earth Hour”. Earth Hour aims to build global awareness about energy conservation and green energy sources through a global “lights out” starting around 8:30PM local time around the world. The event normally happens the last Saturday of March. Shabbat observant members would find it difficult to participate because Shabbat ends just before 8PM around that time of year. In order to include both religious and non-religious environmental advocates, Israel usually reschedules its participation. Last year it marked Earth Hour on Thursday, March 24 two days before the global Earth Hour on March 26. This year it postponed Earth Hour until Earth Day.

The Israel Electric Company (IEC) gave prominent billing to the event on its home page and also dedicated several pages on its website to encourage participation.

Colonel Ronen Marley, commander of an IDF training school in the Negev, said that love of Israel’s land and its defense cannot be separated:

Those who don’t love the land, the earth, cannot protect it. When we educate our squad commanders to care for nature, the result is that they will pay attention to the environment during military operations and minimize the damage caused by these activities, and we will increase their sense of responsibility,

Continue reading

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Taiku! Israeli Masorti Movement Opens Door to Gay Rabbis

Taiku! This is the word the Talmud uses when a debate simply can’t be resolved. Rather than pick one solution the Talmud cries Taiku! Tie! Let it stand! and the parties go onto other issues. We like to think that there is one right way and if people work hard enough they will find it. In reality there were many many times when the Talmud could find no way to resolve a dispute. Forcing a solution only divides a community. Calling “Taiku!” allows the community to stay together even without exact agreement on every issue.

Two Contradictory Opinions

The Conservative movement’s handling of gay unions and ordinations is a modern day example of “Taiku!”. In 2006 the Conservative Movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) took up the issue of the status of homosexuality within Conservative Jewish Halachah. Given the strong feelings on all sides, there was no way to come to a single answer, so the committee accepted two contradictory rulings.

The first of these opinions ( EH 24.2006a ) , by Joel Roth, argued against gay unions and ordinations. Roth was concerned that wholesale rejection of rabbinic bans against homosexual relatinships would put the Conservative movement too far outside the bounds of the halachic community which includes orthodox Jews and not just conservative Jews. Continue reading

Categories: Building a Better Judaism, Building a Just Israel | Tags: , , , | 8 Comments

Eisner and the Activists: What Really Happened on Saturday at Route 90?

Within a week it had almost 600,000 hits. The video, released on YouTube a week ago, showed IDF soldier Shlomo Eisner striking a young distracted Danish man in the face with the long side of his M16 on Saturday afternoon (April 14, 2012).

After a flurry of articles including two New York Times articles (April 17, April 18), it looked like the story would die down. But on Friday B’Tselem released a new video filmed by Palestinian TV. The video shows Eisner hitting an additional 4 people, one in the back with his gun. Another person struck by Eisner was standing still in front of Eisner. In order to strike her Eisner had to take at least one pace forward and lunge.

Eisner had claimed that he was acting in self defense after having already been attacked. He said the first video had been heavily edited. It presented a distorted picture of what happened. The so-called cyclists were anarchists. For Eisner to have acted in any other way would have put lives at risk. Continue reading

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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:

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Herzliya Joins the List of Israeli Cities Wanting Shabbat Buses

Last week on Tuesday night (March 20, 2012), the Herzliya city council voted 12-5 in favor of public bus transportation on Shabbat. Last month Tel Aviv was the first city to decide to request buses. The city does not expect that the ministry of Transportation will agree to its request, but it plans to push the issue to the Israeli supreme court if it has to.

Both in Tel Aviv and Herzliya the mayor is supportive of the demand for Shabbat transporation. This is not true in all cities. Petach Tikva and Hadera community members are also advocating for their own city councils to join other cities in making formal requests to the Ministry of Transportation for Shabbat bus transportation. The Petach Tikva mayor says that such a proposal violates the consensus of the city coalition. The Hareda mayor says that this is not a city issue, but rather a matter for the Ministry of Transportation. Continue reading

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Protests Begin at Restaurant Banning Thursday Night Waitresses

Protesters in front of the Heimishe Essen restaurant. Click image for additional photos.

Yesterday men and women gathered on a cold Thursday Jerusalem night for the first time in front of the Heimishe Esin ( ‘היימישע עסין’ ) which removed women from busy Thursday night shifts after Badatz of Agudat Israel demanded it as part of its Kashrut certification process.

About 30 male and female demonstrators gathered for over an hour to sing a selection of popular Israeli songs that includes both songs about the love of Israel and Jewish religious values. The singing ended with HaTikva and the waving of the Israeli flag. They included secular and religious Jews from a variety of streams and even earned some applause from on-lookers, as well as Jerusalem Council member Laura Wharton.

The demonstration was organized by the Jerusalem branch of Israel Hofshit (ישראל חופשית)  . Protesters plan on meeting again at the restaurant next week on Thursday night unless Badatz withdraws its demands and women continue to be employed as waitresses on Thursday nights.

The owner told photo journalist Nir Alon that the protests are unnecessary because he convinced Badatz Agudat Israel that women will only serve tables with women and men will only serve tables with men. However, when asked directly by News1 if women will wait on tables on Thursday nights or serve only in the kitchen he did not give a direct answer.

The Heimishe Esin restaurant is located in the heart of pre-state Jerusalem. There is a secular high school across the street from the restaurant and the majority of the area is secular/non-Haredi dati. It’s in the heart of the very secular original post-independence Jerusalem. The Jewish Agency building where statehood was proclaimed by Ben Gurion is virtually around the corner. Teddy Kolech’s old aparment was a few blocks away. So is Golda Meir’s home.

Expanding Media Coverage

Since our coverage of this story at the beginning of the week the story has been picked up by two major Israeli papers, HaAretz and the Jerusalem Post, and syndicated to US Jewish world papers such as the Los Angelos’s Jewish Journal on the West Coast of the USA and the Forward and Vos Iz Neias on the East Coast . It has also been picked up in the Israel Haredi press via LaDaat. The story is also beginning to make the rounds of the blogosphere: Failed Messiah, Frum Satire, and Life in Israel have all featured pieces and reader comments.

Based on mynet’s poll of its readers and the tenor of blog comments, opinion is strongly against this demand of Badatz Agudat Israel. A mynet reader poll resulted in 91.5% disapproval rate.

Discrimination or Just Good Business?

The owner sees this as a customer preference. He told HaAretz, “My right as the restaurant’s owner is to do anything I want.” . He does not see his actions as discrimination because no one is being fired. They are only being asked to switch to less busy shifts. He told the Jerusalem Post, Continue reading

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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

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The Jewish Agency’s Strategy for Religious Tensions in Israel

Last December’s uproar about Beit Shemesh brought extremism to the spotlight. Jewish organizations have begun to wrestle seriously with what this means for Zionism, Israel and the Diaspora. The Jewish Agency has undertaken a two prong approach. One prong focuses on the educating the Diaspora donor community about the Israeli context. The other prong encourages local projects that address that problem and connects them to diaspora donors.

On the ground locally Continue reading

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