Exclusion of Jews

Articles discussing Jews who aren’t fully accepted as Jews in Israel. Also includes articles about Jews failing to respect the Jewishness and religious voice one to another.

Haredim Trying to Increase Control Over Area Around Jerusalem’s Central Shuk

Editor’s note: the HaAretz article mentioned below says the woman in question lived in Machane Israel, not Mahane Yehuda. We are currently inquiring from HaAretz if they indeed meant Machane Israel. Machane Israel is not even remotely a Haredi neighborhood. It contains two non-orthodox yeshivas: Hebrew Union College (Progressive/Reform) and the Conservative Yeshiva and two large centers housing visiting groups for the Progressive and Masorti movements. It also contains the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association), four hotels and one under development catering to business travellers and mainstream tourists. Women regularly walk through the area in pants and many HUC students rent apartments in the area.

Note posted on apartment door asking a religious (Masorti) woman to leave because she isn't modest according to the Torah.

According to a report in HaAretz, Masorti (Conservative) Jewish woman living near Mahane Yehuda, the main stall based shopping market in Jerusalem, was sent a threatening letter last week demanding she leave the neighborhood. The letter was signed “The Modesty Police” It complained that she had transgressed the Torah’s rules of modesty.

The woman says she moved into the neighborhood because she needed a place to stay after she returned from America. She did not know that the neighborhood was predominantly Haredi. She also says that she gets along well with her neighbors, and was not aware of problems. She says she wears pants but does not wear short ones.

Police have said they will step up surveillance in the area, but the woman is still afraid. A friend of hers who ignored the warning had her apartment burned down.

The area around Mahane Yehuda is culturally diverse and includes haredim, hippies, and middle class professionals attracted to an area with a lot of character and ripe for renovation projects. There are many different styles of Jewish religious life, both Sephardi and Ashkenazi, progressive and traditional.

Haredim in the area have been trying to extend their control over the area. For several years the Kolben Dance Troupe had covered their rehearsal room with shades because of Haredi complaints about the women dancers. The Dance Troupe is on a main road leading out of the main Jerusalem commercial area and is in no way Haredi. It is part of a complex that includes a public library and one of Jerusalem’s major performing arts venues. However, there is a residential cluster of Haredim one to two blocks away off of the main road.

Haredim have also complained about entertainment in the Mahane Yehuda shuk. The city government has been hosting street festivals in the area for the last few years. Haredim dislike that women are included in the performances, seeing it as a violation of their understanding of Jewish modesty. They have threatened to set up their own strictly gender seggregated shuk.

Most Jews, including religious Jews, do not consider the Haredi understanding of gender segregation to be required by the Torah,  nor even later Jewish law nor identity.

Hat tip: Failed Messiah

Categories: Exclusion of Jews, Extremism, Gender Segregation | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Beersheva Zoo Segregates Visitors by Gender, Requires “Modest” Dress

Turtle at Negev Zoo

Ynet reports that when Avigail Kanterovich and her family showed up at the Negev Zoo in Bersheva, they couldn’t get in. Even national religious visitors couldn’t get in.

The ticket sellers told them that the zoo was closed to non-Haredi visitors. The zoo management says that this was a special event arranged for the Haredi public, however no prior announcements had been made to the general public and there were no signs in place at the zoo when the family arrived Later in the day the zoo affixed a sign at the entrance announcing the special visiting requirements.

After the family confronted the zoo management, the zoo agreed to let them and other non-Haredi visitors in. However, even children’s activities at the zoo were segregated by gender. All visitors were required to dress to a Haredi standard of modesty as well or they could not be admitted.

The Beersheva municiplity said that this event was an example of seculars and religious living in harmony.

According to Wikipedia the Negev Zoo receives funding from the city of Beersheva, the Israeli Ministry of Education, the Housing and Construction Minister of Israel and private contributors.

Attempts to segregate public spaces by gender have failed when challenged in the Israeli Supreme court. In September, 2010, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected the right to segregate city streets by gender. In June, 2011 the Israeli Supreme Court rejected public enforcement of gender segregated buses.

Nonetheless municipal governments from time to time cooperate with Haredim in sponsoring publicly funded gender segregated events in public spaces. Last Hanukkah, Petach Tikva enforced gender segregated seating at municipal Hanukkah shows.

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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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Dumbing Down Judaism: Mibereshit’s Weekly “Values” Parsha Sheet

Weekly "Religious" Parshah Sheet

Weekly "Values" Parsha Sheet

Mibereshit is a Jewish education organization that aims to “strengthen the bonds between the Jewish people and their land, between Diaspora Jews and Israel, and between all Jews and their shared tradition by revealing our common foundation.” The group reaches out to secular Israelis and hopes to give them knowledge and connection to their tradition. One of their projects is a weekly Torah portion study sheet that parents and children can discuss together.

The sheets are colorful, well laid out, and packed with entertaining stories and games. They share a great deal of information about Judaism that might not otherwise get to secular families There is a lot to praise. None the less the weekly sheet raises concerning questions about how this organization is teaching Judaism and encouraging Jewish connection.

The weekly parsha sheet aimed at 6-12 year olds comes in two versions: a “religious” version and a “values” version.  Their website offers a sample of each.  The rest of this essay is a  reflection on the samples and what they tell us of Mibereshit’s approach to Jewish education.

In the secular world “values education” is an approach to learning that gives students thought provoking material and then asks students to use this material to bring unstated values to the surface and to reflect on how they prioritize values when conflicts occur. Although the “values” version is aimed at so-called secular Jews, it is not in any way “values” education In fact it would be best described as dumbed down Judaism.

In place of a direct encounter with the Torah and its interpretive tradition, the “values” version substitutes stories and sermonettes. Whereas the “religious” version introduces the reader to Ibn Ezra, Rambam and Rashi’s interpretation of God saying “Let us make Adam (humanity) in our image” , the “values” version tells a story about a boy going back in time with the help of his grandfather’s diary. The religious version encourages children to get down and dirty with the text by matching visual riddles with verses from the parsha. The values version has a cartoon strip explaining that the moon is smaller than the sun because she got jealous of having another light (the sun) the same size as her.

Jews are people of the book. No serious engagement with Judaism, whether purely cultural or religious can happen without an engagement with the core texts of our tradition. If Mibereshit’s goal is to create an engagement with the tradition that pulls together all Jews it fails miserably. This kind of education essentially makes secular Jews into second class citizens. It implies that you have to be religious (whatever that means) to wrestle with the text directly. If you chose values over “religion” then all you are given is the interpretation of those core texts by someone religious.

A second problem with the values version is the way it conceives the link between the secular and the profane. In the story of the boy who goes back in time, he sees two scenes (a) the Beit HaMikdash with its musical instruments and copper vessels (b) a conversation between two of Cain’s descendents. Yuval, the music maker, and Yaval the metal worker are talking. They decide their work has nothing to do with Hanoch who talks to God. However, our little boy remembers seeing the Beit HaMikdash. He realizes that music, technology and prayer all came together in the Temple.

Recognizing that even seemingly secular things are needed in the Temple drives home the necessity of secular activities. If it weren’t for technology and music the worship in the Temple would be incomplete. However, it is also indicative of a religious outlook where God is only recognizable in formal religious institutions. It takes a Temple to make music and metalworking into something that is part of prayer. In reality though, God is everywhere. Music is a form of prayer. So is admiring the beauty of something. We don’t need a Temple to make the connection. We simply need an act of thanksgiving.

The formal institutions of religion more often divide than unite. Institutions need a human management. A human management must be chosen and recognized by humans. There is no conceivable way that a humanly managed organization can ever be anything except political. Human institutions are also bound in time and space. They cannot do all things for all people. At the end of the day one group will impose their will on another. The other group can chose to accept it or walk away. Even if they accept it they will be united in name only but separated at heart.

The capacity for prayer and awe, on the other hand unites us. Shared moments of beauty and wonder break down barriers. They help us recognize both the humanity and the divinity in each other.

The third problem is that neither the religious nor the values version encourages actual dialog with the text. The value version simply tells the child and parent what values Judaism teaches and hopes they will agree those values are wise.

The religious version encourages some discussion but then immediately constrains it. Parents and children are exposed to classic commentary by Ibn Ezra, Rambam and Rashi, but they are never asked if they have their own additional interpretations.   They aren’t even asked what they think of Ibn Ezra, Rambam, or Rashi.

Dialog with text cannot happen unless people are free to question the text in their own way from their own perspective. Yet even the process of questioning the text is constrained. The reader is told “There are two important questions regarding the creation of man” rather than “these are two of many important questions we could ask, what are some other questions?” or “these are the questions that inspired Rambam, Rashi, or Ibn Ezra, what are your questions?” The bottom line message of this section is that “70 voices of Torah” refers to the fact that there are many historic commentators.

There is no hint of an alternate reading of “70 voices”, i.e. the idea that Torah is so rich that it can be defined and redefined by generation after generation. Each generation engages with the text in its own way and from its own reference point and still the text does not exhaust itself.

Any true engagement of Jews in Diaspora and Israel has to account for the fact that some forms of religious Judaism encourage personal engagement of the text.  Additionally, texts like the Torah belong to all Jews.  All Jews have a right and even responsibility to read them and personally engage with it on their own terms.  True shared engagement  requires a willingness to accept that we share a text but do not necessarily read it the same.   If we wish to bring everyone together around tradition we need to allow everyone to deal with the text directly and respect the diversity.

When all three issues are taken together, the underlying goal of the weekly parsha sheet is clear. Although it purports to build bridges and unite people in the name of a shared tradition, in reality, it is a subtle method of retaining controlling ownership of that tradition. Viewing the 70 voices of Torah as something solely in the past constrains the tradition and closes it to new interpretation. Teaching people to see God in institutions rather than through awe and wonder coupled with thanksgiving allows a political in-group to control how God is experienced and perceived. Handing warmed over interpretation to Jews and calling it “values”, ensures that no one who has rejected the authority of traditional religion even has a chance to directly encounter the text and form their own values based interpretations.

True bridges respect the integrity and equality of all parties. True Judaism seeks to help all Jews find a personal connection to their tradition and cultural heritage. There can be no true respect of a Jew’s personal and religious integrity without granting them equal access to core texts and an equal right to interpret them.

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Anatomy of a Bus Riot on the 480 to Tel Aviv

This morning, Arutz Sheva posted the following story:

A riot broke out on an Egged bus on Wednesday evening after a young secular man refused to allow a Belz Hasid to sit next to him. The 55-year-old Hasid boarded a Route 480 Egged bus travelling from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. He noticed that the only available seat was next to the secular man, but when he tried to sit down the man called out to him, “A stink like you will not sit next to me”. A riot broke out until another passenger stood up and gave the Hasid his seat.

The riot is not the point of this essay, but rather the way the story was told.

The story is told from the point of view of the Belz Hasid. A quick read leaves the impression that the bus was full of sympathetic haredim who rioted on behalf of the man until one had the bright idea of giving over his seat.  It seems to be the parallel to the “woman assaulted for wanting to sit in a front seat on the bus”  stories that dominated the press last fall (Nov/Dec 2011), except that the good guy is the Hasid and the bad guy is the secular who refuses him a seat.

However, the quick reading is misleading. Continue reading

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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.


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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

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Ethiopians Demonstrate at the Knesset

After a three day walk, Mulet Araro arrived in Jerusalem. He joined over 5,000 people who gathered last Wednesday ( 2012-01-18) outside of the Knesset to demonstrate against discrimination against Ethiopians.

Araro had walked all the way from his home town, Kiriat Malachi, a town south of Tel Aviv. Kiriat Malachi made the news a few weeks ago when channel Two reported that over a 100 families in Kiriat Malachi had agreed to refuse to sell or rent to Ethiopians. Outrage over this blatent act of organized discrimination lead to last Wednesday’s demonstration as well as one a week earlier in Kiriat Malachi.

This is not the only incident of discrimination that troubles the Ethiopian community. Continue reading

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Ethiopian Jews Face Opposition in Continuing Their Traditions

White turbaned kess or priests are the traditional leaders of Israel’s Ethiopian community, but if Israel’s rabbinut has its way then they will disappear along with the customs they have preserved for centuries. According to Israel HaYom and a widely syndicated story, the rabbinut wants to put an end to the Ethiopian priesthood.

Despite Israel being a Jewish state, it only recognizes a small percentage of the world Jewish community’s religious leaders. Most know about the lack of recognition for Israeli ordained liberal Jews. Less well known are the difficulties of non-European Jewish communities: Indian, Yemenite, Ethiopian and others.

The core problem is that the Jewishness of the state is determined by the rabbinut. The Israel rabbinut considers its brand of Judaism as normative and rejects others. Its definition of Judaism is practice based rather than values or process based. It has few tools for finding a common meeting ground when community customs differ for either ethnic or philosophical reasons.

Among Ethiopian Jews, priests, rather than rabbis, have been the traditional religious leaders. Along with the priests come several distinctive rituals. The language of prayer is Ge’ez. Their version of the Tenach (Hebrew Bible), called the Orit, is written in Ge’ez as well. Priests are responsible for preparing kosher meat and use a slaughtering method that differs from European and North African Jews.

Ethiopian Wedding

The wedding ritual also differs from European Jews. So much so, that Israeli Ethiopians who are married by the rabbinut often have a second ceremony with more traditional customs.

On Rosh HaShanna, the beating of drums replaces the shofar. Fifty days after Yom Kippur, on the 29th of Cheshvan, they celebate Sigd. The community fasts, reads psalms, and rededicates their lives to the Torah. On Succot produce is brought to the Kess for a blessing. In Adar, they celebrate a three day fast similar to Ramadan, eating only at nighttime. At passover, traditional Ethiopian Jews slaughter sheep and read the story of the Exodus from their own version of the Haggadah. On Ba’ala Maerrar, a festival seven days later than the Sukkot of European Jews, women bake a special bread and the loaves are brought to the priest for a blessing.

The origins of Ethiopian’s Jews are shrouded in myth and conjecture, but one theory is that the community originates from the tribe of Dan. The Dan tribe left for Egypt to escape the conflict between Jeroboam, king of Northern Israel, and Rehoboam, king of the South. During this period of Israel’s history, priestly customs were practiced wherever priests lived and not just at the temple in Jerusalem. They took these customs with them when they went to Egypt and have continued to practice them to this day.

European Jews customs differ markedly because they are descended from Jews who remained in Israel throughout the struggles between the Northern and Southern kingdoms. When the Assyrians conquered Israel, most of the Jews were exiled to Babylon. When they returned from exile, the priesthood became centered on the temple in Jerusalem and priestly activities outside of the Temple were prohibited. When the temple was destroyed in 70 CE, the Jews in the region shifted their focus to text study and debate. Rabbis rather than priests became the dominant model of leadership. Over time Jews from Palestine spread out along trade routes on both sides of the Mediterranean, in both North Africa and Europe. However none of these trade routes went through the home lands of Ethiopian Jews and there was minimal contact between the two Jewish communities.

When the Ethiopian Jews began immigrating to Israel, the Israeli rabbinut was so suspicious that they made many of them go through pro-forma conversions. Although Ethiopians began making aliah in the 1980’s, their priests were denied government salaries until 1992. Since then 13 new priests have been ordained and the government refused to give them salaries. Several demonstrations and a hunger strike later the ministry of religious services agreed to pay the new priests but insisted that these would be the last.

Categories: Exclusion of Jews, To Be a Jew | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

First Spit, Now Stones

Just when things seem to have quieted down a new report of bullying from Jewish extremists in Beit Shemesh. HaAretz reports that another Anglo third grader, this time a little boy, was spit on by teen bullies from the neighboring Haredi community.

HaAretz reports that the third grader was confronted by a group of Haredi teens who shouted at him and threw a large rock, hitting him in the back.

Last month, an 8 year old girl Naama Margolis was spit upon and cursed at by adult Haredi men on her way to school. The men doing the spitting claimed she was not modest enough. However, the willingness

The boy’s father, Jeff Klein, says that the incident with his son shows that the real issue is not modesty, but intolerance. The Klein and Margolis families live in a neighborhood adjacent to an isolationist Haredi community. In addition to attacking children, members of the community have objected to dogs and even televisions owned by their non-Haredi neighbors.

Attempts to pressure rabbis and parents within the community to reduce violence only seem to increase the violence. When Channel Two broke the story of Naama Margolis, Haredi men attacked reporters the following Monday. A demonstration against violence in the name of religion mid-week was followed by riots and stone throwing at Naama Margolise’s school.

Although rabbis on the fringes of the Beit Shemesh haredi community publicly protested, none of the major rabbinic leaders in Beit Shemesh did.  On the National level leadership was mixed with former Sephardi Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef condemning religiously motivated bullying,  current Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar keeping his silence, and Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger blaming the press for making too much of an issue of things.

The Haredi community relies heavily on its rabbis to define social norms and their silence was painfully obvious, even to children.  When there is a strong conviction against some policy and behavior, they have no problem gathering hundreds and even thousands together for rallies.  But nothing of the sort has happened to protest bullying in the name of religion.

Some Haredi observers suggested that this reflected general approval for the goals of rioters and bullies, even if the means of accomplishing them was distasteful.   According to Rabbi Shmuel Pappenheim,  they operate in a zone between the forbidden and the permitted by taking an issue on which there is general consensus and then trying to enforce it in unacceptable ways.

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