RRFEI News Blog - Rabbis for Religious Freedom and Equality in Israel

Response to the tragedy at Tree of Life synagogue

Special Statement

Response to the tragedy at Tree of Life Synagogue

Ruach Hiddush Executive Committee
Rabbi Prof. Michael Chernick (Chair), Rabbi Les Bronstein, Rabbi Pam Frydman, Rabbi Elliott Kleinman, Rabbi Mark Levin, Rabbi Asher Lopatin, Rabbi Gordon Tucker, Rabbi Elyse Wechterman, Rabbi Uri Regev (Hiddush President and CEO)

Ruach Hiddush, the rabbinic and cantorial association working toward religious equality and freedom in Israel, and its Israeli patron, Hiddush, turns its attention to the tragedy that occurred at the Tree of Life synagogue this Shabbat. We mourn the loss of life and injuries sustained by the Tree of Life family and the suffering of the larger Pittsburgh Jewish community. We beseech God to spare them and all of us from further sorrow due to senseless hatred which leads to acts of violence and murder.

We thank the law enforcement agencies that came to the rescue of our fellow Jews and pray for healing for those of them who suffered wounds on our people’s behalf.

To our great sadness, demonization of the Other has become an almost worldwide scourge. It is true here in the United States, in Europe, and most tragically for the Jewish people, true of the political, religious, and social scenes in Israel.

Ruach Hiddush condemns in no uncertain terms the underlying causes of this plague: religious intolerance, racism, sexism, xenophobia, and denigration of the Image of God which grants inestimable value to every human being.

We ask each of our members to speak out forcefully against the descent into tribalism and incivility here and abroad that has become rife in today’s world.

May our words and actions put an end to tragedies of the sort that occurred at Tree of Life synagogue. Then we and those who join us on this path will be among those who become partners with God in bringing salvation to a world much in need of it.

May God grant comfort to the Tree of Life family, and may we all merit God’s greatest blessing: Shalom.

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Rebbetzin Rivkah Lubitch’s Facebook response to the treatment of Rabbi Dubi Haiyun

With all due respect to those who are now coming out with declarations that they will continue to marry outside the framework of the Rabbinate – Let us hear you express an opinion about the marriage of mamzerim. Rabbi Dubi Haiyun was not arrested for having performed outside the Rabbinate, but because he did so for a mamzer (according to the Rabbinate). But Rabbi Dubi Hayoun, with all due respect, would not conduct a wedding for somebody that he considered a mamzer. I’m calling upon you – those who conduct weddings outside the auspices of the Rabbinate – to declare that you have done so, will do so, and believe that it is necessary to marry people who are considered mamzerim by all standards. The concept of mamzerim must be eliminated. Judaism must be freed from the stigma of boycotting people for no fault of their own, and we must say that there are no mamzerim. People are not born mamzerim.

Rivkah Lubitch, is a veteran rabbinic pleader who writes and lectures extensively about feminism and religion. In her former capacity as Director of Center for Women’s Justice (CWJ)’s Haifa office and social awareness coordinator, Rivkah helped redefine the public discourse on aginut through her compelling depictions of the issues and women she represented in rabbinic courts through more than 300 blogs and articles.

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Yair Sheleg’s Facebook response to the treatment of Rabbi Dubi Haiyun

The arrest of Rabbi Dubi Haiyun for conducting a chuppah and kiddushin ceremony without a permit from the Rabbinate is a shocking disgrace. Indeed, Haiyun broke the law, but in this case the law itself is a disgrace, a law with a black flag flying over it. A law that states that marriages, even Orthodox, outside the framework of the Rabbinate, will not only not be registered, but they will constitute a criminal offense punishable by up to two years in prison, is a law that had no right to exist in the first place, a law that should be deleted as soon as possible from the Israel’s book of laws, and until that happens, we must ensure that it will not be enforced, just like the law that in the past that defined sex as a criminal offense, which was also not enforced until it was simply canceled.

By the way, this law illustrates how critical the Supreme Court’s power of disqualifying is, because our politicians do not hesitate to exercise the tyranny of the majority, and in this case even the tyranny of the minority that holds the government by the throat. After all, there is really no majority in the public that supports such a delusional law, and it came into the world only because of the surrender to the ultra-Orthodox and the Zionist ultra-Orthodox. And who knows, perhaps the true outcome of this day will be the final burial of the override clause and of the Orthodox monopoly in the field of marriage.

Yair Sheleg is a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute, journalist, author, and publicist. Yair Sheleg has been an astute observer of the religious-Zionist world for many years. He served as a reporter for the newspaper Nekuda and was a member of the editorial board of Haaretz.

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Rabbi Benny Lau’s Facebook response to the treatment of Rabbi Dubi Haiyun

Stop this now. The Haifa police arrested Rabbi Dubi Haiyun, the rabbi of the Conservative community of Moriah in Haifa for (listen carefully): conducting a chuppah and kiddushin ceremony without the approval of the Rabbinate. Red line crossed. Someone there wants to burn down the nation’s home on us, and just before Tisha B’Av. Someone there does not understand what a unique historical window in time this is, in which the Jewish people have returned to Israel and begun to live there. Someone there thinks that in constitutional violence he will subjugate liberal Judaism and remove it from the face of the earth. That’s what hatred of brothers looks like. That’s how the house was destroyed in the past. My brothers and sisters, Jews who believe in the vision of the return to Zion and who hear the sound of the wings of history. Help stop it. Share this with all your might and prevent this violence.

Binyamin Tzvi (Benny) Lau, (born October 20, 1961, Tel Aviv) is an Israeli Orthodox rabbi, community leader, activist, author, and public speaker who lives in Jerusalem. He is also the head of the Human Rights and Judaism in Action Project at the Israel Democracy Institute.

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Special Tribute In Memory of Rabbi Aaron Panken z”l

Rabbi Gordon Tucker sent this tribute to members of his congregation on Sunday, May 6, 2018.
We share it today on behalf of Ruach Hiddush.

Ruach Hiddush Executive Committee
Rabbi Pam Frydman (Chair), Rabbi Mark Levin (Newsletter Editor), Rabbi Michael Chernick, Rabbi Elyse Wechterman, Rabbi Gordon Tucker, Rabbi Uri Regev (Hiddush President and CEO)

I write with the deepest of sadness at the tragic death of Rabbi Aaron Panken, of blessed memory. Rabbi Panken has been the President of Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion for the last 5 years. More than that, he was a model rabbi, scholar, and community leader. Rabbi Panken was a personal friend and professional colleague to me, as he was to several members of this community, both lay and professional. And he was a powerful spokesperson for Jewish pluralism and tolerance throughout the world – a true “Ohev Yisrael.” The many students who were trained on his watch, and by him directly, will never forget the gifts that they received from him.

As I consider the horror of the accident that took him from us, I am reminded of a profound teaching that comes from the Talmudic rabbis. They said that when a righteous teacher is lost, he is lost to his entire generation. And that is true. Rabbi Panken’s death is a blow not just to the Reform Movement, which he helped to lead, but to the entire Jewish world of our time. But our ancient sages went further. They said that what they meant was not only that the pain of the loss is felt by the entire generation, but that, in a real sense, it is only felt by that generation. “When a jewel is lost by its owner,” they said, it has not disappeared, and “wherever it is, it is still a jewel.” Future generations, unlike ours, will not feel the sting of this loss, just as we do not feel the sting of the loss of those teachers who died in generations previous to ours; instead, they will only have the benefit of the teachings and the legacies of this gem, who will surely remain a gem for all time.

Rabbi Gordon Tucker is Senior Rabbi of Temple Israel Center, a Conservative Egalitarian Synagogue in White Plains, New York.

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In defense of the right to care – by Rabbi Pam Frydman*

Rabbi Pamela Frydman, Executive Committee Chair, Ruach Hiddush

I believe it is unfair to claim that Jews of the Diaspora have developed an obsession for the Kotel, the Western Wall, as Peter Joseph stated in his article in The Forward. Love of the Kotel has been a carefully cultivated interest and passion fostered by Jewish leaders for centuries in order to keep our people connected with the only remaining remnant of the structure that surrounded the hill on which the Holy Temple stood in ancient times. Prior to the founding of the Modern State of Israel, the Kotel was known as the Wailing Wall. After the Wall became part of Israel during the Six Day War, its name was intentionally changed to Western Wall in order to continue to inculcate the strong connection to the Wall among Jews both in Israel and in the Diaspora.

Even today, the Kotel is precious to millions of Israeli Jews, in particular, those who embrace an Orthodox Zionist or Haredi lifestyle. Tragically, many such Jews not only love the Kotel and visit often, but they also viciously harass Women of the Wall and Reform, Conservative and other Jews who visit the Kotel to pray and connect each in their own way. See, for example, the school girls who blocked a busload of Women of the Wall worshipers while flipping them the bird on Rosh Hodesh Shevat. (http://mailchi.mp/womenofthewall/women-of-the-wall3-2689098?e=d504ecbfb3)

I believe Joseph is right that there is also a preponderance of Israelis who do not care about the Kotel and it is also true that these tend to be the very Israelis who are struggling with not being able to marry in their own homeland. I believe, however, that the problem is one of perception and not reality. Modern non-Orthodox Israelis have lost the connection that previous generations had with the Kotel because the Kotel no longer provides a venue where children and teens can visit during school-based field trips because secular educators feel uncomfortable bringing their classes to a place where boys and girls must gather separately and everyone must cover up in ways that are foreign to them. Not only do school children miss the age-old opportunity to visit the Kotel, but non-Orthodox families visiting Jerusalem also tend to avoid the Kotel because they also do not feel safe in a gender-separated environment where their clothing and lifestyle are shunned.

Were the Kotel compromise to have been implemented, there could be a new atmosphere fostered by a single unified entrance and signs that tout both gender separation read more

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The Shabbat bill controversy: A focused perspective on the religious debate and the conduct of religious politicians

Rabbi Uri Regev, Hiddush President and CEO; Executive Committee, Ruach Hiddush

In Hiddush’s last newsletter, we highlighted a number of aspects involving the current controversy over the Shabbat bill. What we would now like to share with you, our colleagues, is a more focused perspective on the religious debate and the conduct of religious politicians in this controversy. This will give you deeper insight as to how this controversy factors in the ongoing debate over religion and state. This account is not advocating that all stores be open on Shabbat. On the contrary, what Hiddush has been advocating for is a serious and responsible re-assessment of the social, economic, and legal aspects of Shabbat in the Jewish and democratic State. Only in this way can Israel establish a balance between these often conflicting values.

The Israeli public discourse and news bulletins were dominated by the updates and reports on the status of the Shabbat bill. Below, we are highlighting the views of the religious participants in the debate. This debate helps us understand the positions of the religious players in Israel’s religion-state debate.

It’s important to appreciate how heated the debates over this Shabbat bill were. There was a record setting filibuster effort on the part of the opposition, with extremely contentious and sensitive crisis points that brought out some of the most contentious issues – and some of the most objectionable initiatives – due to the pressure to deliver the adoption of the bill.

Minister Rabbi Deri (Leader of Shas) quoted Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef who supposedly ruled that one should rise from mourning one’s loved ones to vote. He even turned to MK Glick’s (Likud) rabbi in Otniel, asking if MK Glick could come in to vote on the bill, despite the death of his wife. On the one hand Deri tried to justify it, on the other hand he apologized for it. This bill created a mess of multiple dimensions, raising a number of questions, involving religion-state, halakha, nature of Shabbat – the incident with MK Glick was only one example.

MK Rabbi Israel Eichler (United Torah Judaism), speaking at the Committee of Internal Affairs in a key meeting held on Dec. 28, 2017, said the following: “Anyone who says that it is possible to observe Shabbat in multiple ways is like someone who says that you can maintain your diet and continue eating starches – don’t lie to yourselves.”

He then drew special attention to American Jewry: “we need to remember that most of American Jewry is assimilating, and read more

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Ruach Hiddush is Born!!!

Rabbis for Religious Freedom and Equality in Israel has changed its name to Ruach Hiddush which stands for:

רבנים וחזנים למען חופש דת ושוויון

Ruach Hiddush was founded as a rabbinic organization in 2015. Beginning this week, we are also accepting cantors. Ruach Hiddush is a project of HIDDUSH, a nonprofit based in Israel and the U.S. Our membership roster is available at http://rrfei.org/about/members/.

Our mission statement is below and is also available on our website at http://rrfei.org/. For those who wish to join, our membership registration form is at http://rrfei.org/about/registration/.

Membership is free of charge and includes a weekly subscription. Every other week, we receive a Ruach Hiddush newsletter or other email. On alternate weeks, we receive the Hiddush newsletter.

Ruach Hiddush — Rabbis and Cantors for Religious Freedom and Equality in Israel — is a network of Rabbis and Cantors working to fully realize the promise of Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which guarantees religious freedom and equality. The fulfillment of this promise is vital for strengthening Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and for maintaining the solidarity of world Jewry.

רוּ”חַ חִּדוּ”שׁ — רבנים וחזנים למען חופש דת ושוויון — היא ארגון של רבנים וחזנים הפועל למימוש מלא של הבטחת מגילת העצמאות לחופש דת ושוויון. מימוש הבטחה זו חיוני לחיזוק זהותה של מדינת ישראל כמדינה יהודית ודמוקרטית ולהמשך השותפות עם העם היהודי לתפוצותיו

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“Religionization” in Israel secular public schools

The challenge of Jewish education and forging Jewish identity is dear and near to all of us. The challenge associated with these subjects in the modern era in an environment of an open society, which embraces Jews on the one hand – and in the State of Israel where only a minority defines itself as religious on the other hand – is self-evident. Both the Jewish community in the diaspora and in the State of Israel are seeking solutions and new avenues to address this exacerbating challenge. With that as the background, we felt the need to share with you the debate taking place in Israel – both in the formal educational arena, as well as in other arenas such as the Jewish identity educational programs taking place in the IDF.

The most recent symptomatic example of this debate, which reflects much of the drama and the emotions that play a role in it, can be seen in an interview given this week to Channel 10 (Israeli TV) by Naftali Bennett, Minister of Education and leader of the Jewish Home party. We highly recommend that you listen to the interview (Hebrew, starting at 10:30). Under Bennett’s leadership and inspiration, millions of Israeli government shekels are invested in funding activities of Orthodox religious NGOs that provide classes and programs in Jewish identity in secular public schools. These programs are often skewed and aimed at brainwashing, and the funding mechanism used by the government is fraught with questions and possibly with legal issues.

This phenomenon stimulates strong reactions from all directions. On the one hand, Bennett and his people flatly deny any intention of religious brainwashing. They minimize the severity of their initiatives (“what happened, so they’ll learn a bit of Judaism”). They accuse their critics of being driven by a will “to destroy Judaism” (this of course reminds us of ultra-Orthodox political leaders like MK Gafni who accuse the Supreme Court of being driven by a desire to destroy Judaism in the State of Israel via its rulings on matters of religious freedom & equality. Even more seriously – the efforts of Gafni, Bennett, and their allies to undermine the Supreme Court and limit and erode its authority). Bennett emphasizes the importance he attaches for every Jewish student to receive a rich and good Jewish education – “who Moshe Rabbeinu is, what Selichot are”.

Even though he also serves as Minister of Diaspora affairs, it is clear read more

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Ahad Ha-am, The Jewish State and the Jewish Problem (1897)

The spirit of our people desires further development; it wants to absorb the basic elements of general culture which are reaching it from the outside world, to digest them and to make them a part of itself, as it has done before at various periods of its history. But the conditions of its life in exile are not suitable for such a task. In our time culture expresses itself everywhere through the form of the national spirit, and the stranger who would become part of culture must sink his individuality and become absorbed in the dominant environment. In exile, Judaism cannot, therefore, develop its individuality in its own way. When it leaves the ghetto walls, it is in danger of losing its essential being or – at very least – its national unity; it is in danger of being split up into as many kinds of Judaism, each with a different character and life, as there are countries of the dispersion.

Judaism is, therefore, in a quandary: It can no longer tolerate the Galut form which it had to take on, in obedience to its will-to-live, when it was exiled from its own country; but, without that form, its life is in danger. So it seeks to return to its historic center, where it will be able to live a life developing in a natural way, to bring its powers into play in every department of human culture, to broaden and perfect those national possessions which it has acquired up to now, and thus to contribute to the common stock of humanity, in the future as it has in the past, a great national culture, the fruit of the un-hampered activity of a people living by the light of its own spirit. For this purpose Judaism can, for the present, content itself with little. It does not need an independent State, but only the creation in its native land of conditions favorable to its development: a good-sized settlement of Jews working without hindrance in every branch of civilization, from agriculture and handicrafts to science and literature. This Jewish settlement, which will be a gradual growth, will become in course of time the center of the nation, wherein its spirit will find pure expression and develop in all its aspects to the highest degree of perfection of which it is capable. Then, from this center, the spirit of Judaism will radiate to the great circumference, to all the communities of the Diaspora, to inspire them with new life and to preserve the over-all unity of our people. When our national culture in Palestine has attained that level, we may be confident that it read more

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