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The Chief Rabbinate vs. The State of Israel and the Jewish People

Rabbi Uri Regev, Hiddush President and CEO; Executive Committee, Rabbis for Religious Freedom and Equality in Israel

Criticism of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate is nothing new. It has often been voiced in the RRFEI newsletter and resources, as well as in Hiddush’s materials. It covers a myriad of issues, which in recent years include its delegitimization of Modern Orthodox attempts at addressing the Rabbinate’s failures in the areas of conversion and kashrut certification.

Developments in the last few days regarding the Kotel controversy bring me to focus again on the Chief Rabbinate, pointing to the fact that the institution itself stands in sheer conflict with the notions of democracy and the rule of law in Israel, as well as the realities and interests of the Jewish people worldwide. A lengthy document presented by the Chief Rabbinate this week manifests a real threat to the State of Israel and the Jewish people, which is frequently underestimated and misunderstood by both Israelis and Diaspora Jewish leadership.

For the benefit of RRFEI members, read more

RRFEI Special Edition: Articles on Halakhic prenuptial agreements

Featuring:
Rabbi Michael Chernick

Responses by:
Rabbi Mark Washofsky
Rabbi Elliot Dorff
Rabbi Daniel Siegel

Dear Friends,

Rabbi Mark Levin, Editor-in-Chief, Rabbis for Religious Freedom and Equality in Israel newsletter

This special series of RRFEI articles features an original work by Orthodox Rabbi Michael Chernick, Professor Emeritus of Rabbinic Literature at HUC-JIR, New York, with responses from Rabbis Mark Washofsky, Elliot Dorff and Daniel Siegel. Rabbi Washofsky’s affiliation is Reform; Rabbi Dorff’s is Conservative and Rabbi Siegel is with Jewish Renewal.

We hope you will respond and air your voice also on this essential issue of egalitarianism and halakhah. (I want to note that we invited two women scholars to respond, and neither had the time; but we hope for responses from our women colleagues and a robust discussion of these ideas.)

As we all know, being a ?chained? woman (agunah) causes untold suffering, and justice demands we create a solution to this oppression. You will see in today?s article by Professor Michael Chernick an analysis read more

NEW public opinion studies on marriage freedom in Israel

Exploring Israel’s Jewish and Arab sectors, as well as the Zionist Orthodox community

This week, new perspectives regarding Israelis’ views on marriage freedom and related issues were presented to the public.

After years of polling Jewish public opinion, Hiddush initiated a special study of both Israel’s Jewish sector and its Arab sector, and its findings were released on Valentine’s Day. On the same day, another study initiated by the Modern Orthodox NGO Ne’emanei Torah v’Avodah, which focused on the views of Israel’s Zionist Orthodox sector, was published. Since these issues are clearly high on the priority list of Israelis when it comes to matters of religion & state, and they directly impact world Jewry, we are making these reports available in the resource section of the RRFEI website. We’ll be glad to provide further insights and background to those who request more details.

  • Click HERE for Hiddush’s report on the 2017 Valentine’s Day marriage surveys of the Jewish and Arab sectors of Israel (Hebrew)
  • Click HERE for Ne’emanei Torah v’Avodah’s report on the views of Israel’s Zionist Orthodox community (Hebrew)

Hiddush?s dual study offers an eye opening perspective as to the differences between Jewish Israelis and Arab Israelis on these issues. The findings read more

71% of Israelis attach importance to Marriage and Divorce Freedom

Uri-Regev-profile-photo-e1425932791183Having been immersed for some decades now in Israel-Diaspora relations, I often reflect upon a short story that Martin Buber included in his iconic “Tales of the Chassidic Masters;” one Jew asks his friend, Yankel, do you love me? And Yankel responds, Moishe, how can you ask such a question? Of course I love you. Moishe replies: But Yankel, how can you say that you love me if you don’t know what pains me?

I thought of this brief, piercing exchange when we at Hiddush received the findings of our most recently commissioned poll (see below). Hiddush conducts many polls, but this one, in my view, has some of the most important implications for the Israel-Diaspora partnership in addressing Israel’s challenges of religious freedom and equality. We share it with you in this RRFEI bulletin so you may not only consider it and reference it in discussions, sermons and public statements about Israel, but also share with us (RRFEI) your thoughts on these findings in the context of read more

Rising flames of resistance to the Western Wall agreement

The platform for egalitarian prayer at Robinson's Arch, under fire

The platform for egalitarian prayer at Robinson’s Arch, under fire

Uri-Regev-profile-photo-e1425932791183Since last week’s RRFEI bulletin [link], the flames of religious detraction against the Kotel agreement have been rising. This has been covered widely in the Anglo Jewish and international media; below, RRFEI provides you with the original Hebrew pronouncements of: the Chief Rabbinate, the Ashkenazi Council of [Great] Torah Sages [link], the Sephardic Council of [Wise] Torah Sages [link], Rabbi Shlomo Amar [link] (current Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem), Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach [link] (a leading Ashkenazi Lithuanian posek), and Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron[link] (former Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel).

There is no doubt that both Shas’ and UTJ’s key political leaders were involved in the Kotel agreement process and gave it their (quiet) nods, even as it was stipulated that they would vote against it (knowing that their nays would be in the minority). They did not anticipate the extent to which the ultra-Orthodox media would drum up resistance and anger, nor that some key rabbinic read more

Public opinion poll: only 63% of Israelis would abide by civil court rulings over religious edicts

“In a situation when Jewish religious edicts were in conflict with civil court rulings, which would you follow?”

Credit: Rafi Smith Polling Institute data, graphs by Hiddush

Credit: Rafi Smith Polling Institute data,
graphs by Hiddush (click to enlarge)

Credit: Rafi Smith Polling Institute data, graphs by Hiddush

Credit: Rafi Smith Polling Institute data,
graphs by Hiddush (click to enlarge)

Two weeks ago, the RRFEI bulletin [link] included an analysis of the Supreme Court landmark ruling on access for non-Orthodox converts to public mikva’ot, demonstrating that there is a lot more to this than first met the media’s eyes. We reported on the immediate, horrific backlash from ultra-Orthodox circles. The three religious parties (namely the Zionist Orthodox Jewish Home and the two ultra-Orthodox parties) have joined forces in submitting a legislative proposal that would undo the Supreme Court ruling. This is their attempt to grant absolute control of the publicly funded mikva’ot to the Chief Rabbinate.

As Hiddush has noted [link], this is yet another case of Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde syndrome, exemplifying the Jewish Home party?s head & Minister of Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett?s read more

Pashkvil published in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods: “The cry of the great rabbis of our time is that the Western Wall is to be desecrated and trampled upon.”

Credit: Israel Religious Action Center, for photo and translations

Credit: Israel Religious Action Center, for photo and translations (click to enlarge)

Last week, more than 500 posters were put up in Israel in the neighborhood of Meah Shearim and other ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods that include the following quotes:

“We are shamed. Disgrace has covered our faces. Strangers have come into My Temple, Beit Adonai. The cry of the great rabbis of our time is that the Western Wall is to be desecrated and trampled upon.” – header of this pashkvil

“It is inconceivable to allow the etching of Reform synagogue names in iron pen and letters of lead for them to receive Shem Olam that can never be erased. We shall not honor them within the gates of our Temple.” – Yabia Omer, responsa by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (1920-2013)

“We must unite as an un-breachable wall against our arch enemies that want to enter the Reforms into all areas of religion.” – Yabia Omer, responsa by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (1920-2013)

?The holiness of the wall extends its whole length, from its most southern corner to its read more

The “Disputatious” Kotel

10903999_10153629284553868_1051290180814195830_oThe so-called compromise over prayer access to the Kotel has turned been attacked as giving away too much, as irrelevant to the real religious dispute in Israel, and as exclusionary of Orthodox women who refuse to give up their praying place. It has been lauded as a great advance, as a first in the legal recognition by the State of Israel of Liberal Judaism, as a triumph after 25 years of campaigning and as a breakthrough moment for Diaspora Jewry.

But will it happen? What forces are arrayed against its implementation?

This week’s, we share Israel HaYom’s superb analysis of the forces fighting against implementation. There is a link to the full article in Hebrew, and for those who would like a short-cut, I have summarized each of the opponents position’s in English.

English summary (by paragraph) by Rabbi Mark H. Levin

Click here for original Hebrew article

  1. Many forces are arrayed to oppose the decision.
  2. Although the pluralistic forces achieved official recognition for the Kotel, and attained representation on the Council that will run the Southern Plaza, many impediments have appeared.
  3. Because of a last minute, hidden insertion in the agreement, the Minister of Religious Services will be responsible for developing the regulations. That’s Minister David Azoulay, who last summer denounced Liberal Judaism. Azoulay has indicated he will pass the decision making to the Sages Council of Shas. If it passes there, as Aryeh Deri has great influence with the rabbis, Azoulay is bound by law to consult with the Chief Rabbinate.
  4. The Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi, Rabbi David Lau, has called the decision a mistake because it ignored the Chief Rabbinate. The Chief Rabbinate must express its opinion before Minister Azoulay will sign the regulations.
  5. Should Minister Azoulay delay the decisions, it’s likely that the government will pass the authority to appoint the 6 representatives of the public to the new Western Wall Council, from the Reform and Conservative streams and the Women of the Wall, to Natan Sharansky as head of the Jewish Agency. This will raise the question of whether the Council, with the help of the Jewish Agency, will stick to the current plans if the government avoids recognizing them. Will the matter then go to the Supreme Court, which could decide to implement equality at the current Western Wall Plaza?

Is the Direct Route Preferable?

  1. The second, more difficult obstacle, is that the new law must be implemented according to the zoning laws. Ought Israel move forward at one of the most important and historical archeological sites in the country in a shortened, expedited fashion?
  2. The last time the Government attempted to shorten the path for such decisions, the bridge to the Mughrabi Gate, it ended up prolonging it.
  3. Many who oppose the new plan will voice their opposition. The Hardalim, Religious Zionists in Bayit HaYehudi, with the Har Hamor Yeshiva leaders, will pressure Minister Uri Ariel and the Jewish Home Knesset members to oppose the plan and recognition of the Reform and Conservative Movements at the Kotel.
  4. Jewish Home party members are warning against a slippery slope to further recognition of the liberal streams.
  5. The Hardalim are attempting to enlist the Haredim, who believe this is an acceptable compromise because they do not want the Supreme Court to rule for equal representation of the liberal streams at the current Wall.
  6. Two more powerful opponents: the archeologists and the Muslim Waqf. It’s possible the Antiquities Authority will require salvage excavations before the plans are approved for the prayer area.
  7. Such a dig will take months, and in the event of important findings, even longer.
  8. Important senior archeologists have signed a sharp protest letter to PM Netanyahu opposing the entire program of widening the prayer area.
  9. Dr. Ayelet Mazar states there will be a dramatic destructive alteration to the only visible area at the foot of the Temple Mount where the destruction of the Second Temple is visible.
  10. Dr. Mazar is referring to the fallen stones from the Second Temple. Many years went into revealing those fallen stones, and it’s forbidden to touch or obstruct them. It’s a unique testimony to the Temple and the destruction.

The Waqf Will Not Recognize

  1. The Muslim Waqf has already voiced opposition. Israel fears Jordanian opposition, as occurred with building the Mughrabi Gate walkway. Jordan has not yet officially spoken. Senior Jordanian officials were this week quoted as opposing damage to the ‘Muslim heritage of the region.’
  2. Jordan thwarted Israel’s 2004 plan for the Mughrabi Gate. If Jordan opposes the Southern Wall plaza the conflict returns to the current prayer area. The Waqf and the Mufti have in the past insisted that the area adjacent to the Wall is part of the El Aqsa holy site. The Administrator of the mosque claims that the UN has recognized the area as part of Al Aqsa.
  3. Legally, Israel expropriated the area considered now for the southern prayer plaza after the Six Day War.
  4. The problem, however, is not legal, but political. Jordan does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the area.
  5. The Corporation for the Development of the Jewish Quarter is legally the possessor of the area, and will require agreement.

The Haredim Fear the

read more

The Supreme Court landmark ruling to allow non-Orthodox converts access to all Mikva’ot in Israel – There is more to it than you may think by Rabbi Uri Regev

You may download my highlighted version of the Supreme Court ruling here.

Uri-Regev-profile-photo-e1425932791183This unanimous ruling of the Supreme Court is an important addition to the chain of rulings that uphold the principles of religious freedom & equality. Its importance is not only to the matter at hand (access to the public mikva’ot for the purpose of non-Orthodox conversions), but also for future litigation over matters of religious freedom and equality in general.

On the other hand, a close look at the ruling reveals a number of elements of a mixed nature, which we need to be aware of, as they too will weigh on future litigation involving the clash of religion and state.

While the legal saga is over (10 years after it commenced!), and the final ruling has been handed down, a new front, far more vicious and perilous, has opened up. Now the Chief Rabbinate and ultra-Orthodox politicians are in Pavlovian reaction mode, gearing up to fight back and prevent the implementation of this ruling, as they launch read more

Breaking down the arguments over the Kotel agreement by David Bogomolny, Hiddush & RRFEI staffer

David-Bogomolny-mediumEven before the historic Kotel agreement was reached, the Internet was flooded with information and opinions about the compromise. RRFEI has compiled and categorized many pieces on our website here: [link], in both Hebrew and English, recognizing that the Hebrew articles reflect the feelings of Israelis who have taken a stand on these issues, which may not have been reported upon in the English media. We hope you’ll take the time to explore these informational and opinion pieces, and share others with us to include on the RRFEI website.

The controversy has been sharp, sometimes even harsh, and many have made conflicting factual and/or legal claims in regard to the Kotel agreement and its broader context. If you encounter a murky issue related to the compromise, which you would like to have clarified, RRFEI would be glad to provide you with further analysis and accurate information. Please contact us at organizers@rrfei.org read more