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 split personality. He goes out of his way to appear inclusive, tolerant and pluralistic outside of Israel, to you, our friends and colleagues in North America; but he has no problem swerving 180 degrees when it comes to our non-Orthodox colleagues, converts and movements in Israel.

An important, further development occurred in the last few days, as the Chief Rabbinate publicly turned to Israel’s religious councils that operate the public mikva’ot [link in Hebrew], instructing them not to abide by the Supreme Court ruling. What was self-evident to the Supreme Court, as Hiddush indicated in its analysis [link], namely:“the rabbinate is not authorized to establish a discriminatory policy” is not only not self-evident to the Chief Rabbinate (a state organ established by civil law and subject to the rule of law!), but it openly and rebelliously flaunts this! We have repeatedly suggested that the battle over religious freedom and equality is not merely a battle over religious diversity, but is -at the core- a battle over the rule of law and democracy. The Chief Rabbinate’s gall is but another compelling demonstration of the serious problem we face.

We would like to share with you another dimension of that very challenge; it so happens that this week the Israeli public radio commissioned a poll, which included the question “In a situation when Jewish religious edicts were in conflict with civil court rulings, which would you follow?” Looking at these graphs (above), we get a quantitative perspective of the extent of the challenge. While the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews respect the law, the ultra-Orthodox and most of the Zionist Orthodox indicate clearly that they would view the civil court’s rulings as merely advisory, not to be adhered to, in the case of such a clash. Obviously there would be instances in which all of us would maintain such a position. For instance, if, under unimaginable circumstances, the court ordered the public to violate the Sabbath or eat treif… But these are NOT the questions that come before the judicial bench. The mikva’ot case (as an example) involves state funded public mikva’ot, and their use by non-Orthodox converts does not make them impure, regardless of whether the Rabbinate likes it.

Is “V’ahavta l’reyecha komocha” really only about our relations with Jews?

10903999_10153629284553868_1051290180814195830_oAfter the tragedy in France, a local woman said to me, “I know the right thing to do, I just don’t want to do it.” She didn’t want to allow Muslims into the U.S. She knew it was wrong. She knew we have for decades protested that had Jews been allowed into the U.S. before WW II hundreds of thousands of lives may have been saved, with millions of Jewish descendants. Now others flee for their lives. But she is frightened. Perhaps two years ago you read about the neo-Nazi who murdered three religious Christians coming out of Jewish facilities in Overland Park, KS. He was gunning for Jews but couldn’t distinguish between gentiles and Jews. This woman lives in one of those facilities. She’s frightened. Who can blame her?

Perhaps Nahman of Bratslav had it right, “The entire world is a narrow bridge, and the ikar is not to be afraid.”

Do we judge others as tselem elokim, or is “V’ahavta l’reyecha komocha” really only about our relations with Jews? These questions confront us daily. With the publication of Torah HaMelech we shuddered at a halakhic justification for murder of “the other.” With the publication of Derech HaMelech by Ariel Finkelstein, we are presented with a halakhic refutation.

We witness the human confrontation with the fear of the “other,” whether the other is perceived as a Jew or a gentile.

Below, Orthodox posek Rabbi Yaakov Ariel speaks of basic human decency, a proto-Toraitic understanding, that murder is wrong. Anything forbidden to gentiles in the Noahide commandments is forbidden also to Jews.

I write this knowing that our mutual daily concern in RRFEI is the soul of the Jewish people. Here are two links to important articles by Tamar Rotem [link], writing about changes in the Haredi world; and Anshel Pfeffer [link], predicting that a family leaving the Haredi world is just the tip of what’s coming. You will see that some in Israel are naturally, on their own, arriving at some of our shared conclusions: that the Chief Rabbinate of Israel has no business controlling people’s lives, that Jews should be allowed to freely choose our religious practices.

Even so, the struggle for the Jewish soul continues. Who gets to define legitimate Judaism? Which Jews does the Chief Rabbinate represent? How do we build a Jewish state for all of the world’s Jews?

Please take a look at the articles, and let us know in the Facebook group for RRFEI [link] what you think.


האם הפוסק באמת יכול לגשת להלכה כשיש לו הנחות יסוד תורניות מוקדמות? מסתבר שלא רק שהוא יכול, אלא הוא אף חייב, במיוחד כאשר הוא דן בדיני נפשות. בהקשר זה ראוי לראות את דבריו של פוסק מובהק כמו הרב יעקב אריאל, על מספר רבנים ש”הקלו” בהריגת גוי לפני כחמש עשרה


השאלה הבסיסית היא: מהי נקודת המוצא לכל דיון בדיני נפשות? האם נקודת המוצא היא החרדה מפני העבירה החמורה של שפיכות דמים של כל אדם ואדם, וההיתר ליטול נשמתו של אדם הוא חידוש ואין לך בו אלא חידושו, או שנקודת המוצא הפוכה, אדם שאינו מישראל הוא חלילה כדגי הים והאיסור לשפוך את דמם של חלק מבני האדם הוא החידוש? לא מצינו חלילה היתר כל שהוא לאיסור חמור זה של שפיכות דמים, שלא כפי שת”ח שלא שימשו כל צרכם התבטאו בתקשורת שלפי ההלכה מותר, כביכול, להרוג גוי. אין ספק שאת שורש העיוות הנורא הזה יש לחפש במידותיו של האדם, ביראת שמים הבסיסית שלו, בדרך ארץ שקדמה לתורה. המחריד הוא שצורבים שלא פסקו מעולם בדיני עגונות והפלות, “פסקו” בהבל פיהם בדיני נפשות, כשחסר להם הרקע הבסיסי לעצם הדיון בנושא כה רגיש, ששפיכות דמים היא העבירה החמורה ביותר בתורה. ולא עוד אלא שהוציאו דיבתם הרעה לתקשורת לתת חרב בידה נגד תורת

ישראל, לומדיה ומקיימיה.

The role of Halakha in the modern, secular State of Israel

10903999_10153629284553868_1051290180814195830_oOver two hundred years ago our spiritual ancestors fought the battles of modernity, bringing Jewish practice into the modern world. Who knew that we would have to repeat the process two centuries later?

While all of us, as rabbis, emphasize the importance of halakhah in our lives and the lives of our constituencies, we also recognize the importance, authority and power of the secular state. But modern Israel has not yet concluded that the sovereignty of the State is paramount in all areas, and that fight is now being waged.

In this Hebrew article [click here for article] by Prof. Motti Arad [click here for Prof. Arad’s background and publications] we see the legal basis that the murderers claim for themselves. Prof. Arad also suggests a means around the problem: a הוראת שעה that will annul the rulings of the Mishneh Torah and Shulchan Aruch that he claims permit such murders. (for my abridged English summary, see below)

This Haaretz article [click here] about the arrest of the West Bank bombers displays the perfect case. The man charged with the murders refuses to recognize the state’s authority. Rather, the accused says that he accepts only Jewish law. The problem is obviously both that the State has not been clear in imposing its authority, and there are rabbis who are in favor of the absolute sovereignty of halakhah.

Do we have a role to play in this discussion? What is your opinion? Should we be speaking to a halakhic approach to this issue of the relationship between Jewish law and democracy in the Jewish State? What is your approach?

For me, this is specifically an area in which we should insist on being heard. Just as last week Aaron Leibowitz [click here] published his approach to solving the problem of kashrut, and next week we will hear from Chuck Davidson about his research on the criteria for gerut, so, in my judgment, the interplay between Jewish law and State sovereignty should be a subject for the expert judgment of those who take a modern approach to halakhah.

Currently our efforts at Hiddush are focused, with other Jewish agencies like the AJC and JFNA, on marriage in Israel. Yet, I believe that there are those among us whose opinions and research must be heard in order for Israel to fulfill its mandate as the home of a modern Judaism.

Please contact me with your opinion, and also let me know if you’d like to help on the newsletter’s editorial board.

Mark H. Levin

Rabbi Mark H. Levin’s abridged English summary of Prof. Arad’s Hebrew article [link]:

In this article, published in September 2015, Prof. Motti Arad writes about the use of Jewish Law (Halakhah) to justify murder against Arabs in Israel, and what needs to be done to counter it. The Jewish terrorists, like members of Tag Mehir, as well as Yishai Schlissel, Meir Ettinger, and Yigal Amir, are being encouraged and justified by some rabbis’ interpretations of Jewish law that are inciting murder.

He writes:

“I have come to say that we are not speaking of people who are mentally incompetent, to point out a common denominator for all of the deeds, to explain a legal mechanism that justifies and even encourages the murderers, and to suggest a way to take care of the phenomenon.”

“There are three commonalities to Schlissel and the inciters:”

  1. “We are speaking of religious people who believe in Halakhah;
  2. They believe that ‘all that which is holy to Israel’ is being attacked from inside (Jews) and from outside (non-Jews);
  3. They are ready to suffer damage to themselves for the sake of ‘all that which is holy to Israel’ because they perceive us to be in a state of emergency.”

“… all hate crimes done by Jews in recent times have been done, apparently, by religious people, and in contradiction to the opinion of Daniel Oz, in these instances Halakhah is of decisive importance in their decisions to commit these crimes.”

“It is incumbent on the rabbis to prohibit [the transgressors] with a temporary order (hora’at sha’ah — an order by a Jewish court that can change Talmudic law according to current circumstances). It’s incumbent on the families to prohibit their children from committing these [murders that they read as permitted by the Jewish codes of law], and it’s incumbent on the communities to cooperate with the governmental authorities to clarify the plague, before all of us go up in flames. The Schlissels will obey.”