Beyond the Cusp

September 11, 2014

Attack on Israeli Chief Rabbinate or Liberalizing Conversion?

Yesh Atid and Hatnua Parties members of the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset, have introduced a bill in conjunction with left-wing social action organizations and Reform and liberal rabbis which would revamp and alter the standing traditions and rules governing conversion to Judaism within Israel. The normal problems with conversions within Judaism has been assuring that any conversion performed outside of Israel would be recognized if and when the convert applied to move to Israel, especially if their return is planned to be as part of the “Right of Return” laws in Israel regarding Jews returning to their ancient homeland. With the introduction for changes to the rules and governing body deciding conversions within Israel a completely new and otherwise unexpected reaction has recently reared up. Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau in a meeting with rabbis in London was informed that should this proposed law be enacted that there would be a definitive split in Judaism as outside Israel any conversion performed under the new directions could see mistrust or even outright rejection outside Israel. This would be a complete reversal of the current situation. One of the originators of this proposal, Minister of Knesset Elazar Stern of the Hatnua Party stated one year ago in November of 2013 in an emergency session of the Knesset People, Religion and State Caucus to address Chief Rabbinate’s policies stated, “We came here today with the belief that Israel is a Jewish-Democratic state, not only Jewish or only democratic, and that sometimes it comes at a price; that sometimes Judaism needs to bow to the rules of a democracy, and sometimes a democracy needs to bow to the rules of Judaism.” This is an interesting statement which is at the core of this argument and also gives a deep insight to the desires of Minister Stern and those backing the call to alter conversion in Israel.

The first necessity to this discussion is to define what the new law would change and what such changes would mean to somebody seeking to convert to Judaism in Israel. The law would place the sanctioning and licensing of Rabbis permitted to perform conversions in the hands of each local government removing this power from the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. The reasoning is that currently only Orthodox Rabbis are permitted to perform conversions and the rules they must adhere to are straight forward and considered to be too demanding by those backing this legislation. The main complaint they have is that the only Rabbis permitted to perform conversions are Orthodox Rabbis and Reform and Conservative Rabbis are not given such license. The backers of the new rules for conversion also believe that the requirements an individual must meet to complete the conversion process are too lengthy and require a rather great amount of study and proof of understanding of the history and commandments in Judaism. They feel that there should be different and varied levels of requirements and length and depth of study necessary for conversion more attuned to the various different schools of Judaism. Their argument is that those born as Jews often do not have as deep an understanding or have ever taken study to the depths and breadth required of converts and that if a convert plans to join a congregation which is other than Orthodox, then their level necessary to meet standards for conversion should reflect the branch of Judaism to which they plan to belong. Those are the stated arguments, but are they the real basis and driving ideology behind those proposing the changes?

Minister of the Knesset Elazar Stern judging by outward appearances would be thought very religious. Judging by his statements and actions one gets an entirely different perception. In acts Minister Stern appears to oppose the hierarchal structure of Orthodox Judaism and wishes to undermine the hold the Chief Rabbinate has over the rules for who is permitted to perform conversions, to officiate Jewish weddings, and to conduct or oversee other rites which currently fall under the Chief Rabbinate. He has been rather outspoken about his distaste for many of the Orthodox and Hasidic rules, practices and especially control over the governing bodies of Judaism, and not only over their control within Israel but the seemingly fairly strict governance of what may be considered to be truly Orthodox Judaism worldwide. Minister Stern would prefer a more liberalized and inclusive form of oversight of that which should be seen as approved practice of Judaism. Where there is a degree of merit to this path of thought, it also leads to some potentially questionable results once this path is first tread.

Once the hierarchy is challenged and altered the question would soon arise as to how far should the new structure depart from the former limits and exactly who now decides who and what is acceptable and what would be considered straying too far from the path of traditional Orthodox Judaism. Who would be trusted with the powers to choose who approves and regulates conversions and would these same authorities also make decisions on weddings and other societal religious licenses. Would it be possible that in certain cities or towns that a secular board might be empowered with these decisions and if so where does that leave those seeking a strict Orthodoxy able to turn to find those who would meet such requirements when the ability to legally act as a certified Rabbi or other officiating religious position is no longer under the control of the Chief Rabbinate. Then there is the most dangerous result where people wishing to enjoy the fruits of being a Jew in Israel but are unwilling to put forth the efforts under Orthodox systems would be able to shop municipalities seeking one with a more lax and relaxed set of standards and be converted without receiving sufficient education in the doctrines and requirements of a truly religious Jew who observes all the commandments. Somebody could receive a conversion from such a locality and then present themselves as being Jewish to a Jew who is actually Orthodox in their practice and should their relationship lead to marriage without the convert’s lack of full knowledge of the commandments being revealed, the consequences of such could be heart wrenching. It would not be that the convert lacking complete knowledge could not be further educated by their spouse, it is that such should never be a possibility as it would place an undue strain on the relationship from the outset and one member of the union might bear resentments even not fully cognizant of those regrets and the animosity they produced. These and other difficulties are in addition to the potential of a lack of credibility in Israeli conversions elsewhere in the world requiring that each convert carry with them the license with the name of the Rabbi who officiated their training and education in the traditions and commandments of Judaism to be checked against a list of acceptable Rabbis within Israel similarly as to how in Israel there is a list of which Rabbis across the globe are considered Kosher to oversee a conversion for it to be recognized in Israel.

The final argument which should be addressed before this legislation is voted on, let alone passed, is that should not Israel be the standard of what it means to be Jewish and thus their conversions, weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, Brit Milah, and any other Jewish sanctification or ceremony performed and considered and sanctioned as truly Jewish in Israel be accepted without question the world over. If the rules are altered and are actually different from one location within Israel to another or even defined by each individual congregation such that even within a community where there exists more than one congregation that there be uncertainty as to the Jewishness of a conversion etc. Furthermore, is it even the place for the Knesset or any other political and secular body to make any final decisions as to who, where and what constitutes true Judaism the opening of Pandora’s Box? The Chief Rabbinate has not taken to attempt to rule on the qualifications for anybody to hold a position in the Knesset or as to who may be considered for the position of Prime Minister, serve on the Israeli Supreme Court or any of the multitudes of political positions within Israel. Could not the Knesset be counted upon to at the very least return this favor? Granted there are those in Israel, even among Israeli Jews, who do not particularly have any great affinity for the Chief Rabbinate, but the Chief Rabbinate concerns themselves almost entirely with the decisions relating to Orthodox Judaism and the rulings and regulating those things religiously bound and independent of the secular government. One might hope that the majority of those for whom Judaism and their being a Jew is of great importance and who grant such a strong measure of control over their lives and actions would also be the individuals who would get to decide if they would prefer some other manner of setting the rules, regulations, standards and official decisions concerning the practicing of Judaism and what and who is considered to be truly Jewish. Has there been a hue and cry from the body of Jewish society for the Knesset to interfere with the current manner where the Chief Rabbinate decides those things Jewish to be challenged and altered or is this the dream of those for whom Judaism is not their guiding light and whose religious observance does not hold as primary a place in their day-to-day decisions and lives such that it would meet the preferred manner of Jewish life as would be recommended by the Chief Rabbis. If secular authorities decide to take legal control over religious decisions then those secular institutions should expect the religious to do all in their power to elect only the most religious into those offices. Minister of the Knesset Stern, are you and your cohorts really interested in kicking the religious community so hard in those things they hold so very dear that they rise up and vote only by their religious beliefs those who hold every government position from top to bottom within Israel wherever they have the votes to do so? You might receive a real surprise should you insist in playing that game. I understand that you are watching Israelis becoming more and more religious with each passing day and this frightens you but it really should not as thus far the religious mostly keep a separation between their religiosity and their duties as a citizen. So, could we please leave religious matters to the religious and secular matters can remain with the secular? Somehow I doubt you will agree as you know so much better than the rest of us who are less enlightened simply because we believe that there are those things that are written in stone. One example is the Ten Commandments which were originally written in stone; twice.

Beyond the Cusp

January 14, 2014

Israel and Her Jewish Problem

While I understand there are Jews who are not Zionists but even the vast majority of these non-Zionist Jews still do not take an antagonistic position when it comes to Israel. Many of these non-Zionist Jews may become Zionists given the right stimuli and certain situations. That aside, I cannot understand why any Jew would go beyond being a non-Zionist, and would actually take an antagonistic, anti-Zionist position seeing wrong in every action of the Jewish state. I am even more baffled when those who hold such an anti-Israel view also choose to remain living in Israel if they feel the Jewish state cannot do anything right and it causes them such angst and embarrassment. But even more puzzling is that a group of Rabbis from Israel have taken up the Palestinian cause against Israel to the point of manufacturing grievances and aiding the Palestinians in their lies when they assault and caused major physical harm to fellow Jews. This happened recently in an incident near Eish Kodesh where a large mob of Palestinians from a neighboring village used trucks and assistance from Palestinian police to corner and abduct Israeli hikers and dragged them to a remote house at the outskirts of their village beating them even after IDF troops arrived and eventually bartered their release. Thanks to video reports depicting, recounting and praising the Palestinian actions but which contradicted the claim that they intercepted the Jews entering their town with the intent of doing damage by committing what are called price-tag crimes, these videos distributed by the Palestinians showed their chasing down the small group of two dozen Jewish hikers across fields assaulting them with rocks and clubbing them when they had sufficiently closed the distance. Despite the evidence to the contrary, the IDF subsequently arrested a number of the youngest Jewish hikers largely to interrogate them to force a confession to validate the Palestinian story line. This was simply the latest example of the truth being inconsequential and any claims made by the Palestinians being taken as the unadorned fact never to be questioned by Israeli authorities when the subject is the Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria.

 

As long as there are Israelis in positions of authority who will believe any lie they are told if it reinforces their disdain for the Jewish residents of Samaria and Judea and also any claims against religious Jews then Israel will continue to have detractors who quote these Israeli leaders before the world as they condemn Israel at every turn. I am not sure if it is due to these authorities fearing or having feelings of animosity against religious Jews and/or Jews living in the settlements, as residents of Judea and Samaria are maligned by their detractors, which drives them to believe any charge which supports their intolerance. Where I would want the authorities to investigate any reports of criminal activity, the over the top persistence that authorities have taken against these two sectors of Israeli society makes one question their real motives. The fact that much of the political elite in the Knesset, the Prime Minister’s office, the Attorney General’s Office, the Courts and other government institutions often do not react and investigate what appears to be an obvious series of injustices one after another finding the truth and communicating it immediately, instead there is often animus displayed when many government officials are queried by the press about such instances, an animus which is totally unjustified if one simply would have inspected the record which shows that the Jewish residents in Judea and Samaria along with the religious communities have almost uniformly been found innocent despite the herculean efforts to find them guilty of anything they can throw at them. Israelis need to demand of their government that they support all the citizens of the nation, especially against spurious accusations originating out of pure animus from Israel’s enemies. The problem is that in order to do so the Israeli citizenship would need to challenge far more than those in government but would need to challenge the hierarchy of the individual parties and the manner in which Ministers of the Knesset are chosen. Those parties which use exclusively a primary system without any interference from the Party officers would not require as much of an adjustment as those where their lists are decided in back rooms by the so-called elite of the party. In any case, there needs to be some manner in which a person can run for a seat in the Knesset and gain that seat independently from the political machines run by the individual parties. Establishing such a path would allow for populist candidates who lack party influence but have general popular support are able to run and gain a seat in the Knesset without having to bribe some established politicians into forming a party in the hopes of gaining at least the minimum percentage to be rewarded seats.

 

Israel has sufficient enemies throughout the world without having her own citizens turn against her and makes consistent attempts to destroy the nation at every turn. Honest questioning is one thing and universal rejection of almost every policy and decision is something worthy of question. Many of these Israeli Jewish detractors hold Israel in such dispute that they have even, as Yariv Oppenheimer of Peace Now has, taken the side of those whose stated intent is the destruction of the State of Israel. Such actions border on if not qualifying the perpetrators as traitors to their country, yet these very same people are often the go-to-first people by many from the far left media within Israel as they also back anybody who takes a stand detracting Israeli efforts. Between these and the existence of Ministers of the Knesset who also take every opportunity to speak against Israel from within the Knesset itself, such leaves the defenders of Israel with a rough road to tread always up a steep slope and filled with obstacles in order to counter the damage and lies spread to a world seemingly veraciously hungry to believe every accusation leveled at Israel. One of the Knesset Ministers was a former advisor and aide to the late Palestinian arch terrorist Yasser Arafat yet is permitted to hold a position in the Israeli Parliament. When running for the Knesset, this Minister was validated by the Israeli Supreme Court as a valid candidate who could not be restricted from entering the Knesset simply because he used to be an aide to the arch enemy and stands for the eradication of the Jewish State. Israel has to get past its peculiarity of questioning its every action and going to the greatest of lengths to see every side of every issue and investigating every accusation to be completely assured that they had done nothing untoward before announcing any position which is supportive of its citizens, military, officials, and general positions. Perhaps it might be possible that Israel find the courage to believe in itself and refute these scurrilous accusations until somebody else has taken the time to attest to the validity of an accusation before apologizing for every action even before their own full review has been completed. Israel must stop apologizing for existing and instead demand the respect she deserves but will never receive until she believes in herself. That confidence will come once the Jews realize that they deserve a nation as much if not more than any other nation’s peoples.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

July 4, 2013

A Basic Question for Those Ministers in the Knesset Demanding Share the Burden

There are a number of Knesset Ministers whose parties ran on a platform that included references to a simply idea, an idea they tried to make sound like a new revelation never before addressed that would solve all the ills in Israeli society. They talked about sharing the burden by which they meant serving in the Israeli Defense Force or performing National Service. They were focusing largely on making the Haredi communities serve universally and not be given deferments for every Haredi Jew who wished to study Torah. They implied that a percentage, though the exact amount they were loath to mention, were not taking their Torah study all that seriously and were hiding behind study as a path to avoid their social obligations. Some of those making such accusations should check their own background before throwing stones inside a glass house, or whatever, as it works whether the house is glass or the glass is thrown. Some might claim that spending an enlistment working within one’s intended profession which they have a path to pursue open to them, almost reserved one might say, is not service as much as the young soldier who volunteers for combat arms and especially if they make it into any of the elite units. These claims against the Haredi were made so general that it appeared that the fact that there is a program which includes a number of Yeshiva which combines military service with Torah study was being minimized or even discounted as simply a way of claiming to do military service but not being a part of the real military. When the military is called upon to defend the people and State of Israel those Yeshiva soldiers will risk their lives and bleed the same color as any other soldier and they will follow their orders as well if not better than many. But all of this aside, there are other items which need to be discussed in open public as it will require a change of attitude from many within Israeli society if the burden is to be truly shared. When we as a people ask the Haredi to share, we too mush be willing to share.

 

My initial question for those calling for the Haredi in particular and others to share the burden is very simply. Have any of you ever when hiring people to work in your business life or to serve on your current Knesset staff hired, or even given an interview, to any Haredi who have applied? If you claim that none applied then I would ask why you think they did not apply? If they had applied would it have made any difference? Do you think it is fair to demand the Haredi to serve a public which in general would not give them even consideration for employment? We have all heard the complaint that the Haredi do not have the skills necessary to be employed in much of Israeli high tech industries or manufacturing and other excuses. The people making those arguments very probably know that there are a good number of Haredi who have studied and received degrees in numerous engineering disciplines and most Haredi should prove to be more than adequately trainable for any manufacturing position and very likely easier to train than some who are currently brought into the manufacturing sector. If the Israeli public as a whole desires the Haredi serve just the same as any other sector of society in the military or public service then first treat them as equals when it comes to hiring and giving the choice entry level positions for those Haredi who have taken the courses and received degrees. It is no secret that one can usually determine simply by an application whether somebody is from the Haredi community, though not always a foolproof determination. And it is not unknown that any Haredi who even gets as far as being interviewed; their chances for being actually considered are less than the chances for a non-Haredi. How about we integrate them into what we laughingly call normal society and then I would bet we would find the Haredi far more willing to serve in the IDF or give time to National Service.

 

On another front, the argument that the percentage of the population that is Haredi is growing faster than any other segment of Israeli society and because of this they will have to serve in the IDF in order to assure we have sufficient soldiers in the future. There is the other argument that their growth as a larger portion of our society means that the government will not be able to underwrite their Torah study as it will soon prove to be more than can be sustained by a workforce that does not include Haredi workers. Well, the solution here is not to do away with stipends for those students who truly desire to study Torah and have shown a better than average aptitude for such study, the secret is to give the Haredi equal opportunity to be employed and a part of the so-called normal workforce. What choices do the current feelings towards the Haredi offer them in Israel? If they are closed out of much of the high tech engineering sectors, ignored by the retail because they dress differently, refused hire for industry because they do not appear to be inclined for such work, then where are they to work and support themselves? Has anybody ever thought that maybe a fair number if not a majority of the Haredi would not mind joining the workforce and earn their own keep? Until such is given an opportunity we will not know and until such opportunities are a normal part of society is it fair to ask them to serve equally when they are not treated equally?

 

There is something that the Haredi will also need to find a way of adapting. The Haredi Rabbis are going to have to find some middle ground where they allow for coed work environments. Granted there will be a change necessitated where a certain level of modest dress may need to be expected in the workplace. There may be benefits to that beyond making the workplace more accessible for Haredi workers in that psychiatric and sociologic research has found that there has been proven a relationship between professionalism in the workplace and strict dress codes. They have found that if workers are expected to dress to a special level rather than casual attire that they tend to be more professional and productive. Granted that such findings have been buried because casual is the new dressed up but many of us know that the old studies were correct and dress more formally for work you will act and work at a heightened level. But the Haredi will need to be able to work professionally in a coed environment and such environs must be adapted so as to be more acceptable to modesty requirements. Such changes will in time prove to benefit the non-Haredi workers as well as making society more accessible and accepting to the Haredi population among us. On both sides of the society we need to remember that as Jews we are brothers and sisters in the same very extended family. Myself is probably a good example as my father is Ashkenazi and my mother is Sephardic which makes me confused when pronouncing certain Hebrew words as my Hebrew education was spent switching back and forth from the two schools. But the truth is if we go back some generations we all came from a small group of who lived in Judea and gave Greeks and then Romans more trouble than the entire area of Judea was actually worth to them. It does seem being argumentative is something we have gotten down pat. Perhaps it is time to nurture being more open, especially to each other to all of our brothers and sisters. When the world throws either stones or insults at us it is because we are Jews and they do not differentiate between Haredi and irreligious, Zionist or not Zionist, or any of the other differences we impose on ourselves, they simply see Jews and perhaps the time has come for us to see ourselves as the world see us. We will be stronger, happier and more Jewish together and we can learn from one another.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

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