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Israel Lurches to the Ultra-Orthdox

I am sad to report that Israel has made two moves recently that thumbs its nose at Conservative and Reform Jews and embraces the desires of the ultra-Orthodox, who comprise only 15% of the Jewish people worldwide.

The first move is to renege on the deal negotiated over a 4-year period with all Jewish parties to allow equal access to the Western Wall (also known as the Kotel or the Wailing Wall). The ultra-Orthodox threatened to bolt the slim coalition Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put together and he caved in to their demands. The deal is now officially “frozen”, which means it is dead.

The second move is to disallow conversions unless they are performed by rabbis that are approved by the ultra-Orthodox rabbinate. They have already published a list of 160 blacklisted rabbis and they will examine all conversions to see if they meet the rabbinate’s standards. This means that the ultra-Orthodox will have sole authority to determine who is a Jew and who can be married to a Jew. While the cultural tilt in America is toward increased pluralism, in Israel it is toward total theocracy.

Many Jewish leaders and organizations are now refusing to meet with Netanyahu and feel a big divide has opened between Israel and American Jews. I am a strong supporter of Israel, and will continue to be, but like many other American Jews, I will be focusing my support and charitable donations to activities that support the safety and success of Israel and not to activities that support the government and the theocratic status quo.

The politicians and the Israeli electorate need to feel our disapproval of what they are allowing to happen or this trend will continue and become permanently established. All Jews must be accepted and welcomed in Israel, the homeland of the Jewish people, as magnificently rendered in the Israeli national anthem, Hatikva.

Wailing Wall Liberated

The government of Israel has taken steps to open the Wailing Wall to women and Conservative and Reform Jews. This is expected to be in full effect in two to three years. Some construction has to be done to make a place where these groups can meet and pray at the Wall.

Prior to this, only Orthodox men were allowed to pray at the Wall.

This is a real breakthrough in ending the monopoly of the Orthodox on everything religious in Israel. And it came despite the current government having Orthodox groups in its narrow coalition. Other reforms have been rolled back by this government, but apparently it couldn’t resist the efforts of non-Orthodox groups to change the access rules. Particularly active was Women of the Wall, a group that kept going to the Wall to pray and kept getting arrested for their efforts. Much thanks goes to Natan Scharansky who has been working on a compromise for the past three years.

The Orthodox still have a monopoly on marriage, divorce, defining who is a Jew, and other domestic civil matters. We live in hope that one day their monopoly on these areas will be changed as well.

“Non-Jew” Michael Douglas Gets Israeli Award

Michael Douglas will receive the 2015 Genesis Prize, which carries a $1 million honorarium, in June in Israel. The award recognizes an internationally renowned individual who is a role model in his or her community and whose actions and achievements express a commitment to Jewish values, the Jewish community and Israel, and who can inspire the younger generation of Jews worldwide.

Michael Douglas has a Jewish father, the famous actor Kirk Douglas, but a non-Jewish mother. So he is not considered Jewish in the eyes of Jewish law. Read more »

The Israeli Election

For this Israeli election, indeed for any Israeli election till its accomplished, the most important thing is to take away the power of the Orthodox to determine personal status issues. To determine who is a Jew, how to become a convert, how to get married, and how to get divorced should be a state issue not a Jewish law issue (except for themselves). They have no right to determine these things for those who are not Orthodox, who only comprise a bare 15% of the population. Though they say differently, their interpretation of Jewish law is valid only for themselves. It has no claim on the rest of us, except to the extent we choose it for ourselves. Other issues will take care of themselves no matter who is elected.

Would Israel Be Safe?

Recently a Florida politician, Evelyn Garcia, a Palm Beach County representative to the Democratic National Committee and a candidate for state representative, came under fire from both parties for a series of emails that some called anti-Semitic and anti-Israel.

In the private emails, which were sent more than a year ago but surfaced recently, Garcia accused Israel of “crimes against humanity” and of running “mass concentration prison camps.”

In one email, Garcia wrote, “The continued Israeli occupation of Palestine is ugly on moral, ethical, religious and legal grounds. Palestinians had nothing to do with the Holocaust and it is time that this guilt trip was taken off their backs.” Read more »