A Defining Moment
by Dan Juster, Director, Tikkun International & Restoration From Zion
Many are in an uproar over recent decisions1 of the Israeli government coalition led by Benjamin Netanyahu.
The decision upon which we will focus here, was to affirm the Chief Rabbis as the ultimate determiners of the validity of conversions to Judaism and thus those who can define people as Jewish or not Jewish. This issue is very significant. Even some of the most credible Orthodox Rabbis abroad have had their conversions rejected by the Chief Rabbinate here, including that of Ivanka Trump! To avoid new elections the Prime Minister has caved in to the Ultra Orthodox.
The conversion issue is even larger in Israel, where it has implications for hundreds of thousands of Israelis who are of Jewish descent but not considered officially Jewish. This is a nuisance mainly because there are no civil wedding ceremonies in Israel, and so many citizens are forced to have their legal marriage ceremony performed abroad if they marry "outside of their faith." There are different judicial and legislative maneuverings happening regarding this.
Israel is a state with a state religion, Orthodox Judaism. Orthodox Judaism in Israel has several streams. Some are anti-Zionist. Some reject army service and avoid work so they can just study Talmud. The Ultra Orthodox impose their definition of kosher food and their specific requirements for Shabbat observance on other Israelis who desire greater flexibility in observance.
Oppressive Political Clout
We should also note that the Ultra Orthodox party "Shas" controls the Interior Ministry with jurisdiction over citizenship. They have instituted a policy wherein Jews who believe in Yeshua are prevented from making aliyah (returning to Israel to live here).
In short, the Ultra Orthodox have just 13 seats out of the 120 seats in parliament (the Knesset); a tiny number relative to the disproportionate power they wield.
I think Prime Minister Netanyahu has done many good things. He has kept the economy on track. He has acted in very solid ways to develop Israel's relationships with other nations in trade and mutual support. He has been an articulate spokesman for Israel's security needs, but his submission to the Ultra Orthodox is very troubling. I wonder if I could vote for him again. I think the country is ready for an alternative to the almost tyrannical oppression of the Ultra Orthodox.
1 Another decision concerns the removal of security equipment on the Temple Mount in the face of Muslim rioting and its implications for Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem. This is significant, but we will not address it here. Yet another decision was against forming a new official egalitarian section of the Western Wall so that men and women can pray together as in Reform and Conservative Judaism. (These movements are large in the diaspora, but their numbers are very small in Israel.) Honestly, I really do not care much about the Western Wall decision. Is it really so important that there must be an official mixed prayer area there? I just cannot see it. Women pray at the women's section and men at the men's.
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