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Hiddush CEO Rabbi Uri Regev & Chairman Stanley P. Gold

A message from Hiddush

July 27, 2017
4 Av, 5777

Dear Friends,

This week Shas leader and Interior Minister Rabbi Aryeh Deri turned to Israel's Attorney General, demanding that the mandatory guidelines regarding the exclusion of women in the public sphere be suspended and reconsidered. These guidelines were developed after lengthy consideration in the Attorney General's Office and adopted by the previous government. They are intended to counter the growing religious extremism in the ultra-Orthodox sector, which expresses itself, in part, by greater pressures to exclude or strictly separate women from men in public venues.

One can easily understand, albeit object to, Deri's attempts at turning the clock back, as he and his colleagues successfully did in all other matters in which the previous government made progress in the arena of religious freedom and equality. However, what deserves special attention and repudiation is Deri's cynical use of "religious freedom" claims:

"religious freedom, which is a constitutional principle, beyond dispute in our country, enables every citizen to choose his religion, believe in it, practice all that his faith requires, avoid all that his faith forbids... all with the intention of implementing [the tenets of] his faith in theory and in practice. The rights of the minority to observe their faith and religion in a way that enables them to realize their rights as equal citizens in the State of Israel... are an integral and essential part of their religious faith."

Anyone who has followed Deri's political path and that of his ultra-Orthodox political colleagues knows that the last thing Deri truly believes in, let alone promotes and defends, is religious freedom for all. He invokes religious freedom, as do his colleagues, only when it is aimed at safeguarding the rights of his voters and fellow fundamentalist co-religionists. But when it comes to religious freedom and the protection of religious choices of all citizens, not only one would not find Deri among the Crusaders, but rather he would be at the forefront of those suppressing other's religious freedoms. This was most recently evidenced in his leading role in undermining the Western Wall compromise and preventing both the egalitarian worship of non-Orthodox Jews at the Kotel, as well as women's prayer groups.

This isn't a new phenomenon, nor is it a one time act of hypocrisy - it is, rather, a consistent form of behavior. Both in Israel and overseas, ultra-Orthodox leadership invokes noble principles in order to safeguard THEIR religious liberties, but they don't blink eyelash when trampling upon the religious freedoms or civil liberties of others.

One classic example that comes to mind is the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration act. When President Clinton signed it into law, Agudath Israel of America publicly proclaimed:

“This is a proud and auspicious day for freedom of religion and freedom of conscience in this country... Congress and the president have now... declared with resounding affirmation: religious liberty is a fundamental freedom of the highest order.”

Even more recently, when a number of European states initiated restrictions on, or even banned kosher slaughter and infant circumcision, both local and international ultra-Orthodox leadership, along with Israeli political allies, stepped in against these initiatives invoking this important principles of religious freedom.

It's high time that our community opens up its eyes to this travesty and hypocrisy; and challenges publicly the ultra-Orthodox organizational and political leadership that sees no moral or principle disparity, arguing for religious freedom when it benefits them, and denying this very right to others with whom they theologically disagree.

All the very best,

Stanley P. Gold,
Hiddush Chair

Rabbi Uri Regev,
Hiddush President

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Join us in signing the “Jewish Leadership Statement on Inclusiveness, Diversity and Israel’s Chief Rabbinate” saying YES to Jewish diversity and inclusiveness in Israel, and NO to a coercive and exclusionary Chief Rabbinate!

Following Hiddush's Jewish Unity Statement, Rabbi Uri Regev has joined with leading colleagues of other Jewish streams to launch this Jewish Statement on Inclusiveness.

This statement is a response to the Israeli Chief Rabbinate's recently divulged "blacklist" of rabbis of all denominations, including leading figures in the Modern Orthodox community.

Israeli Modern Orthodox rabbis speak up
in support of Jewish pluralism

Click HERE for video

This video from the Modern Orthodox 'Ne'emanei Torah Va'Avodah' movement is an important visual document, attesting to the rising trend within modern orthodoxy to speak up in support of a more pluralistic outlook in general, and regarding governmental policies in Israel in particular.

Hiddush has referred to this trend in the past. It was measured in the Hiddush 2016 Israel Religion & State Index where we created an expanded sample of Zionist Orthodox respondents. This revealed the existence of a segment within Modern Orthodoxy, which indeed holds views closer to other non-Orthodox segments of the Israeli Jewish population, which uphold the virtue of religious diversity and mutual respect.

This is also paralleled by a growing Modern Orthodox voice in Diaspora Jewish communities, particularly in the USA. This is evidenced, for instance, in the key role that organizational advocacy and rabbinic leaders in North America are playing in the pursuit of marriage freedom in Israel - for instance: The "Jewish Religious Equality Coalition" initiative launched by the American Jewish Congress, in which Hiddush plays an active part.

Labor Party Chairman Avi Gabbay:
Israel should recognize Reform conversions

Newly elected Labor Party Chairman Avi Gabbay has come out strongly in favor of religious freedom on issues ranging from education, to public transportation on Shabbat, and to marriage & divorce, as we reported last week [link]. More recently, he's expressed support for the official state recognition of Reform conversions.

Avi Gabbay's aim seems to be for the Labor Party pursue these issues differently than the party has in recent years. Of course, counter-voices have arisen against Gabbay, and explicit pressure has come in from the ultra-Orthodox political parties. Just this week, Gabbay met with United Torah Judaism Chairman Health Minister Yaakov Litzman who peppered him with challenges on his positions on religion and state matters.

Hiddush polling consistently shows that the overwhelming majority of Labor / Zionist Union voters support all aspects of religious freedom and equality in Israel. In the upcoming 2017 Israel Religion & State Index, Hiddush will measure whether political support and commitment by the Labor Party for religious freedom and equality will strengthen, weaken, or make no difference in terms of the likely continued support for the party. Stay tuned for this indicator.

As Hiddush has reported in the past [link], Israel's left and center parties have been pursuing a policy of avoiding any confrontation with ultra-Orthodox parties while directing all their fire at the settlers. This is so even as the ultra-Orthodox channel huge sums to seminaries for married men, which encourages them to remain outside the workforce, and to educational institutions in which children don’t learn core subjects such as mathematics and English. This is so even as they say awful things about Reform Movement Jews. This is so even when these parties have the exclusion of women at the center of their worldview.

The policy of disengagement from issues of state and religion, espoused by Labor, Meretz and Yesh Atid, is totally opposed to the position of their voters. Hiddush's Israel Religion & State Index in 2015 showed that 100 percent of Meretz voters, 87 percent of Zionist Union voters and 85 percent of Yesh Atid voters believe that all types of marriage should be recognized, including civil, Reform and Conservative. In addition, 86 percent of Zionist Union voters, 83 percent of Yesh Atid voters and 95 percent of Meretz voters said that they prefer a government without the ultra-Orthodox parties.

Hiddush will be reaching out to Gabbay to further discuss these issues, but it should be pointed out that repeated studies have indicated the correlation between fervent religious views and the political right (most recently in the Pew study of Israel religious views, in which most respondents who defined themselves as religious also supported the statement that Israeli Arabs should be expelled from Israel [link])

In recent years, communications between the Haredi parties and Labor were mostly used in order to jack up the Haredi parties' political demands to Likud, not as a sincere expression of willingness to join with the Left in implementing its peace and territorial policies. Therefore - it is clear to us that a strong and assertive position on the part of Gabbay on issues of religious freedom will not only better meet the preferences of his constituency and that of the majority of the Israeli public, but it would also reflect a mature and long overdue realization on the part of Labor that the Haredi parties of today are not likely to return to the long-gone partnership with the Left.

Hiddush in the Media


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