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Hiddush CEO Rabbi Uri Regev & Chairman Stanley P. Gold

A message from Hiddush

Oct. 19, 2017
29 Tishrei, 5778

Dear Friends,

The Knesset is resuming its work after the lengthy summer recess, and it will undoubtedly provide many reasons for Diaspora Jewish leadership as well as Israeli public to refocus on religion-state conflicts. On the right, you can get a flavor of what's in store with regard to the pending Nation-state bill and related legislation. A lot more is in store and will be addressed and analyzed in the months to come.

These pending legislative initiatives are part of an avalanche of legislation, which is intended to undermine the rule of law and erode the independence of the civil judiciary, replacing it with political strong-arming. Two additional pieces of private legislation by key governmental figures are going to be discussed on Sunday in the weekly meeting of the Ministerial Legislative Committee, aiming at blocking the Supreme Court's authority to declare laws as unconstitutional. The Coalition has already proven that it lacks restraint and has verbally assaulted the Supreme Court, which they perceive as blocking their way, invoking constitutional principles. At this point, they are translate these assaults into a full-fledged legal castration.

Also on the right we urge you to read two recent articles, which demonstrate how the clash of religion-state in Israel doesn't stay within Israel's borders, but adversely impacts on Diaspora Jewry as well. The harsh rhetoric and assault on Modern Orthodoxy, which one sees coming out of the Chief Rabbinate in Israel, which refuses to recognize, for instance, Modern Orthodox conversions, performed within Israel or outside, is now finding its way to the likes of philanthropist Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz, who is echoing this anti-Modern Orthodox sentiment in America and describes liberal Orthodoxy as a major threat to Judaism.

Similarly, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, Past President of the Union for Reform Judaism, points to the fact that the issue we have repeatedly covered in these newsletters (namely - the threat to economic viability and the adverse impact on Haredi families having to rely on public coffers) is now proliferating to the USA and the reluctance to engage in gainful earnings is proving to be contagious.

Lovers of Zion who are genuinely committed to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state should beware of those trends. They often overlap with theocratic pressures that are in full bloom in the current political climate. This is a time of urgency to recognize these dangerous trends and see the importance of working and supporting the forces, which aim at preserving Israel's soul and upholding the will of its population, rather than its politicians.


Stanley P. Gold,
Hiddush Chair

Rabbi Uri Regev,
Hiddush President

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The religion-state aspects of
Israel's Nation-state bill

Next week the Knesset Special Committee on the Nation-State Bill (formally, 'Basic Law: Israel - The Nation-State of the Jewish People') will be deliberating on the revised draft bill, which was initiated by fourteen MKs from the Likud, Jewish Home, Yisrael Beiteinu, and Kulanu parties.

The committee will be finalizing the language of the bill for its first reading after it has been already approved by the Knesset in its preliminary form. This highly controversial bill has been the topic of domestic and international debate since prior to the 2015 elections and in recent months. It is being bulldozed forward by Israel’s current governmental leadership from PM Netanyahu on down.

The debate over the bill covers many of its diverse aspects, many of which are not within Hiddush's purview (namely: they go beyond matters of religious freedom and equality). The bill also addresses religion-state issues, making it desirable for Hiddush to shed further light on their meaning, significance, and whether they should be supported, as well underscoring a key building block that the bill's proponents have chosen not to include.

To remove any doubt/misunderstanding as to where Hiddush stands, we would like to underscore the fact that Hiddush's starting point in relating to the State of Israel is its unique character as a Jewish and democratic state, which we wholeheartedly embrace.

Given the highly controversial nature of the proposal, the question is: why go through it, and why now? Looking at the proposers’ rationale, it is clear that they base the necessity for this basic law upon external challenges (Palestinian and other international voices) to the right of the Jewish People to a national homeland and recognition of the State of Israel as a Jewish State. While this argument is widely and frequently repeated, it does not seem to carry much logic, since we are dealing with domestic legislation, which will not carry any weight with those who challenge Israel’s identity as a Jewish state; and for those within Israel who view it as such, it does not seem to add anything of substance.

Notably, the proposed bill in its current state expresses commitment to the "spirit of the principles in the Declaration of the Founding of the State of Israel." What remains to be examined, though, is whether the specific provisions are in keeping with this part of the bill's stated purpose.


Religious extremism emanating from Israel

Not content to exert their influence within the Haredi community, fundamentalist religious leaders and their sponsors have taken to attacking the Modern Orthodoxy community, which extols the virtues of Torah together with modernity and secular education.

The trend is clear.

As Rabbi Eric Yoffie writes in a recent article [link], "In a report issued last month, Young Advocates for Fair Education (YAFFED)... demonstrated that the virus of radical separatism and fear of modernity, so prevalent in Israel, has also infected the Haredi community in New York City.

According to the report, many of the 57,000 students – and nearly all of the boys – in New York’s Hasidic yeshivas will graduate from high school completely unprepared to support themselves.

Since the boys’ education will mainly consist of Yiddish language religious studies, most will speak little English and have no math skills or knowledge of history or science. The result will be that they will possess few if any marketable skills and will depend heavily on various forms of public assistance. The report noted that this assistance has increased dramatically in the last decade, and 43% of Hasidic families are poor."

"Extremism in the cauldron of the Israeli Haredi world foments extremism elsewhere," writes Rabbi Yoffie, [and] "as secular education in the yeshivas has deteriorated, the New York State and City education departments have looked the other way, despite laws mandating adequate education for all children in the New York City system... Children must be given an adequate education so that they will have the tools that they need to make a living."

As Rabbi Yoffie points out, "According to the Pew Research Center survey of U.S. Jewry, more than 60% of American Orthodox Jews now identify as Haredi" and are therefore potentially subject to this extremist influence emanating from Israel, where the state budget for yeshivas and yeshiva students has now hit an all-time, historic high [link]. This spreading of fundamentalism throughout Jewish communities across the globe is threatening in its own right.

However, the problem is much more profound than that.

Not content to exert their influence within the Haredi community, fundamentalist religious leaders and their sponsors have taken to attacking the Modern Orthodoxy community, which extols the virtues of Torah together with modernity and secular education.

Just last week, Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz, a leading Haredi donor from Los Angeles spoke at the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem, claiming that liberal Orthodoxy is the greatest threat to Judaism [link].

As Hiddush has noted many times, the battle for religious freedom in Israel is not between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews. Rather, it is between lovers of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and religious extremists who aim to turn Israel into a theocratic Torah state. The same rabbinic and political leaders who publicly assail Diaspora Jewry and non-Orthodox Judaism do not hesitate to turn their fire on Modern Orthodox Jews, full throttle. It is nothing less than a travesty that these hateful forces hold such sway over Israel’s very own government.



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