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Hiddush CEO Rabbi Uri Regev & Chairman Stanley P. Gold

A message from Hiddush

March 23, 2017
25 Adar, 5777

Dear Friends,

The Knesset's winter session concluded this week, and its summer session begins on May 7. Given the rising tension over many issues of religion and state that surfaced during the winter session, the summer session is sure to be smoking hot.

Some of the major issues, such as shabbat, kashrut, the Kotel agreement, and the IDF draft are also bound up in Supreme litigation. Therefore, in addition to the merits of these specific issues, which we’ve covered in the past and will refer to in the future, there is the overriding clash of democracy v. theocratic forces. This results in a growing and imminent threat to the independence of the judiciary. Not only religious freedom is at stake, but the core principles of democracy and the rule of law.

So what does all of this have to do with us who watch these unfolding events from the comfort of our Diaspora Jewish communities?

The answer is very simple: for those who care about Israel for its own sake, who understand the critical importance of Israel for the well-being of the Jewish people wherever they reside, and who see the impact Israeli religious politics have on the domestic affairs of Diaspora Jewish communities, it is clear that our engagement and active advocacy are pivotal to help bring Israel to its founding vision are essential. Those of us who believe in a partnership paradigm for the relationship between Israel and the rest of the Jewish people cannot sit back when our partner turns its back on our basic rights and dignity. We cannot ignore its subjecting our brothers and sisters in Israel to discriminatory religious treatment, which, had it been practiced anywhere else in the world, we would surely protest vehemently for the core rights that should be enjoyed by everyone in all free and democratic regimes.

We are heartened, as we have expressed before, by the steps taken by some of the major Jewish communal organizations, such as the Jewish Federations and the American Jewish Committee to address these inequities. We are further heartened to know that in the diverse mix of those who advocate for freedom of religion and equality in Israel, we can now count a growing number of Modern Orthodox rabbis and intellectuals who realize that their lot lies with their non-Orthodox and secular brothers and sisters.

The overriding conclusion from the developments in this arena over recent years is: either Israel upholds religious freedom for all, or ultimately there will be religious freedom for none, other than for the extremist, fundamentalist, religious and political powers, which hold the whip over Israel's secular politicians.

All the very best,

Stanley P. Gold,
Hiddush Chair

Rabbi Uri Regev,
Hiddush President

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Incitement against non-Orthodox Judaism and the Kotel agreement from within Netanyahu's government continues

The Prime Minister must either stop the incitement against non-Orthodox Judaism from within his own government or sever his political alliance with those who wage war against world Jewry and block Netanyhu's own public commitment to ensure that all Jews feel at home in Israel.

A recent, high level meeting was held on March 12 between PM Netanyahu and the leadership of the American Reform movement, in which the unimplemented Kotel agreement and additional matters of concern were discussed. It was reported that PM Netanyahu said he is committed to finding a solution, and that Minister Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud) has been entrusted to renegotiate and find an acceptable new compromise for the Western Wall.

Whereas the media write-up of the meeting described PM Netanyahu as reaffirming his commitment to Kotel compromise, immediately after the media reports, both the PM's office and Minister Hanegbi denied that such a commitment had been made to implement the original Kotel agreement between Netanyahu’s government, the Reform and Conservative movements, and the Women of the Wall.

In as much as the Kotel controversy attracts understandable attention in Diaspora Jewish communities, the issues facing us in the arena of religion and state are broader, such as the right to family, and they impact many more people. Among other concerns is the fact that Israel-Diaspora relationship is being called into question, and more specifically, Israel's openness to the non-Orthodox Jewish streams, which represents the overwhelming majority of world Jewry. In this regard, the media account of the meeting with the leadership of the Reform movement quoted Netanyahu as stating that he opposes the inciting expressions of ultra-Orthodox government Ministers and MKs against Reform Judaism, and that "in the future, if such pronouncements are made, I will denounce them."

We have had occasion to refer to such hateful expressions by key Israeli political figures, and regretfully expect that we will have reason to do so again in the future.


Theocratic rejection of Israel's civil judiciary

The theocratic forces among Israel's political and religious leadership have been increasingly aggressive of late, pushing to expand the jurisdiction of Israel's rabbinical courts, at the expanse of Israel's civil courts. A key element of this theocratic outlook is the rejection of the legitimacy of Israel’s laws and civil judiciary.

Only last month did Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef announce at a national rabbinic gathering that rabbis in Israel should warn the public that in civil disputes they ought to turn to rabbinic courts rather than to the state civil courts.

Many ultra-Orthodox rabbis have explicitly prohibited bringing legal disputes before arkaot (as gentile and Israeli civil courts are described in Haredi rabbinic literature). This is based upon their treating Israeli laws as “gentile laws” and worse. This is what the leader of the Ashkenazi Haredi community in the early years of the state, the Chazon Ish, held; similarly, former chief rabbi of Israel and current Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Shlomo Amar wrote that coming to judgment before Israel's civil courts is prohibited and constitutes a desecration of the Divine Name.

Among the political initiatives to undermine the foundations of Israel's democracy and religious freedom, the Religious Services Ministry is in the process of establishing an international database of Jewish marriage and divorce, reflecting the rigidity of the present day State Rabbinate with the advances of technology. Whereas the religious texts of the past indicate that one could move to another community and reestablish one’s Jewish status legitimacy, this is an attempt to muster the purity of the Jewish people as a whole, creating a Mark of Cain that will never be cleansed from any individual’s database profile. Instead of the assumption that “all families are presumed to be kosher,” the new presumption will be that nobody who hasn’t been cleared by this database will be able to marry in the Jewish community, if the Rabbinate has anything to do with it. One can easily visualize the hardships this will present for members of the Jewish community in the Diaspora who seek to make Israel their home; similarly one may expect that fundamentalist Orthodox rabbis in the Diaspora will turn to this central database before authorizing marriages even within the Diaspora.

An indication of the Rabbinate’s attempt to exert its authority over all Jews in the world is its claim to have jurisdiction over Jews who merely visit Israel as tourists, holding them hostage by force of Israeli law until they consent to the rabbinical courts’ orders regarding divorce. Just this month, the Tel Aviv Regional Rabbinical Court sentenced a Jewish-American tycoon to 30 days in prison for being the influence behind his son’s refusal to grant his wife a Jewish writ of divorce. The court’s decision marks the first time a person has been arrested for someone else’s refusal to issue a get, or Jewish divorce. Even if we assume that the purpose is a noble one, namely: gaining wives freedom from recalcitrant husbands, the idea of Israeli rabbinic courts imprisoning and detaining Jews from around the world who are neither citizens nor residents of Israel, but only happen to visit the country, is highly troubling.


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