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Hiddush CEO Rabbi Uri Regev & Chairman Stanley P. Gold

A message from Hiddush

Dec. 14, 2017
26 Kislev, 5778

Dear Friends,

While Hanukah symbolizes the struggle for religious freedom for Jews from external persecution, today's struggle is for religious freedom from other Jews, a fundamentalist religious minority who abuse the democratic process to impose their will on The Israeli public. The vote in the Knesset this week about the "convenience store law" is but the latest example of this phenomenon. Legislation extorted by the ultra-Orthodox parties was intended to allow Shas leader Rabbi Deri to force local authorities to close small businesses on Shabbat in local municipalities. This contradicts both the Supreme Court ruling and the clear desire of the majority of the public. But these are of no interest to the government: Not the principles of democracy and freedom of religion, nor the will of the public. The only thing that matters are the dictates of the ultra-Orthodox parties, which threaten to overthrow the government. Contrary to the presumptuous claims of Israel's political leadership that it faithfully represents the will of the people, whereas the Supreme Court is detached from them, the public believes the exact opposite. The public's trust lies with the Supreme Court.

For our readers in the Diaspora, it's interesting to consider this in context of the Israeli Consul General's reaction to the important event of last week's public weddings at Emanu-El Synagogue (with 1,500 people in attendance) in cooperation with Reform and Conservative rabbis and communities, and IRAC. Uri Regev spoke at the event, describing how Israeli couples are forced to travel abroad to realize the basic human right of establishing a family. As noted above, the Israeli consul's typical and arrogant reaction is interesting: "the best friends of Dani Dayan and his supporters are Reform and Conservative rabbis, including the heads of the two non-Orthodox streams." Just months ago, Dayan said: "American Jewry needs help in strengthening the preservation of Jewish identity and preventing assimilation."

The NYT reports that Dayan wrote: "it is no secret many members of the American Jewish community disagree with existing Israeli legislation on civil status issues. Israelis pay serious attention to the positions of our brethren across the Atlantic, and ultimately the Israeli Knesset — elected democratically by the Israeli citizens — legislates. I wish a heartfelt Mazel Tov to the couples married today in New York."

The deception in Dayan's response is threefold: 1. Not only does the American Jewish community disagree with Israel's policies on freedom of religion and equality, but so too does the majority of the Israeli public, including voters for the civil parties in the government coalition. 2. It is not clear whom he is referring to when he says that Israelis are paying close attention to the positions of American Jewry. Indeed, Israelis want to see the leadership of the American Jewish community more involved in the struggle to realize religious freedom in Israel. 3. Dayan emphasizes that no matter what the public thinks and what American Jewry thinks, the bottom line is what the Knesset legislates. He manipulates the words "democratically elected by the Israeli public" in order to create the impression that Knesset votes reflect the will of the citizenry. He knows very well that the truth is the opposite.

Past experience shows that there is a point where political blackmail and corruption tend to boomerang. The public in Israel and in the Diaspora must prepare for this so that when it comes, they can truly realize their hopes.


Stanley P. Gold,
Hiddush Chair

Rabbi Uri Regev,
Hiddush President


Dear Friends,

As we celebrate Hannukah, the festival celebrating religious freedom, let us remember that of all places in the world - the battle for religious freedom and equality for Jews in Israel is not yet over!

Make your end-of-year contribution to Hiddush, to participate in this critical battle, and help us fight for these core values in the coming year.

donate to Hiddush

2017 Israel Democracy Index
Some Highlights

This week, the annual Israel Democracy Index was published by the Israel Democracy Institute, underlining that Israelis harbor deep distrust for their politicians, the media, and the Chief Rabbinate but are generally favorably inclined toward the courts and presidency.

Click HERE for larger graph,
from the Democracy Index

The Democracy Index is an important document in a variety of aspects related to the state of democracy in Israel; and it sheds further light on the connection between the relationship between the values ​​of democracy and the religious identities of the various sectors of Jewish society in Israel. Hiddush's own activities and public opinion research focus on these matters. Following are some examples from the 2017 Democracy Index to which we attach importance and far-reaching implications for Israel's future and its connection to Diaspora Jewry. They include the ongoing struggle over Israel's basic identity as a Jewish and democratic state, and the growing pressure of ultra-Orthodox politicians to strengthen the "Jewish" component of Israel's identity, according to their specific interpretation, at the expense of the democratic component:

1. The Democracy Index asks: "Israel is defined as a Jewish and democratic state. Do you think there is or is not a proper balance between the Jewish component and the democratic component?" While 56% of the ultra-Orthodox reply that the democratic component is too strong in their opinion, and so too do 44% of the Zionist Orthodox, 61% of secular Jewish Israelis believe the Jewish component is too strong!

In response to the supplementary question: "What component would you like to be stronger in Israel?" 79% of the ultra-Orthodox (but only 43% of the Zionist Orthodox) responded that they would like the Jewish component to be stronger, while 54% of the secular would want the democratic component to be stronger.

It is interesting to see the answer to the alternative: "We want the two components to be equally strong." Only 18% of the ultra-Orthodox support this, but 48.5% of the Zionist Orthodox public, 55% of the traditional public and even 39% of the secular public selected this response!

2. The index posed a blunt question for the sake of clarifying public opinion: Whether we agree or disagree with the statement that "The religious Jews are gradually taking over the state." Among the Jewish public, 53% agree with this description, but the distribution of opinions reveals a clearer and more troubling picture. While 79% of the secular Jewish public agrees with this statement, Only 15% of the ultra-Orthodox and 16% of the Zionist Orthodox agree. In response to this question, we can also see the complexity of the traditional Jewish sector's attitudes: 33% of the traditional-religious respondents agree, as do 50% of the traditional non-religious.

3. We have dealt quite a bit with the pretentious claims made by a number of senior politicians in the Government Coalition and the religious establishment that the Supreme Court is disconnected from the public and that its steps should be curtailed, especially when it criticizes the activities of the government and the Knesset. Hiddush's own survey showed that the truth is the opposite, and the Democracy Index confirms and even adds to our findings:


63% Israelis unaware:
Jews can only divorce via Rabbinate

More than 700,000 Israeli citizens can not marry at all in Israel, but only 11% of the citizenry are aware of this. Sixty-three percent of the public is not aware that even couples who get married civilly abroad are required to get divorced via the Israeli Chief Rabbinate.

Hiddush's regular, periodic public opinion polling indicates that a great majority of the public opposes the Government's and Knesset's policies that prevent freedom of choice in marriage and divorce. This is contrary to one of the most fundamental rights set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted on December 10, 1948. Hiddush makes note of this today - in honor of International Human Rights Day. [Article 16 Human Rights: Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.]

Hiddush - Freedom of Religion for Israel commissioned a special survey in which it sought to ascertain the public's awareness of the seriousness of the problem created by this human rights violation. The survey was conducted by the Smith Polling Institute among 500 people as a representative sample of Israel's adult Jewish population on December 6-7, 2017.

63% of the Jewish public is not aware that even civil marriage abroad does not "solve the problem," and that if a marriage turns sour - the authority to dissolve the marriage can be granted only by Israel's rabbinical courts. 25% thought that civil divorce should be legally permitted in Israel, 19% believed that civil divorces conducted abroad should be legally recognized, and 19% thought that all divorce options should be legally available to married couples. It is notable that only 27% of young people (up to age 29), who are the most relevant group for making decisions about marriage, are aware of this fact. 30% believe that they can get divorced in civil ceremonies in Israel, and 25% believe they can get divorced civilly in Israel. Not surprisingly, the rabbinical courts' main victims - women - are more aware of this (44%) than men (30%).

Ignorance among the public works in various ways to perpetuate rabbinic control.



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