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Sunday 27 May 2007

Weekly update 05/05/07

Dear Members,

Chag Sameach we hope you have had a good Shavuot. We have some topical
articles on conversion, topical not only because they were in the news
this week but also because of the festival of Shavuot and the story of
Ruth, one of Judaisms early converts. We also have an article by Rabbi
David Hartman an Orthodox Rabbi who gives an interesting perspective on
some of the issues regarding Judaism, Israel and Zionism.

Over the last two weekends Pro-Zion members have participated in a
series of international conference calls in the build up to the Vaad
Hapoel meetings of the World Zionist Organisation. The conference call
was organised by Arzenu, our international progressive zionist partners
and included participants from Israel, the USA, Argentina, Australia and
South Africa. The topic, "the renewal and restructure of the World
Zionist organisation" brought up many points of view. We look forward to
filling you in on the eventual outcomes.

We have one event to publicise this week:
Harrow & Wembley Progressive Synagogue are hosting Naomi Benari on
Tuesday 3rd July. She will be speaking on Israel and the Media and it
will include a discussion.
please keep us updated on any events in your community

Chag Sameach
Daniel and all at Pro Zion

Ruth would still be a Moabite

*Ruth would still be a Moabite*

By Avirama Golan <>

One of the nicest parts of the Shavuot holiday is the reading of the
Book of Ruth. Naomi, the bereaved widow who returns to her homeland with
nothing, is traditionally viewed as the first person to convert someone
to Judaism, the one who shaped the conversion process. "Your people will
be my people and your God, my God," her daughter-in-law Ruth told her,
in that order. In other words, joining the nation, the society and the
community is the first stage of conversion, and only afterward does
"God" come into the picture - not necessarily in the form of religious
belief, but in spiritual, cultural and philosophical values.

But if Ruth were to decide today to link her life with Israel and the
Jewish people, her chances would be negligible. The Orthodox
establishment - which is cut off from the majority of the Jewish people
in the Diaspora, with its various denominations, as well as from many
Israelis - has over the last few years fortified the walls that prevent
hundreds of thousands of people from joining the State of Israel and its
society as citizens with equal rights. Full citizenship in Israel is
possible only for those who convert.

The conversion administration that Ariel Sharon established as prime
minister, in an effort to shorten the conversion process and resolve the
demographic problem that so concerned him, not only did not stand up to
the challenge, but actually did more harm than good. Political and
personal power struggles among rabbis, along with ultra-Orthodox
pressure, led to new restrictions - particularly Sephardi Chief Rabbi
Shlomo Amar's decision to grant conversion courts the authority to
invalidate previous conversions, notwithstanding a government decision
to the contrary.
Neither efforts by Interior ministers nor a High Court of Justice ruling
on the subject - which stated that those who attend Israeli conversion
institutes and then convert in non-Orthodox ceremonies abroad must be
allowed to immigrate under the Law of Return - have managed to overcome
the opacity and the political-religious belligerence.

The result is personal tragedies, each of which sounds more farfetched
than the other. About a week ago, rabbinic pleader Rivka Lubitsch, of
the Center for Women's Justice, wrote a letter to the committee that
appoints rabbinic judges, in which she related the story of a woman who
converted in an Israeli rabbinical court 15 years ago, but was told when
she wanted to get a divorce that her conversion was invalid, rendering
her marriage invalid and her children non-Jewish. All this was because
Rabbi Haim Druckman headed the rabbinical court that converted her, and
the ultra-Orthodox judges on the divorce panel do not view him as having
sufficient authority.

Another woman moved to Israel 15 years ago for work reasons after having
converted abroad, deciding to leave her country and family in order to
build a home in Israel. A few years ago, she met an Israeli man and they
wanted to get married. She was not asking for any benefits, just for her
children to be born Jewish and registered as Jewish on their birth
certificates. Since her conversion was not recognized in Israel, she
went to the special conversion court and prepared to undergo a second
conversion. Following various inquiries, she was converted in a festive
ceremony and got married in an Orthodox wedding a few weeks later. Four
years have passed since then, and the woman has yet to receive a
conversion certificate, because the current conversion administration
does not recognize the conversions carried out then.

Now she is being offered yet another conversion, which would also
require the two daughters she has had since to undergo conversion when
they come of age. Both were born and raised here, have Hebrew names and
know no other identity, homeland or religion but being Jewish and Israeli.

The rabbis are trying to convince the public, most of which is
indifferent to such issues, that it is necessary to be stricter with
converts so that they will not "deceive the state," as conversion
administration founder Rabbi Israel Rosen has said, and so that they
will not turn conversion into a tool for acquiring citizenship (is that
not the story of Ruth, who converted in order to join Naomi and her

But it is the rabbis themselves who are using official excuses as a tool
to establish a religious monopoly.

The only bright spot is that over the last few years, hundreds of
thousands of people have taken on Israeliness while circumventing the
rabbis and those who would examine them. They have a civil marriage,
forgo conversion and do not get up in arms over a burial outside the
fence designating the Jewish section.

Thus, unintentionally and after the fact, Israel will say "your people
are my people" even to those whom the rabbis attempted to stop at the door

The Real Threat to Judaism's renewal

*The real threat to Judaism's renewal*

*By David Hartman*

In contrast to the pessimistic predictions about the future of Judaism
in the modern and "post-modern" State of Israel, I firmly believe that
Israel is the most seminal place for a possible revival and renewal of
Judaism - a renewal that can have a profound effect on Jewish life and
identity throughout the world. Israel has a unique ability to produce
new Jewish human types, whose lives will bear witness to the possibility
of living a meaningful Jewish life in the modern world. By so doing,
these people will provide a compelling response to the Diaspora concern
with "Why be Jewish?" - a question that haunts many Jewish parents
outside of Israel. Nonetheless - and perhaps this will seem
counter-intuitive to some - the behavior and public pronouncements of
the Chief Rabbinate and of the Israeli religious establishment in
general constitute a major threat both to Jewish solidarity and to the
possibility of a renewal of the Jewish tradition as I understand it.

No matter how far ordinary Israelis appear to drift from Jewish
tradition, they nonetheless seem to remain deeply rooted in Judaism.
Almost all Jewish Israelis give their sons a brit; the Israeli calendar
revolves around the Jewish festivals; the Passover seder is an
organizing framework for the majority of Jewish families; and on Yom
Kippur the synagogues are filled, with virtually no cars moving on the
streets of Jerusalem. None of this is a result of Knesset legislation,
but rather of a people's free and autonomous choice not to be alienated
from its tradition.

Israelis have a strong sense of their being part of a familial cultural
framework, one that existed throughout Jewish history. Israel was
created by a bold and revolutionary group of people, who sought to
introduce the Jewish nation into the modern world through establishing
an independent, secular, Jewish sovereignty; the Zionist pioneers
negated the need for messianic redemption as a necessary condition to
end Jewish exile. Yet while they rejected much of Jewish tradition, they
nevertheless forged a significant connection with that past. Although
the establishment of the state and the intended creation of a "new Jew"
were predicated on a rejection of tradition, this rejection was
ideologically anchored in the Land of Israel - a powerful and evocative
reality that has always provided Jews with a link to their collective past.

*Pulled to the new, bound to the past *

The irony of the Zionist revolution in Jewish history is that the
Zionists' break with the past was influenced by, and indebted to, that
very same past. This reminds me of the image of the impassioned teenager
who casts off the yoke of parental authority by slamming shut the front
door without actually leaving his parents' home. It is no wonder that
Israeli Jews live in a country where they are both pulled toward the
new, and bound to the past. Had our break with the past taken place in
Uganda, we would not be a society characterized by two antithetical
movements: radical innovation and conservative traditionalism.

The reader by now must be feeling somewhat skeptical about my charitable
explanation of the Israeli experience; he or she must be wondering what
universe the author actually lives in. Where are the signs of this
purported renewal of the Jewish tradition? Where are the effects of the
seminal dynamic of past and future? Where are the new Jewish types?

I am fully aware that Judaism in Israel looks more like a regression - a
return to a medieval ghetto - than an exciting cultural and spiritual
experiment. Instead of integrating the values of autonomy,
individualism, freedom of conscience and feminism, the official
religious establishment regards them values as a threat to Judaism. They
dismissively associate modernity with promiscuity, the breakdown of the
family, and the loss of true moral values. In many ways, the rabbinate's
worldview and universe of discourse bear similarity to some of the most
reactionary religious camps in Christianity and Islam.

A recent example of the dogmatic refusal of the religious establishment
to confront modern challenges and values is the way in which the planned
conference on agunot (women who cannot remarry halakhically because
their husbands are missing or refuse to grant them a divorce) was
aborted. Like many other committed Jews, I was initially pleased to hear
that the Chief Rabbinate was organizing a conference on the issue of
agunot. Although I did not expect the rabbinate to offer a halakhic
solution to the problem, I was encouraged by its apparent willingness to
acknowledge that the suffering that women were enduring because of men's
control over their freedom was a serious problem.

But then, at the last minute, Rabbi Yosef Sholom Elyashiv, the spiritual
leader of Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox Jewry, called upon the Sephardic
chief rabbi to cancel the event. The latter dutifully capitulated and
the conference was canceled. This callous decision to tolerate the
unjustified and unnecessary human suffering caused by agunah
legislation, rather than expose one's tradition and its authorities to
criticism, reflects the profound gap that separates the official
religious establishment from a large part of the Jewish people.

*Crushing mindset *

In light of this cultural and moral disparity, we must ask ourselves
what our justification is for giving control of religious life in Israel
to such insular, dogmatic people who have no appreciation for the
radical new spirit that created this country. The religious
establishment is dominated by a mindset that crushes the potential
renewal of a moral and spiritual Jewish identity that could effect a
global revitalization of Judaism.

The hegemony the Rabbinate exercises in this country alienates some Jews
from Judaism, while it encourages others to search for alternate ways of
understanding Jewish tradition. Instead of inviting Reform and
Conservative rabbis to a discussion, even for the purpose of convincing
them that their approaches are mistaken, the ultra- Orthodox
establishment has demonized them, blaming them for Jewish alienation and
assimilation in the Diaspora. Aside from the ignorance this reveals
about the social and cultural conditions of modern, multicultural
Western societies, the ease with which the ultra-Orthodox leadership
delegitimizes other Jews and approaches to Jewish life reveals how
utterly removed its members are from modern history, in general, and
modern Jewish history, in particular.

The Law of Return invites Jews from around the world to come to Israel
and participate in securing the future of the Jewish people. But I doubt
whether Jews can understand, let alone accept, this invitation, if they
are told they cannot bring their religious convictions with them.
Israeli soldiers have confided in me about the deep pain and humiliation
they feel knowing that despite their willingness to give their lives for
the security of the State of Israel, religious authorities (and
devotees) have no qualms about denying them a dignified burial because
their Jewish origins cannot be fully demonstrated.

Similarly, the issue of conversion, if not handled humanely, can create
a major upheaval in the State of Israel. There are at least 300,000
Russian immigrants who came to Israel under the Law of Return but whom
the Rabbinate does not consider Jewish. This situation demands that the
Rabbinate reach out to them in order to facilitate their beginning the
process of conversion. Yet, as in the other cases discussed previously,
the religious establishment's actions and words indicate that they are
more concerned with safeguarding halakhic authority than with welcoming
Jews to embark on a spiritual process.

The rebirth of the State of Israel after the tragic horror of the
Holocaust represents the aspiration of our people to remain in history.
The commitment to Jewish continuity and the willingness to make an
ultimate sacrifice for the Jewish State must be given halakhic weight in
the conversion process. A religious Jew who understands the meaning of
love of God knows that ultimately halakha was meant to serve and inspire
Jews in their yearning for God. We must not let it become a barrier to
participating in and appreciating the joys of living as a Jew. And we
must not let a rigid and limited religious establishment prevent Israel
from becoming a witness to the moral and spiritual power of Judaism.

Rabbi David Hartman is director of the Shalom Hartman Institute, Jerusalem.

You're not Jewish anymore

*You're not Jewish anymore *

*Rabbinical judge rules that woman who converted to Judaism 15 years ago
is no longer Jewish because she failed to observe mitzvot; her children
also declared non-Jews *

Rivkah Lubitch

A rabbinical judge ruled recently that a woman who converted to Judaism
15 years ago was no longer Jewish, and that her children, who were born
after she had already converted, were also not Jewish.

Moreover, the judge stated that the woman's marriage was invalid, and
that there was therefore no need to grant her a divorce.

The judge ordered that the woman, her children and even her husband, a
Jew by birth, be added to the list of those not allowed to marry by an
Orthodox rabbi.

Rachel (not her real name) converted 15 years ago in a special
conversion court headed by Rabbi Haim Druckman. Following the conversion
she married Boaz (not his real name), and they have lived in Israel ever
since. Their two children were brought up Jewish and Israeli.

Recently, the couple decided to get a divorce. They separated on good
terms, reached a dignified divorce settlement and held a respectable
divorce ceremony at the rabbinical court.

However, during the divorce process, one of the rabbinical judges
decided to inquire a little further about Rachel's conversion, and asked
her about her mitzvot observance. Displeased with the answer he
received, the judge ruled that Rachel's conversion was null, and that
subsequently her children were not Jewish too.

*All conversions invalid *

Did the judge forget the Halacha ruling that states that a convert is a
Jew in the full sense of the word? Where is the "love for the foreigner"
Judaism prides itself in? Where is the compassion and morality?

The judge in fact ruled that all conversions signed by the special
conversion court were invalid, because the court was headed by
"heretics" and "criminals". This ruling implies that the thousands of
conversions conducted by such courts were unacceptable.

Rachel and Boaz decided to fight the ruling, for their sake and the sake
of their children, but their personal battle also represents tens of
thousands of people, who according to the new rules will discover that
they are no longer considered Jews and are therefore unable to wed by an
Orthodox rabbi or be buried in a Jewish cemetery.

Rivkah Lubitch is head of the Center for Women's Justice <l%20> Haifa
office. She is a rabbinical pleader with six years experience and has an
MA in the history of the Jewish people

Weekly update 18/05/07 Jerusalem Day

Dear Members,

Wishing you a belated happy Yom Yerushaliyim from Pro Zion.
This year is the 40th anniversary of the 6 day war and the reunification
of Jerusalem.
We attach details of a series of lectures organised by Liberal Judaism
on the six day war and related areas presented from a variety of viewpoints.
A couple of other resources members may be interested in.
First of all
Has a recording of the historic broadcasts from voice of Israel radio in
1967 along with some translations.
And the website
Has a range of resources and articles relating to the six day war and

We also attach two other articles the first on the fight with Egged to
stop separate women's seats on the backs of buses, the second is on the
battle to accept proselytes.

Shabbat Shalom
Pro Zion

Chief rabbi, Jewish Agency head differ on conversion issue

Chief rabbi, Jewish Agency head differ on conversion issue

Gentile immigrants have grown accustomed to living as Israelis, but not
as Jews, so they have no interest in converting, Chief Sephardi Rabbi
Shlomo Amar said Thursday.

In a statement, Amar rejected Jewish Agency claims that overly stringent
conversion court judges are scaring away potential converts.

"Every single individual interested in converting is given the best
possible treatment," Amar said. "However, in reality, there are not that
many gentiles asking to convert because they are used to living like
Israelis, not necessarily like Jews."

However, Jewish Agency Chairman Ze'ev Bielski blames rabbinic judges
responsible for conversions.

"We cannot tolerate a situation in which there are so many immigrants
who want to convert, who want to become a part of the Jewish people and
don't, because rabbis reject them," said Bielski. "And this rejection
creates a snowball effect in which thousands more don't even bother
trying to convert after hearing the horror stories."

Four years after the establishment of the Conversion Authority, there
has been no significant rise in the number of conversions performed on
gentile immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

In 2006, the authority signed 1,020 conversion certificates, compared to
1,165 in 2005.

In 2001 and 2002, just before the authority's creation, 954 and 890
certificates were signed, respectively. Converts receive a conversion
certificate (/te'udat hamarah/) after completing the process.

In addition, another 2,000 non-Jewish soldiers have converted within the
army's NATIV framework since 2003, according to the IDF Spokesman's
Office. NATIV encourages non-Jewish soldiers to learn about Jewish
history, culture and literature, and offers them the option of converting.

The total number of conversions via NATIV and the Conversion Authority
is much lower than what was hoped for originally.

The rabbinic establishment says this is because non-Jewish immigrants
see no need to convert since they do not identify as Jews religiously,
instead seeing themselves as secular Israelis.

But Bielski and former finance Ya'acov Neeman, who headed a committee in
the late '90s that led to the creation of an organized conversion
apparatus, are calling for the appointment of 40 to 50 new, more lenient
rabbis to increase the number of conversions.

The Conversion Authority, which has a budget of NIS 7.3 million for
2007, was created in 2003 in response to complaints that the Rabbinic
Court Administration, which used to be responsible for conversions, was
too strict. The authority is headed by Rabbi Haim Druckman, who is
considered to have a more open liberal approach to conversions. However,
Druckman has failed to convince the judges to be more flexible, said a
source close to Druckman.

Amar, who has the final say on halacha in the authority, has refrained
from calling for leniencies. In fact, Amar is trying to get several
haredi rabbis connected with Rabbi Nissim Karelitz and Rabbi Yosef
Shalom Elyashiv appointed as conversion judges.

Many judges and rabbis backed up Amar's claim that FSU immigrants are
not interested in converting. Conversion court sources say they end up
converting 85 percent of the candidates.

"But most people never reach the conversion court," said Rabbi _Israel_
<> Rosen, a veteran conversion court judge.

"The problem is not with the judges. We need to increase awareness among
non-Jewish immigrants," he said.

The issue has come to the forefront ahead of a meeting of the Jewish
Agency's Unity of the Jewish People Committee scheduled for late June.

Bielski and others in the Jewish Agency are concerned about
intermarriage between Jews and non Jews in _Israel_
<>. There are about 275,000 FSU immigrants
who came to Israel under the Law of Return who are not Jews according to
Orthodox criteria. Many of these immigrants end up meeting Jewish
Israelis of the opposite sex.

The Law of Return grants automatic _citizenship_
<> to gentiles who have close relatives
(father, spouse, grandparent) who are Jewish

Israeli Women Fight Back of Bus Status

*Israeli Women Fight Back-Of-Bus Status*

/Run Date: 05/13/07/

/By Brenda Gazzar
WeNews correspondent/

/Five women in Israel are going to court to protest the way
sex-segregated public buses are run in Israel. The arrangement serves
the beliefs of ultra-Orthodox passengers but the women say it
discriminates against other riders./

Men in front, women in back on a Mehadrin bus.JERUSALEM, Israel
(WOMENSENEWS)--Naomi Regan says she wasn't trying to start a revolution
when she refused more than two years ago to give up her seat in the
front of a public bus to a man who insisted she move to the back.

The New York-born writer unknowingly boarded a sex-segregated bus line
that caters to ultra-Orthodox riders. On these special lines women sit
in the back, are expected to wear modest clothing and usually enter
through the rear doors. Regan says that after she chose a seat in the
front, a large Haredi gentleman leaned over her "in a threatening
manner," told her to "get up and get back to the back of the bus," then
cursed at her and yelled "at the top of his lungs" when she refused to

Regan stayed put, she said, but endured a "constant barrage of verbal
insults and physical intimidation" during her bus ride home.

Many in the ultra-Orthodox community prefer to sit in these special
buses when available to avoid being in close proximity or contact with
members of the opposite sex in accordance with religious custom.

"It has nothing to do with Judaism. It is a desecration of God's name,"
argues Regan, 57, who lives in Israel and describes herself as a modern
Orthodox Jew. "If we don't draw the line in the sand somewhere, we are
all going to end up in veils."

Regan and four other women joined the Jerusalem-based Israel Religious
Action Center in January to petition the country's Supreme Court to
compel Israel's Transportation Ministry to exercise its authority over
the Egged and Dan bus companies' segregated lines, called "mehadrin" lines.

The petition asks to stop the operation of such lines until an extensive
survey is carried out by the ministry to gauge demand, after which the
operation of segregated bus lines would be approved only if a regular
line is available for passengers at the same frequency and price.

The petition also asks that the mehadrin buses be clearly marked and
that the government regulate the issue and supervise the bus lines to
ensure passenger safety.

Defending the Bus Lines

Shira Schmidt, an Orthodox woman, translator and journalist who has
written editorials in defense of mehadrin buses, says it is reasonable
to ask these bus companies--which are government subsidized--to
supervise, regulate and clearly mark these buses. However, it is
unreasonable to ask the companies to run a regular bus for every
mehadrin route when there is little demand.

"Keep in mind that the vast, vast majority--probably 98 percent that
Egged runs--are mixed," says Schmidt, who lives in a Haredi neighborhood
and prefers to ride in sex-segregated buses when available. "And
religious people have been riding these buses and putting up with it for
years and years, as dress of people is getting more and more problematic
. . . more exposed. . . There is raunchy music and ads that are not
appropriate in the public sphere and dress that is not appropriate. The
religious public has been tolerant and is still tolerant. They ride the
mixed buses and they don't have a real alternative."

Schmidt says she has ridden with a private transportation company that
caters to the ultra-Orthodox hundreds of times and "there's never been a
problem" because passengers are able to arrange things on their own and
without incident. If a woman wants to sit in front because she is not
feeling well, people understand, she said.

The mehadrin lines started in 1997 as a trial project with a few lines
in Jerusalem and Bnei Barak, but have expanded to include more than 30
inter-city and city lines around the country that now serve both very
religious and secular passengers. The petitioners consider the current
system to be discriminatory and against the law.

Voluntary Arrangement

Transportation officials and the bus companies claim that the segregated
lines are a voluntary arrangement and that women can choose their own seats.

They also say that grievances should be dealt with on an individual
basis, by submitting complaints to the Transportation Ministry.

In a written statement, Egged noted that the special bus lines are
coordinated by the government to encourage public transit use in the
Haredi sector without creating an atmosphere of compulsion on buses.

"Drivers of the designated lines received appropriate guidance in
serving the Haredi sector," Egged's statement said, "and in addition,
they were instructed not to interfere in passengers' seating order and
to allow the users of the public transportation to manage among themselves."

Egged condemns and does not accept any violent action, whether verbal or
physical, the statement said. Further, the company will aid legal action
that will prevent violent behavior and will turn to the police in the
event of violent incidents on their buses.

In a widely publicized case in November, Miriam Shear, an
American-Israeli woman living in Canada and visiting Jerusalem, says she
was physically assaulted by several Haredi passengers after refusing to
move to the back of an Egged bus, even though it wasn't designated as a
mehadrin line. Shear is not included in the Supreme Court petition.

Seeking Alternatives to Segregation

Orly Erez-Likhovski is an attorney at the Israel Religious Action
Center, the legal and public advocacy arm of Judaism's Reform Movement
in Israel, the most liberal branch of Judaism. She says riders should at
least have alternatives to the segregated lines.

"If from Point A to Point B you have to take a segregated bus line, it's
definitely against the law, against democratic rules of equality and
against freedom," she said. "We don't demand that you demolish the whole
thing but give them a choice."

The petitioners--some of whom tried to sit in the front--say they were
humiliated, verbally harassed and even threatened by violence on these
buses. In some cases, drivers cited immodest attire as a reason to bar
the women from boarding the bus at all or for telling them to get off.

Supporters claim that these bus lines run mainly through Haredi
neighborhoods. However, the buses are unmarked and appear from the
outside to look like any other regular bus.

Sarah Brazil, 24, an observant Jew from Jerusalem, said she would not
create a segregated bus herself but she "believes in respecting people's
beliefs and feelings as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else." Incidents
of violence or harassment on such buses do not reflect the behavior or
attitude of an entire community, she said.

Jonathan Rosenblum, director of the Orthodox media resource Am Echad,
says he doesn't believe that mehadrin buses are a major priority in the
Haredi community, nor should they be.

The government should permit more competition and grant licenses to
private companies interested in serving the Haredi sector, Rosenblum
argued, because the system would improve if segregated service was
provided directly by those who demand it, particularly since Egged
appears not to be enforcing their sex-segregation policy.

"People become their own private enforcers and that's the worst of all
possible worlds," he said.

/Brenda Gazzar is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem/

Liberal Judaism Israel Lectures

Liberal Judaism will be holding a lecture series on the 6 Day War at the
Montagu Centre starting on the 6^th of June (Wednesday) and for the 3
following Wednesdays.

They will be held at the Montagu Centre at 19:00 free of charge
(donations will be collected for One Voice and will be appreciated)

There will 4 lectures in Total:

1. Zionist Thinkers (06/06/07 – Rabbi Dr. David Goldberg)
2. Overview of the war (13/06/07 – Israel Embassy/Noa)
3. Boundaries – The Green Line (20/06/07 – Prof. David Newman)
4. Where we are today (27/06/07 – One Voice)

We will be happy to see you there.

For any further information please contact Liberal Judaism's Shlicha Noa


Saturday 12 May 2007

Weekly update 11th May

Dear Members,
Thanks for the kind feedback relating to the newsletter and website.
We are happy to receive feedback of any kind.
This week we have a selection of topical articles related to religion,
the government, the law and the rabbinical courts.
Also to let you know details of some events commemorating 40 years
since the 6 day war (if you have any events you would like us to
publicise please let us know)

Hagai Segal is speaking at Alyth
Thursday June 7th 8pm
on "40th Anniversary of the six day war".
Members £5, Visitors £6.
Tickets from the Synagogue.

The Six Day War 40 Years On:
What Next for Israel?
with David Horovitz
Editor-in-Chief, Jerusalem Post
Tuesday 5th June at 8:00pm
St. John's Wood
Tickets: £10 adults and £5 students
Tickets from the ZF on 020 8343 9756

Yom Yerushalayim service on the 40th anniversary of the reunification
of Jerusalem (28th of Iyar) featuring former Israeli foreign and
defence minister Moshe Arens, and Rabbi Alan Kimche, Tuesday 15th May
at 7:30pm in Hendon.
See details here:

Shabbat Shalom
Daniel and all at Pro Zion

What will the neighbours say?

What will the neighbors say?

By Tamar Rotem <>

Outside the office of attorney Gila Rabinowitz-Naftalin, two women in
dark shifts are talking. Around them is a melange of baby carriages,
bicycles and playing children. When the door of the office, which faces
the sidewalk, opens suddenly, they fall silent and cast an inquisitive
glance at the office. The sight of an ultra-Orthodox woman lawyer is
still not at all common, and in the heart of Kiryat Belz in Jerusalem, a
neighborhood with a large concentration of Hasidim, considered a very
closed community, Rabinowitz-Naftalin's presence is provocative. When
she drives her car on the streets of the neighborhood wearing her black
robes, as frequently happens when she is rushing to court, she is
followed by an invisible trail of gossip and glances.

Rabinowitz-Naftalin, 29, and her husband Shaul Naftalin, 30, who is also
an attorney, share the same desk in the office, which opened its doors a
year ago. Working outside her house provides her with the concentration
she needs, but the proximity of the office to the house enables her to
keep an eye on her family and to dash home to heat up lunch, while her
four children, who range in age from two to eight, are with a
babysitter. In fact, in the middle of the interview, her children
announce their arrival by knocking loudly at the door and explaining
what they want. The youngest asks for a candy and the eldest complains
that they are hitting him. Rabinowitz-Naftalin calmly solves the crises
behind the door, without rising from her chair. The children are
appeased and leave.

She grew up in Kiryat Belz and has lived there all her life, but to a
great extent she is an alien, because she is a member of the Chabad
Hasidic movement. Among the various ultra-Orthodox streams, the
Chabadniks are considered more open in their lifestyle. They have always
had more contact with the outside world and had less stringent rules for
themselves on various issues, from dress to their daughters' education.
For example: The Chabad Bais Yaakov high schools for girls are the only
ones in which girls take matriculation exams.


Because of its proximity to the neighborhood, Rabinowitz-Naftalin
studied at the "old seminar," the nickname of the oldest and most
respectable Bais Yaakov school in Jerusalem, rather than in a Chabad
school. She completed the matriculation studies on her own. She was not
the only ultra-Orthodox girl in the external study program in which she
prepared for matriculation. After her marriage, at the age of 20, she
started a business for bridal gowns for a short time, but "I immediately
saw that it didn't suit me," she says. "It provided a living, but I was
looking for something more intelligent."

*Sharing the work load *

Education and a career are not something new in her family. Her father
is a dayan (a rabbinical court judge) and her mother is the director of
an old age home and has a master's degree in business administration. "I
grew up in a home where both parents had careers, and they educated me
to aspire to personal advancement," she says. When her husband
registered for the first law class at the ultra-Orthodox campus in the
Kiryat Ono academic complex, she began her studies there a year later,
with his encouragement. Now they divide the work between them: She
appears in the regular courts, and he in the rabbinical courts.

She is very proud of the tiny office, and it doesn't bother her that it
looks like a grocery store or a garage from the outside. It undoubtedly
adds color to the neighborhood. Recently, she says, she had clients who
really attracted attention: a Jewish couple from Palma de Majorca who
wanted to reach a divorce settlement. "Their new Mercedes pulled up, and
the woman emerged wearing a stunning dress and high heels," she says.
"In all innocence I had invited them to come in the morning - to prevent
a crowd from gathering. But of course in no time the entire neighborhood
was downstairs."

Little by little, the complaints of people in the neighborhood found
their way to the rabbi of the neighborhood synagogue. Unsurprisingly,
they were directed at her and not at her husband. The rabbi commented to
her, on behalf of the complainants, of course, about the fact that she
was sitting immodestly, with the door open. Or about the fact that the
light disturbs people when she works at night. "I have to work at
night," she told him. "I still have to prove myself." Recently, someone
has been stuffing pamphlets into her mailbox that spell out the rules of
modesty for women. "I was amazed to see that using perfume was not
modest either," she says ironically.

She is conservatively dressed, clearly ultra-Orthodox. She wears light
makeup, her wig is not too long, but it's the principle of the thing.
They forgive her husband for abandoning the beit midrash (study hall),
after all, he's a Chabadnik and is not expected to be a yeshiva student,
but for a woman to begin a career under the noses of other women in the
neighborhood, and possibly to influence them? For a woman to continue to
use her maiden name in the feminist style, heaven forfend? That's
already too much. In an environment where women are either housewives or
teachers, Rabinowitz-Naftalin conducts her life as a modern woman. She
employs a nanny and a cleaning woman, and even a woman who comes to
iron. Her sons take swimming, gym and organ lessons, and in the summer
they'll also begin an English class.

*A well-traveled family *

Relative to a young ultra-Orthodox couple, they enjoy economic
prosperity, but not in an ostentatious manner. "I salute the families
among us who live on bread and margarine," she says, "but I grew up in a
home where we lacked for nothing, and I don't scrimp on food for the
children." The couple go to restaurants, and a few times a year, on
holidays, they travel abroad. "We have to get out," she says. "The work
creates an emotional burden." Northern Italy and Switzerland are the
preferred locales. Recently they were in Palma de Majorca. As is
customary among Chabad members, they stayed with the Jewish community on
Shabbat instead of at a hotel, in order to "strengthen the community,"
as she puts it.

Rabinowitz-Naftalin does not get upset by the watchful eyes or the
nosiness, and continues to leave a delicate trail of perfume behind her.
"I know that they take an interest in me," she says in understatement,
but she has never considered looking for another place to live. "After
all, I grew up here," she says simply. "The Kirya is home for me. My
entire family lives in the neighborhood."

It's true that the neighborhood has become more extremist, but the
location is still central and convenient, near the synagogue and the
children's school. The fact that her children attend a Chabad school,
where there are many families with a lifestyle similar to hers, helps
Rabinowitz-Naftalin to ignore the slanderers. Besides, she said, there
are people in the neighborhood who are beginning to discover that there
are also advantages to being the neighbor of lawyers. "The office has
turned into a neighborhood clinic. They come to me for help. Here a
signature verification, there writing official letters and giving
advice." She does not charge for that.

Nor is she a feminist. At least not openly. The reason for the fact that
she continues to use her maiden name, Rabinowitz, is because of her
family pedigree. Her father, Rabbi Haim Yehuda Rabinowitz, is the head
of the rabbinical court in Jerusalem. Her eldest brother is the rabbi of
the Western Wall. Another brother is certified as a dayan in rabbinical
courts. Although she doesn't appear before her father, she says that
people come to her because of the family reputation. In her family, she
says, they always analyzed legal cases and various halakhot (religious
laws) at the dinner table. "I would like to be a judge," she says.
"After all, I can't be a dayan."

As far as mesuravot get (women whose husbands refuse to grant them a
religious divorce) are concerned, she identifies completely with the
position of the rabbinical courts and rejects any claim of a humiliating
attitude there toward women in general and towards women refused a get
in particular. In the cases she represented, she says, the dayanim
decided on sanctions against recalcitrant husbands, and would not agree
to blackmail on their part.

Soon she will begin studying for a master's degree in law at the Hebrew
University in Jerusalem. She says that she intends to get her doctorate.
"In principle, I want a large family," she says. "but I still have an
entire decade to fulfill that ambition." At the moment, it would be hard
for her, both physically and emotionally, to deal with another child.

Toward evening, two six-year old girls are standing outside the office.
Their hair is neatly pulled back into pony tails and they are dressed
identically: long dark blue skirts and light-colored shirts. How will
they be affected by the presence of a young lawyer in their childhood
landscape? Rabinowitz-Naftalin ponders aloud, wondering if she
constitutes a positive influence. "I think about my female neighbors,"
she says, "how they sit outside and chat. They seem happier than I am.
I'm busy with the chase. More clients. More cases. It's hard for me to
say no. They have no ambitions. Neither shopping nor vacations. Every
day the same clothes." However, she knows that they also yearn for
change. "Once, when I came out in my robe, a neighbor with five little
ones said to me: "I wish I could do what you do."

State Refusing to Recognise 'pop over' conversions

State refusing to recognize 'pop over' conversions

By Yuval Yoaz <>

More than two years have passed since the High Court of Justice ruled
that the state must recognize the conversions of people who studied in
conversion programs here and then completed the process overseas. But
the Interior Ministry, with the support of Attorney General Menachem
Mazuz, is still refusing to recognize such people as Jewish and grant
them immediate citizenship under the Law of Return.

The reason for the delay is that the verdict authorized the state to set
criteria for when "pop over conversions" (so called because the
converts, though living in Israel, "pop over" to another country to
complete the conversion) should be recognized, in order to prevent the
process from being abused by people who have no interest in being Jewish
and are converting solely to obtain Israeli citizenship. However, the
government has not yet set these criteria, and is refusing to recognize
any pop over conversions until it does so. According to the Justice
Ministry, "an effort will be made" to finalize the criteria by the end
of this month.

Since the court issued its decision, by a 7-4 majority, in March 2005,
several people who have sought to have their conversions recognized and
receive Israeli citizenship have been turned down by the Interior
Ministry. They include Rachel Lazar, 20, a Romanian who underwent a
Conservative conversion in Hungary and is now living with her Israeli
husband in Jerusalem; L.K., a Ukrainian who moved here in 2001 to be
with her daughter (who had married an Israeli), then decided to convert,
which she did in a Reform ceremony in Kiev in 2003; and K.R., a
Brazilian who studied for conversion through Jerusalem's Reform
community and then completed the conversion in Sao Paulo. These three,
and others like them, have all petitioned the High Court against the
Interior Ministry's refusal to grant them citizenship, in defiance of
the March 2005 verdict.

However, the state has requested - and received - countless
postponements of the hearing, on the grounds that it needs more time to
finalize the criteria. In the meantime, it has granted the petitioners
temporary residency.

Attorney Nicole Maor of the Reform Movement's Israel Religious Action
Center argued in a letter to Mazuz two months ago that as long as the
state has failed to formulate criteria for pop over conversions, it has
no right to refuse to recognize the conversions undergone by the
petitioners. However, the Justice and Interior Ministries evidently
disagree - though neither related explicitly to this issue when asked
for comment by Haaretz.

Maor also noted that not everyone caught in this limbo has in fact been
granted temporary residency, which confers most of the benefits of
citizenship. Some of the "pop over" converts only have work visas, which
excludes them from the national health insurance plan, while others have
been denied visas entirely.

Equally troubling, she said, the Interior Ministry has begun to insist
that these converts "join a recognized Jewish community in Israel." Such
a demand, if it indeed becomes part of the official criteria for
recognizing pop over conversions, would violate the court's 2005 ruling,
Maor charged.

In response, the Justice Ministry said that in the wake of the verdict,
"which said that it was permissible and desirable to set criteria for
pop over conversions so that they would not be abused for the sake of
obtaining Israeli citizenship via the Law of Return," the Interior
Ministry studied the issue, then sent its conclusions to the attorney
general for his input. "This is a complex issue, and its clarification
naturally requires time," the ministry said. However, it added, "an
effort will be made to finalize the criteria by the end of May at the

The Interior Ministry said that it is not ignoring the verdict; rather,
it has drafted criteria for recognizing pop over conversions, and these
criteria are now being discussed by Mazuz's office, "with the goal of
completing the process soon. Another discussion is due to take place in
the coming days and the issue will be sent to the attorney general for a
final decision," it said.

Freidmann poised to cancel rabbinic court appointments

Friedmann poised to cancel rabbinic court appointments

By Yair Ettinger and Yuval Yoaz <>

Attorney General Menachem Mazuz yesterday directed Justice Minister
Daniel Friedman to cancel the appointments of the 15 rabbinic court
judges selected six weeks ago, because of irregularities in the
appointment process.

Mazuz's decision was taken close to the deadline given to the Justice
Ministry to respond to petitions made to the High Court of Justice to
protest the appointments, and stems from the fact that some of the
judges are not certified.

The Justice Minister's bureau said that the minister's position, which
is to be presented to the High Court, is that the procedural claims
raised in the petitions can be dealt with, but that this might take
longer than reopening the discussion of the appointments in the Rabbinic
Judges Appointments Committee. The minister will therefore leave the
choice between the two possibilities up to the High Court, and says he
sees no problem in reopening the discussion.

Mazuz's decision is a blow to Shas and United Torah Judaism. These two
parties saw the appointment of 12 of 15 judges, who were selected during
the first round of the process, as a major victory - the outcome of a
deal that had been in the works for years, between the ultra-Orthodox
parties and their respective leaders, Rabbis Ovadia Yosef and Shlomo

Shas pointed out the technical nature of Mazuz's objections, primarily
his claim that most of the candidates' certification as religious court
judges had expired. Such certification must be renewed every two years.

"All abnormalities, if there were any, are the fault of the National
Religious Party, which did not act in good faith," said MK Eli Yishai,
Shas chair and a member of the Rabbinical Court Judges Appointments

Shas and UTJ are accusing the Rabbinic Courts Administration, identified
with the NRP and responsible for certifying judges, for being at fault.

Organizations that had petitioned against the appointments - the modern
Orthodox rabbis' group Tzohar, women's groups including the Orthodox
organization Emunah, the Israel Bar Association and the Israel Religious
Action Center - welcomed Mazuz's decision. However, they noted that
judges still had to be chosen who would reflect a spectrum of opinions,
and not only those who met certain technical criteria.

Tzohar called on Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann, who was instructed
by Mazuz to rescind the appointments, to fulfill his duty for the sake
of public interest "and not out of political manipulation."

"This is a victory in a battle, not in the war," commented MK Nissan
Slomiansky (NRP-National Union), a member of the appointments committee,
adding that the ball was now in Friedmann's court and that of the
ultra-Orthodox parties, and that the public "should bring pressure to
bear on them."

Yishai said he did not intended to concede in the face of Tzohar's call
for the ultra-Orthodox parties to "reconsider the appointment of
religious court judges, who are both suitable to the function and the
status [of the position in question] and also represent a variety of
views on halakha (Jewish law)."

According to the rules, Rabbinic Court judges must not only be experts
in religious law, but have "a general or legal education" and "knowledge
of languages." The regulations also state that preference will be given
to candidates "who are involved in Israeli society and who have served
in the army or been involved in public affairs."

The organizations that support Mazuz's move are concerned that any new
rabbis who may be hurriedly appointed will not meet these criteria any
more than did the earlier appointees. The groups also worry that the
ultra-Orthodox parties will now do everything in their power to prevent
the appointment of the three NRP candidates who were appointed in the
first round.

Thursday 3 May 2007

weekly update 3rd May 2007

Dear Members,

We are passing on two articles this week. First a piece by ex Pro-Zion
chair Rabbi Dow Marmur addressing some topical issues. Second a nice
piece on the rise of the Bat Mitzvah in Israel.

It's been a busy month in Pro-Zion. All being well you should receive
our renewals mailing this week including our Shema newsletter. We do
hope you find it interesting reading and look forward to receiving your
membership renewals. I must publicly thank our small team of volunteers
who stuffed and sealed envelopes for a night and a day.

We also launch our evolving website at including our
news blog containing all articles we send out.
As always we would love to hear your comments on the week's articles,
newsletter or website.
Shabbat Shalom
Daniel and all at Pro Zion

Girl Torah Power

*Girl Torah power *

*A new trend is sweeping the country, as more and more teen girls choose
to read from the Torah on their Bat Mitzvah, just like boys. According
to the Reform movement – the only stream that enables such ceremonies -
the number of girls wishing to get an aliyah has more than doubled in
the past five years *

Chaim Levinson


04.26.07, 16:20 / _Israel Jewish Scene_

The ritual of getting an aliyah (being called up to the Torah) and
reading from the Torah, which used to be reserved only for men, has been
undergoing a quiet revolution in the past year, as more and more teen
girls are seeking to take part in the ceremony.

In many places across Israel, young girls who decided they wish to
experience this ritual on their Bat Mitzvah, are studying their

notes and purchasing new prayer shawls for the festive event.

As Orthodox synagogues do not allow women to read from the Torah, these
girls turn to Reform synagogues. According to the Reform movement in
Israel, some 600 Bat Mitzvah ceremonies were held in its synagogues in
the past year. Most of the participants were secular girls and not
members of Reform communities.

Some 160 of the ceremonies were held in Jerusalem, and several of those
even took place at the Western Wall, in the mixed area where men and
women are allowed to pray together.

Higher demand

The Bat Mitzvah ceremonies are no different from the Bar Mitzvahs: They
include saying a prayer, wearing a prayer shawl, being called to the
Torah and reading from the Torah, for those who wish to do so.
Afterwards a toast is raised and the Bat Mitzvah girl reads a derasha.

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, associate director of the Israel Religious Action
Center of Reform Judaism, said that about 30 percent of the Bar
Mitzvahs-Bat Mitzvahs held at the movement's Beit Daniel synagogue in
Tel Aviv are of girls.

"Every year we witness a substantial growth in the number of girls who
get an aliyah. In the past five years, their number has doubled. We
believe that there are many girls who are interested in such a ceremony,
but unfortunately we do not have enough synagogues across the country,"
Kariv explained.

Orthodox criticism

Although the Orthodox Halacha does not ban women from reading the Torah,
this is not customary due to modesty considerations. "We have been
raised on modesty, and it is inappropriate to place a woman on center
stage for people to start gossiping," said Rabbi Zuriel Abrahan, rabbi
of the town of Nes Tziona.

Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, son of former Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu and
rabbi of the town of Safed, also criticized the new trend.

"I welcome the desire of young girls to integrate and get to know the
Torah better and turn the ritual of accepting the mitzvot into a
meaningful one. But I don't recommend the Reform way. I recommend to
girls to adopt the Orthodox feminine way of connecting with the Torah,
namely to light candles… and various other mitzvot for women," he stated.

"They don't need to lay phylacteries and read from the Torah like men.
I read recently that modern feminism is not about having women adopt
men's rituals, but about being proud of their own actions," he concluded.

Reform Bashing-Again - Rabbi Dow Marmur

*Reform Bashing-Again *Written by Rabbi Dow Marmur

Link to article

Thursday, 19 April 2007

People who in the guise of piety will tell you what's in God's mind are
a nuisance to God and to God's creatures. The Book of Job illustrates it
amply when it describes the offensive and futile efforts by the friends
of Job to explain his suffering. Since the days of Job there have been
countless self-appointed and misguided advocates of God who, in their
ostensible effort to enhance God, have, in fact, discredited the divine.

The latest recorded attempt of this kind has just hit the headlines in
Israel. Its author is Mordechai Eliahu, a former Sephardi Chief Rabbi.
In a radio interview on the eve of Yom Hasho'a, Eliahu asserted that the
majority of the six million who perished were innocent, "but Reform
started in Germany." He continued: "Those reformers of religion started
in Germany, and it is said that because the wrath of God does not
distinguish between the righteous and the evil ones - this was done."

Eliahu spoke like many ultra-Orthodox Jews who seek to vindicate God.
Those who aren't Zionists blame the Holocaust on Zionism. In the same
way as Eliahu justifies the Holocaust by implying that as both Reform
and Nazism started in Germany, the former is the cause of the latter,
the anti-Zionist Orthodox Jews assert that as Herzl, the founder of
Zionism, was born in the Austro-Hungarian empire and worked in its
capital Vienna, and as Hitler, too, was born in Austria, we have both
cause and effect.

Neither explanation puts any blame on the Nazis and their collaborators.
They were only hapless tools in God's scheme, which Eliahu and others
have been privileged to fathom. He deserves a medal from every neo-Nazi
party in the world for doing their work.

To try to respond to this kind of "theology" would be to accord it a
status that it doesn't deserve. The only reason why we must note it and
express our disgust is in order to show what criminal lies can be
perpetrated in the name of religion and in the guise of piety. As some
of those who have reacted with disgust at Eliahu's words put it, they're
of the same ilk as Holocaust denial and should be treated with the same

Though it would be grossly unfair to describe all, or even most, of
Orthodox Judaism as being of the same ilk, we must nevertheless note,
first, that Mordechai Eliahu still plays an important role in many
Orthodox circles in Israel and abroad and, second, that to date no
responsible Orthodox body has been quoted as condemning his
pronouncement. It seems that even though many Orthodox Jews may disagree
with Eliahu, a spot of Reform bashing doesn't come amiss in many of
their circles.

The Reform movement in Israel has reacted by demanding a criminal
investigation of this act of incitement. Of course, the politicians will
make sure that nothing comes of it, for they don't want to upset
potential ultra-Orthodox voters. It's also possible that they themselves
enjoy a spot of Reform bashing, especially when someone else takes the
blame for it, and they won't have to defend themselves in front of their
American Reform benefactors. Though the sport of Reform bashing has been
largely discontinued in Israel, when an opportunity such as this arises,
some ostensibly liberal-minded people in high places, may enjoy it, if
only for old-times' sake.

Next time you get too romantic about the sincerity and passion of the
ultra-Orthodox please remember its dark side, which Mordechai Eliahu

/Jerusalem// 19.4.07/