Latest news:

Updated Weekly
Please check back here for new articles!


Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Weekly update 31/10/07

Dear Members,
We have three new articles this week.
The first is one of our regular topics - conversions in Israel and is an
interesting story of a n independent conversion panel being set up by
Orthodox Zionist Rabbis who are fed up with the official systems and
The second article is a report of the MRJ visit to President Simon
Peres that we mentioned in last week's e-mail.
Our final article is about the Charedi education system in Israel and
how it continues to operate above the law with state funding whilst
ignoring the national curriculum. In general the education system in
Israel is in a sorry state with Secondary Schools and Universities both
currently in on and off strikes and suffering lack of funds. When I have
met Israelis in the last year and told them I work as a teacher they
were all surprised when I told them it was a full time job in the UK.
For a country that wins nobel prizes and provides ground breaking
research in all disciplines the future of Israeli education is far from

We have one event to advertise this week:
*'One Voice' comes to Leeds!*

Young Palestinians and Israelis talk about their lives, their experiences,
and their hopes for the future.

Hosted by: Shalom-Salaam & Leeds Muslim Youth Forum, in partnership with
Sinai Synagogue. More info about 'One Voice' at, or
about the event at

*Tuesday 20 November, 7pm
Leeds University Conference Auditorium 1, LS2*
For more info. contact

Shalom from
Daniel and all at Pro Zion

IRAC Fights for Education Reform

IRAC Fights for Education Reform
The issue of state funded education and the "Core Curriculum" is one of
the most compelling issues on IRAC's advocacy and legal agenda today.
Although Ultra-Orthodox schools receive at least 55% of the total
national education budget, they are exempt from teaching the most basic
skills which every state has a duty to teach its children. This
literally means that tens of thousands of Israel's youth don't know
basic mathematics, science and civic studies. Within less than 10 years
we are talking about a significant percentage of the population not
knowing how to calculate change in a grocery store or who was Isaac
Newton! The IRAC staff is working on numerous fronts - legal, media, and
advocacy - to make sure that all Israeli schools receiving government
funds teach the State Core Curriculum.
Background: The Israeli education system is divided into a public school
system (secular and religious), and a private school system
(ultra-orthodox, Christian, Muslim, and democratic and experimental
schools). Private schools are funded by the state at the rate of 55% -
75% of public schools. However, funding for all schools is conditioned
on teaching the core curriculum (Math, Science, Hebrew, English, Civic
studies, Physical Education). The requirement for core curriculum rests
on two grounds:
1. Providing all children in the education system the necessary skills,
that will be indispensable for them to function as productive adults. 2.
Providing a "common ground" for all Israelis, who will share common
values (with an emphasis on the values of democracy and freedom), and
thus will be able to co-exist in a divided and sectarian society such as
For years, the Ultra Orthodox schools did not teach the core curriculum,
but rather religious studies. In 2004, the Supreme Court ruled that
funding such schools is illegal, and ordered the Ministry of Education
to apply the core curriculum in all schools, as a condition for funding,
until September 1, 2007.
IRAC's Response: When the current school year neared, and it was clear
the Education Ministry is violating the court ruling, IRAC submitted a
petition to the High Court, demanding that the core curriculum be
applied on all schools.
In response, the State did not contradict the fact that it did
absolutely nothing to apply the court ruling, but rather suggested to
change the current legal situation. Since the Ultra-Orthodox sector is
unwilling to teach secular studies, from now on all Ultra-Orthodox high
schools (in which 25,0000 students study) will be exempt under law from
teaching the State Core Curriculum. On September 25th our case was heard
before the court and the Court ordered the State to submit a full
response to our petition within 60 days.
IRAC is now launching a campaign to create a media "buzz" around the
issue and raise public awareness of the law and its implications.
Furthermore, IRAC intends to assemble a group of influential policy and
opinion makers in opposition to the law who will circulate petitions and
other public measures to compel the decision makers to realize that
giving a broad exemption to a whole sector signifies the end of Israeli
solidarity, and will result in thousands of kids who will not be able to
support themselves or be contributing members to the society.
IRAC, like much of the Israeli public, believes that this reckless
exemption of the Ultra-Orthodox education institutions from the duty to
teach life skills and basic civic values in the students produces a
substantial danger to the future of the Israeli society.
Contributors to this story: Orly Erez-Likhovski, Esq., Rita Konaev,
Rachel Canar, and Rabbi Gilad Kariv, Esq.

Zionist rabbis agree to serve on independent conversion courts

Zionist rabbis agree to serve on independent conversion courts
By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz Correspondent

45 rabbis from the national-religious movement have agreed to serve in
proposed independent conversion courts that would operate without the
recognition of the Chief Rabbinate.

This challenge from within the Orthodox establishment to the Rabbinate's
control of the process of converting to Judaism in Israel is a response
to a long-standing perception that the rabbinical establishment is in
thrall to the ultra-Orthodox tradition of making conversion difficult.

That position ignores the plight of the more than 300,000 immigrants
from the former Soviet Union who are not Jewish according to halakha. If
the recommendations of the interministerial committee on conversion to
expedite the process are not implemented soon, the rabbis are expected
to establish the proposed conversion courts. That would represent
another stage in the undermining of religious-Zionist rabbis of the
Rabbinate, following struggles over marriage, kashrut and shmita in the
past several months.

The latest steps began about six months ago with a conference of the
Joint Conversion Institute, which prepares most prospective converts in
civilian and military frameworks. After the head of the institute, Prof.
Benjamin Ish-Shalom, announced that the requirements of the religious
courts kept many graduates from completing their conversion, 45 rabbis
agreed to officiate in religious courts that would convert the
graduates, even without recognition from the Rabbinate. Most of the
rabbis, the majority of whom who prefer not to be identified, are
associated with with Religious Kibbutz Movement and the Tzohar rabbis'

The main obstacle to the initiative will be the Rabbinate's refusal to
recognize their conversions, which will prevent the converts from
registering for marriage later on. Among the 45 is at least one
municipal rabbi who has promised to enable converts in his jurisdiction
to register at his city's Religious Council.

The existence of non-Rabbinate Orthodox converts is likely to ignite a
struggle on the part of the national-religious public, much of which has
already severed its connections to the Rabbinate, and could end up in
the High Court of Justice.

One of the rabbis involved in the new initiative is Rabbi Benjamin Lau
of Jerusalem's Ramban Synagogue. "I said that not only am I willing to
take part in it, but also that I would house a rabbinical court in our
synagogue," Lau said. He said that some members of his congregation
served as rabbis and rabbinical judges in the United States and have
experience with conversion.

"I think there will be no alternative, the Rabbinate is undergoing a
process of dissolution. We saw it with the issues of marriage, kashrut
and shmita, and conversion is the core of the matter. One of our roles
as rabbis is to serve the public and I see this issue as fulfilling our
function," Lau said.

Despite several cabinet rulings calling for the institution of an
accelerated conversion process to expedite the integration into Israeli
society of non-Jewish immigrants, only 2,000 people are converted each
year on average. The Joint Conversion Institute was created about 10
years ago, in the wake of a government committee's recommendations, as a
combined Orthodox, Conservative and Reform institution for teaching
prospective converts. Conversion itself remained in the hands of special
conversion courts, whose judges were appointed by the Rabbinate, which
also set the conditions for conversion. Most of the judges are under the
influence of the Haredi Council of Torah Sages, which opposes
large-scale conversion and requires converts, as well as their children
and families, to adopt an observant lifestyle.

In many cases these demands delay conversion, even for candidates who
have studied for years in preparation for conversion. The strict image
of these courts has scared away many would-be converts. According to
studies carried out by the army's conversion program, Nativ, about 40
percent of non-Jewish immigrants expressed an interest before they
immigrated in converting, while after a one year in Israel the number
dropped by at least 20 percent.

Three and a half years ago, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered the
creation of a state conversion program that would facilitate the
process, but the new arrangement did not change the basic stance of the
religious judges. In many communities, the local religious councils and
the local rabbis refuse to recognize the conversion certificates
presented by immigrants when they come to register for marriage.

Two months ago an interministerial committee headed by Absorption
Ministry Director General Erez Halfon submitted a comprehensive report
on the issue. It recommended, among other things, appointing to the
conversion courts 40 volunteer judges who would not be beholden to the
Haredi rabbis and would introduce a willingness to help the converts in
their desire to join the Jewish people instead of finding reasons to
prevent their conversion. It also called for giving Chief Rabbi Shlomo
Amar full authority over conversion issues. Amar opposes the idea of the
volunteer judges, on the grounds that they will not be rabbis vetted by
him and operating in accordance with his directives. Justice Ministry
officials, meanwhile, argue that volunteers cannot hold official
judicial positions.

Olmert has not yet approved the committee?s recommendations. The heads
of the Joint Conversion Institute believe the volunteer initiative will
not be implemented. Ish-Shalom refused to comment on the issue, but
sources in his institute said that if the problem is not solved during a
meeting scheduled for next Tuesday in the Prime Minister's Office, the
plan for independent conversion courts will go ahead.

Reform leaders return from Israel

Reform leaders return from Israel
Written by Joe Millis

Leaders of the British Movement for Reform Judaism met President Shimon
Peres on Thursday 18th October for a 35-minute meeting. It was one of
the highlights of their six-day tour of the country.

The British delegation comprised movement head Rabbi Dr Tony Bayfield,
its chair, Michael Grabiner, and treasurer Stephen Moss, CBE. The visit
was organised by Julian Resnick, the Movement's director of Living Judaism.

Mr Peres, who unlike his predecessor Moshe Katzav, addressed Rabbi
Bayfield as "harav," (rabbi) made it clear he was "troubled" by internal
attempts to have a narrow definition of Jewishess. "We are a
disappearing people," he told the group. "We are not the Chinese. There
are only 14-15 million of us. We need to be more careful, generous and

He added that, "if rabbis have a right to decide who is a Jew, the
Jewish people have a right to decide who is a rabbi."

On the scheduled peace summit in Annapolis, Mr Peres said that "all
parties will do their utmost to ensure there is no failure. Even partial
success will be a success."

After the meeting, Mr Grabiner said: "I found the meeting inspirational.
His vision of reaching out to all the Jewish people, not just those in
the centre, but especially those on the edges was both profound and

Rabbi Bayfield said: "I found it an honour and a privilege to be a rabbi
within a people led by a President of such stature. We were all taken I
by his phrase that 'if rabbis have a right to decide who is a Jew, the
Jewish people have a right to decide who is a rabbi."'

Reform Movement President, Sir Sigmund Sternberg, added: "I am very glad
that, for the first time, the President of Israel has recognised the
importance and contribution of the Reform Movement and has addressed its
head as 'Rabbi'. This is long overdue."
The six-day visit underlined the Reform Movement's commitment to Israel
and was a springboard for ever-growing involvement of members and
communities in the life of the Jewish state.
The delegation engaged with those who enriched its understanding of the
complexities of the central issues facing the state at this crucial
time. Through visits to Sderot, which has come under an almost daily
barrage of rocket attacks from Gaza, and the north, where tensions are
running high in the wake of an Israeli Air Force attack deep in Syria,
the leaders also displayed the Movement's concern for the welfare of all
The leaders heard moderate Palestinians, such as Palestinian Authority
deputy Foreign Minister Ahmed Soboh and leading academic and journalist
Hanna Siniora, who are struggling to be heard above the din of
Rabbi Bayfield said: "The trip was both symbolic and practical. It was
symbolic of the importance that we give to Israel - our highest level
delegation to date. And it was practically important in terms of
developing the gesher chai, the living bridge that connects us ever more
strongly to Israel - and Israel to us".

Friday, 26 October 2007

Weekly Update 24/10/2007

Dear Members,

We do still come across people that think that if you're a
Reform/Liberal/Progressive Jew you're not a Zionist. In the last week
two events have taken place that publicly disprove this myth.

The first event was the strong words of a spokesman from the Chief
Rabbis Office threatening to boycott Zionist Federation events after
Israel Connect (The Zionist Federation's arm for those in their 20s and
30s) invited a gay speaker from Israel to speak on Personal freedom in
Israel. Touring three University campuses he will reach out to many who
would otherwise not hear of everyday life in Israel. Pro Zion of course
continue to strongly support and contribute to the work of our Zionist

Then in Israel the Israeli President Simon Peres met with Reform
Movement leaders led by Rabbi Tony Bayfield. The President words were
very positive and you can read more in the attached article.

The second article is a great short piece from Rabbi Michael Marmur about
the relevance of streams of Judaism to Israel.

Finally before we go another reminder that if you do have Israel events
in your communities to publicise pass them on. One such date for your
diaries is on Sunday 16th December at 3.15pm Abbie Ben Ari will be
speaking on 'Israel - New Dimensions'. In the Wembley Harrow area-
please e-mail for details
Shabbat Shalom
Daniel and all at Pro Zion

President Peres reaches out to leader of British Reform Jews

Peres reaches out to leader of British Reform Jews
By Daphna Berman
President Shimon Peres called yesterday for a more inclusive definition
of Judaism and said the Jewish people have the right to decide who is a
rabbi. He made the comments in his first official meeting with
representatives of the Reform movement since he assumed the post in
July. The meeting yesterday with leaders of Britain's Reform movement
came in the wake of last year's crisis after then president Moshe Katsav
refused to use the title "rabbi" in addressing Rabbi Eric Yoffie,
president of the Union for Reform Judaism, which represents some 1.5
million Reform Jews in North America.

During the half-hour meeting at the President's Residence, Peres
addressed delegation leader Rabbi Dr. Tony Bayfield as "rabbi,"
according to participants. Bayfield heads the Movement for Reform
Judaism in the United Kingdom.

"If rabbis have a right to decide who is a Jew, the Jewish people have a
right to decide who is a rabbi," Peres reportedly told the group. The
president also said that he was "troubled" by attempts to narrowly
define Jewishess. "We are a disappearing people," he said. "We are not
the Chinese. There are only 14-15 million of us. We need to be more
careful, generous and understanding."

Reform Reflections: Nouns and adjectives - Rabbi Michael Marmur

Reform Reflections: Nouns and adjectives
Posted by Rabbi Michael Marmur
It is told of the great thinker, writer and activist Abraham Joshua
Heschel (who died in 1972), that he was once asked whether he was an
Orthodox Jew, a Conservative Jew, or a Reform Jew. There was some logic
to the question: ordained as a teenager in Warsaw in an Ultra-Orthodox
context, he had gone on to receive rabbinic ordination at the Liberal
Seminary in Berlin, and was associated for most of his career with the
flagship institution of Conservative Judaism. Heschel's reply was
resonant: "I do not regard myself as a noun in search of an adjective."
This outright rejection of adjectival Judaism has not lost its force.
Indeed, in the decades since Heschel's death the limitations of
denominational tags have become more and more apparent. A number of
institutions have cropped up calling themselves trans- or
post-denominational, and you can certainly see their point. After all,
it's the noun which matters a great deal more than any adjective.
Here in Israel, it could be argued that the irrelevance of denominations
is even clearer. Conservative and Reform Judaism has never been very
strong here, and often it is regarded as an import unlikely to reach
anything more than a niche market. I remember my surprise as a High
School teacher in the non-Orthodox sector in Haifa some twenty years
ago, when I was asked to teach about Streams in Judaism. For many of my
colleagues and students, there were no such thing as streams in Judaism
at all – only the desert and the deep blue sea. There has often been a
kind of binary system at play in Israel according to which you were
either One (Orthodox) or Zero (Secular). If you tried to suggest a third
option, you were often met by the three great 'i's - incredulity,
impatience, and indifference.
Who needs adjectives, particularly in Israel? A journalist in Yediot
Aharonot recently launched a stinging attack on what she perceives as a
kind of phony spirituality being offered by Reform in Israel, and in
favor of the good old-fashioned binary system of Jewish identity. Those
Reform Jews trying to have their Jewish cakes and eat them too deserve
to have all baked items removed from their reach. How dare they claim to
be serious about Judaism if they don't profess Orthodox beliefs?
I am a Reform rabbi, and I make other Reform rabbis for a living, so it
may not come as a great surprise that I don't altogether care for the
binary system of Jewish identity. Often, representatives of Reform,
Conservative and other non-Orthodox streams of Judaism have promoted
their claims in terms of rights and liberties: we have a right to be
recognized, we shout, and everyone ought to help us protect those rights.
But two rights don't make a movement, and singing "We Shall Overcome" is
hardly a program. I don't want to argue that Reform Jews should have
their rights defended in Israel, because that goes without saying as far
as I am concerned. (It also goes without saying for our opponents,
because it's something that can never be said.) My argument is
different: I want to suggest that sentences do better with a few adjectives.
The vocabulary of Jewish life in Israel has been impoverished by what I
am calling the binary approach to Jewish identity. The fundamental
problem is not that our rabbis cannot officiate at state-recognized
weddings (they can't), nor that our institutions are starved of state
funding (they are). The main problem is that the attempt to ignore
adjectives has helped create huge divisions.
Increasingly, the sense of the divide within our society is palpable,
and it goes beyond matters of religion and state. If you live within a
rocket's range of the Gaza Strip, your experience of life during the
last year is likely to have been quite different to that of your fellow
citizen a few kilometers away. If you spent last summer north of Hadera,
you were at war: north of that line (with the exception of those who
hosted families or had loved ones involved in the hostilities), you were
on vacation. If your child turns 18 and is prepared to serve in the
Armed Forces, you enter one reality; if that child has decided to sit
that duty out, another reality awaits you
I believe that pluralism offers a chance to address some of the huge
chasms threatening our society. If we offer ways for people of different
temperaments and approaches ways of expressing themselves as Jews, we
help create a richer and more articulate syntax, a more profound
grammar. If we create communal structures which encourage individuals to
engage in society and face up to responsibility, we help hold apathy and
alienation at bay. If we demonstrate the joy and exhilaration of being
part of the Jewish people, we give life to Judaism. And if we reach out
to those who are told that their preferences and interests and beliefs
are no good, we widen the circle of engagement and commitment. If,
however, all we offer is One and Zero, we shouldn't be surprised if they
tire of our mathematics, and get bored with our grammar. Jewish Unity
will not be achieved by pretending there is Jewish Uniformity.
The case for religious pluralism in Israel is not about rights. It's
about the prospects for Israeli society at 60 to face the formidable
challenges in the economic, geo-political and cultural spheres, and to
prevail. In order for that to happen, we will need to find compelling
contemporary reasons for us and our children to take the risks and make
the sacrifices. Just telling folks they can only be One or Zero is not
going to work.
How will Jewish denominations look in Israel (or elsewhere) ten years
from now? I don't know. Will the adjectives in Hebrew be identical to
their counterparts in English. Almost certainly not. It's exciting to
speculate about how new coalitions may be formed, and new expressions
come to the fore. Rather than pretend we just need nouns in our grammar,
I'm in favor of denominational adjectives. Maybe they can help us get to
the verbs – to do, to care, to study, to mobilize, to reach out, to
argue, to accept, to celebrate.
So I'm with Heschel – I don't see myself as a noun in search of an
adjective. But I don't think the grammar we are using today is equal to
the task. The fact that more and more Israelis are despairing of the
Binary System and looking for new ways to express themselves suggests
that it may be too early to remove all adjectives from the dictionary.
It's the adjectives which may help Israel find her lost vocabulary.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Weekly Update 18/10/07

Dear Members,

1. 'One Voice' demonstration cancelled

The 'One Voice' demonstration that was due to take place in both Jericho
and Tel Aviv on 18th October had to be cancelled due to security
threats. In turn the London event has been cancelled. We feel it is a
shame that minority views that foster violence, have stood in the way of
valid attempts for peace and we offer our solidarity to the organisers
of the events.

2. Working towards Religious pluralism in Israel

We have two articles of interest this week that both centre on the issue
of the State of Israel recognising different expressions of Judaism.

The first piece is written by Anat Hoffman; the Director of Israel
Religious Action Centre, the public and legal advocacy arm of the Israel
Movement for Progressive Judaism. The piece was written for the 'Taste
of Limmud' series. 'Taste of Limmud', sent out each week, provides a
thought on the weekly parasha from Jewish educators from all over the
world. In the article, Anat looks at the 'creation' of certain values
in Israel's society as a microcosm of the creation story of Bereishit.

If you wish to receive Limmud's weekly emails, visit:

The second piece is an article from Ha'aretz, written by Daphna Berman
about the hosting of a a delegation from Britain's Movement for Reform
Judaism by President Shimon Peres, at his official residence in
Jerusalem this week. The delegation of the leaders of the Movement for
Reform Judaism are ln Israel this month to develop the Movement's
engagement with the Jewish State as it celebrates its 60th anniversary.
This is an historical meeting in which the ties between Israel and the
Diaspora can be strengthend through the recognition of Reform Judaism.
Rabbi Bayfield was interviewed about the iminent trip on Radio 4's Today
programme on Wednesday 17th October. You can listen to this by visiting

3. Clore Israel Foundation

Please also find attached an email from Carole Brauner, the Director of
Development at the Sir Charles Clore Jewish Arab Community Centre in
Acre. The email describes the incredible recent progress of the work
that the community centre does in the local community. If you would
like more information about the Clore Israel Foundation then please
visit their website at

That is all for this week, we hope you find the articles and links of
interest to you. If you have any questions or comments then we are
always happy to hear from you.

We wish you Shabbat Shalom,

Charlie Gluckman and all at Pro Zion

Bereishit - Anat Hoffman

Bereishit - Anat Hoffman
Anat Hoffman became Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action
Center in April 2002. Previously, she served as a Jerusalem City
Councilwoman for 14 years.
I know why they asked me, the Israeli who deals with religious
pluralism, to write about Parashet Bereshit for Limmud. I know chaos
from up close (TOHU VA'VOHU) because Israel can be a place of
pandemonium, unruliness, and disorder. Our conflicts are extremely acute
and harmony is moving away from us. This is the world described in
Bereshit: "והארץ הייתה תוהו ובוהו וחושך על פני תהום" (the earth being
unformed and void, the darkness over the surface of the deep).
Through a process of distinguishing matter from matter and through
naming, a world which has order and has light is formed. I see my work
in the evolution of the state as bringing more light.
In the young state of Israel, still only 60 years since its birth, there
are many opportunities for creation in an environment filled with
turmoil and confusion. One sphere of inspired success for Israel is the
renewed Hebrew language. Hebrew words for concepts like integrity,
accountability and pluralism are truly an act of creation in this
evolving society. Just as in Bereshit, where each creation is named to
crystallize its existence, so too do these concepts need Hebrew names in
order to be fully manifest in modern Israel. A society that has no word
for integrity is a society in which this concept is not embedded in its
everyday life. By the way, the Hebrew word for integrity is 'yoshra'
from the root 'yud' 'shin' 'reish' - being a new word, not so many
Israelis know it. The Hebrew word for accountability was also created
only recently. It's hard to pronounce it without accidentally spitting
on the person next to you, so people only use it when there is no other
option. Achrayutiu - try and you will see. The word pluralism still
doesn't exist in Modern Hebrew. I run the Center for Jewish Pluralism.
In Israel the enlightened concept of pluralism hasn't yet fully
manifested, but we hope to pull it out of the bubbling cosmic soup of
creation and give the country a heaping dose.
There are daily battles in courts, parliament, on the street and in the
media about religious pluralism. In the "formal" Israel there is only
one way to be Jewish and it is the Orthodox way. The young Israeli
palate knows only one flavor and it doesn't appeal to many Israelis,
causing them to turn away from Judaism. The result is degeneration of
the palate and degeneration of the religion. The struggle for freedom of
religion in Israel demands that there will be more than one way to be
Jewish and religious in Israel.
"We are not different from each other because some of us have seen the
light and some are in the darkness," writes Amos Oz, "we are different
because we have many lights within us, abundance of lights and
tones/shades." The infusion of Jewish pluralism into Israeli society
will create thousands more lights and the opportunity to visit the
infinite heavens of the Jewish experience and intellect, the opportunity
to dive into the chaos, learn how to give things their Hebrew names, and
so be a part of creation.
At Limmud I bathed in the luminescent diversity of Jewish choices
available, from the theatre workshop "Elijah the First action Hero" to
"Yes Bubeleh, There Is Really Jewish Meditation"; I joined big groups of
people huddled in winter coats that are worn only by Olim from Russia in
Israel; and every two hours we went to a place of warmth and light, a
place of Limmud.
Limmud enables Jews of all of all flavors and shades to gather in an
atmosphere of Jewish unity- everybody against the horrible menu of
cardboard and sawdust born from combining the English kitchen with Glatt
Kosher. I want to suggest that the word pluralism in Hebrew is Limmud in
the original Clive laughter sense - a delicatessen for the Jewish soul,
a Club Med for the Jewish intellect, and a Disneyland of Jewish

Peres to meet, mend ties with U.K. Reform Jews

Peres to meet, mend ties with U.K. Reform Jews
By Daphna Berman
In a bid to repair strained relations between the presidential office
and Reform Judaism, President Shimon Peres is to host a delegation from
Britain's Movement for Reform Judaism at his official residence in
Jerusalem next week.

Next Thursday's meeting, the first of its kind since Peres assumed
office in July, is to focus on ways to "strengthen the ties between
Israel and the Diaspora," a spokesperson for Peres said. The delegation
will be headed by Rabbi Tony Bayfield, head of the Movement for Reform
Judaism, the British branch of Reform Judaism.

The refusal last year by former president Moshe Katsav to address Rabbi
Eric Yoffie, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, as "rabbi" set
off an international storm.
The union represents about 1.5 million Reform Jews in North America.

After the incident Katsav told interviewers that he grew up in a home
where a rabbi was only someone who had received Orthodox ordination.
Insiders predict that with Peres as president, the relationship will be
entirely different.

Rabbi Uri Regev, President of the World Union for Progressive Judaism,
called Peres an "old friend of the Reform movement" and said that Peres'
daughter, son-in-law and their children are all active members of a
Reform congregation in Tel Aviv.

Bayfield has called next week's meeting "most welcome."

"What took place between President Moshe Katzav and the head of the
American Reform Movement was completely unacceptable," Bayfield said
this week from London. "But it is in the past, and now we have a new
president and I don't want our meeting to be considered in the light of
what is best forgotten."

"We are, of course, glad that Israel now has a head of state who
recognizes the importance of engaging with all sides in the Jewish
world, just as we recognize the importance of engaging with Israel in
its 60th anniversary year," Bayfield added.

A spokesman for Peres declined to comment on the fallout involving
Katsav. "The President of the State of Israel is honored to be the
President of the entire Jewish nation and shall work without
discrimination towards furthering the wellbeing of the Jewish nation and
that of all the citizens of the State of Israel," the spokesman said.
(from Ha'Aretz)

Sir Charles Clore Jewish - Arab Community Center - Acre

I am delighted to report that things here in Akko are moving forward in
such a positive direction that 3 new members of staff will be joining us
on 1 November with a view to expanding our outreach to the neediest
populations and making increased efforts to integrate our activities and

Our Jewish Youth Coordinator is a "gung-ho" 26 year-old full of
enthusiasm at the challenge of bringing Jewish youth together with our
Arab youth, has already arranged a "mixed" youth meeting for early next
week and has begun laying the foundations for an Arab-Jewish band. The
Jewish women's coordinator is a feisty Acre-born lady who is used to
working hand in hand with the local welfare department and whose
priority is Acre's single mothers and giving them "time out", relieving
their sense of isolation and offering parenting support; the quieter but
tough-as-nails Arab women's coordinator has spent the last 12 years
working with the poorest of Arab women and their children in the Old
City of Acre and is eager to bring them to the Centre and take advantage
of the services that we have to offer.

Our recent achievements and expanded goals make us realise how much we
owe to our friends in the UK for their enthusiasm and support.



Carol Brauner
Director of Development
Sir Charles Clore Jewish - Arab Community Center
Wolfson Neighbourhood
PO Box 240

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Weekly update 20/10/07

Dear Members,

After the tumultuous period of the Chaggim we are back to normal with
our weekly updates. This week, as well as the usual interesting
articles, there are another couple of items of information for you.

1. One Voice

An exciting event is taking place run by One Voice, an organisation that
aims to amplify the voice of the overwhelming but heretofore silent
majority of Israelis and Palestinians who wish to end the conflict. The
event will take place at the same time as two historical events in Tel
Aviv and Jericho. Both the Palestinian and Israeli mainstreams will
simultaneously go out to demand the same vision – that their leaders
should return to the negotiation table in order to deliver the Two-State
solution that the majority of people on both sides want to see. You are
invited by One Voice to support this event:

Palestinians and Israelis are taking to the streets to call for a viable
two-state solution.

From London, you can be by their side.

Join us to watch events live from Jericho and Tel Aviv via satellite at:

2. Articles

Please find attached three articles for your interest this week. The
first highlights a debate that is currently happening regarding the
issue of the Shemita year in Israel, that began on Rosh Hashanah. The
article highlights both the economic impact of, and the potential
political fallout that may ensue from, the refusal of some Rabbis to
allow a legal loophole to apply during the year that will ensure
farmers' produce is kosher. The second article, 'Hottest Spot in Town',
highlights some of the controversies with regard to the Kottel, in
particular the absence of pluralism that exists at this holy site.
Finally we have an article about the address of Rabbi Yoffie, President
of the Union for Reform Judaism, the Reform Movement in America, to the
Islamic Society of North America.

3. A Petition

A number of you may have received an email petition going around
regarding the existence of an anti-Semitic website listed on google. If
you have not already signed the petition and wish to do so then you can
find it at

We wish you Shabbat Shalom, and if you have any comments or questions
about the contents of this update, or any other matter relating to
Progressive Zionism, then please do not hesitate to be in touch.

Kind Regards,

Charlie Gluckman and all at Pro Zion

Knesset panel threatens to found separate kashrut authority

Knesset panel threatens to found separate kashrut authority
By Amiram Cohen, Haaretz Correspondent

In protest of the Chief Rabbinate's policy regarding the "shmita" or
sabbatical agricultural year, the chairman of the Constitution, Law and
Justice Committee has threatened to establish a separate authority to
grant kashrut certification for produce.

"If the Chief Rabbinate does not get its act together in the near
future, the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee will advance the
establishment of an alternative kashrut authority in Israel, which will
provide fitting solutions for the general public," committee chairman
Menachem Ben Sasson (Kadima) said.

According to religious Jewish law, land must lie fallow every seven
years - the shmita year - to allow it to rest. Jews worldwide may eat
fruit and vegetables from Israel during the sabbatical year only if they
were grown on land owned by non-Jews.

For decades, the Chief Rabbinate and the local rabbinates of most major
cities have accepted the "heiter mechira" system, allowing Jewish
farmers to symbolically sell their land to a non-Jew for the fallow year
on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, then buy it back at the year's end. The
temporary change of ownership means produce farmed during the year is
considered kosher and can be sold to Jews

Ultra-Orthodox rabbinates have never recognized heiter mechira as a
valid system, but have traditionally turned a blind eye to the practice,
allowing Jewish farmers to continue their livelihood during the
sabbatical year.

In recent years, however, ultra-Orthodox rabbinates have increasingly
objected to the system. This year, the rabbinates of several regions
have threatened to nullify the kosher certification of farmers who
practiced it. The Agriculture Ministry has called on the Chief Rabbinate
to empower local rabbinates who agree to accept heiter mechira to
authorize produce for sale and thus bypass rabbinates which refuse.

Ben Sasson called on the Chief Rabbinate to give kashrut authorization
to all "businesses and institutions in all the cities in which local
rabbis refused to do so."

The High Court objects to the Chief Rabbinate Council's decision to
allow local rabbinates independence on this issue. Local rabbis who
oppose the arrangement would give kashrut certification only to
businesses in their city that agree to import produce.

"In Jerusalem, tomatoes are sold for NIS 9.50 per kilogram, and in
certain cities for NIS 12. This price increase won't stop in Jerusalem
and not at tomatoes. It will take with it all fresh produce. The price
increase will also seriously harm the Haredi public and Israeli farmers.
The kashrut authority will also be harmed because the general public
will turn its back on it and I intend to lead a process to protect all
of these systems," Ben Sasson said.

Will Rabbi Yoffie's message resonate?

Will Rabbi Yoffie's message resonate?

Rabbi Eric Yoffie is becoming American Jewry's Daniel, boldly strolling
into lions' dens as diverse as the late Jerry Falwell's Liberty
University and, more recently, the annual convention of the Islamic
Society of North America. He has managed to cut through the ideological
and theological fog of the "family values" debate to propose a sexual
ethic for teens that is both moral and realistic. He stood up to
Israel's since-fallen president, Moshe Katsav, who couldn't bring
himself to call the leader of America's largest Jewish denomination
In his speech to the Islamic society, Yoffie was forthright and pointed
when he warned that "surely no religious cause...can ever justify
murdering the innocent or targeting the uninvolved." He managed to
acknowledge "dignity for the Palestinians" while reminding his audience
that "Muslims will need to accept the reality of Israeli vulnerability,
including the vulnerability of that tiny nation's ever-threatened borders."
However, the balance - between reconciliation and admonishment - seemed
Yoffie seemed to buy into a theme of victimization among Muslims and to
take on faith what a New York Times article on the convention called,
with little substantiation, "growing intolerance" toward Islam and its
Said Yoffie: "[T]here is no shortage of voices prepared to tell us that
fanaticism and intolerance are fundamental to Islamic religion, and that
violence and even suicide bombing have deep koranic roots. There is no
lack of so-called experts who are eager to seize on any troubling
statement by any Muslim thinker and pin it on Islam as a whole."
THERE MAY be no shortage of such folks, but does their message really
predominate outside the fringes of talk radio? What's remarkable in the
six years since 9/11, and is a testament to the tradition of tolerance
in much of America, is the absence of a vicious anti-Muslim backlash,
legal or social. If anything, Americans have been more eager than their
European counterparts to give their Muslim neighbors the benefit of the
Granted, Muslim individuals and their charities face legal scrutiny
since the attacks.
But there is scrutiny, and there is harassment. Yoffie says it is time
to "end racial profiling and legal discrimination of any kind against
Muslim Americans." But would he really prefer that law enforcement
groups relax their surveillance of certain groups and leaders who have
proved to be ripe for recruiting terrorists? Besides, is it "racial"
profiling or good police and intelligence work to track the ideas and
movements of the very groups from which radical ideas and even more
radical acts have sprung?
The same Times article cites "leaders of American Muslim organizations"
who see three main factors behind "growing intolerance" against Muslims:
global terrorist attacks in the name of Islam, disappointing reports
from the Iraq war, and the agenda of some supporters of Israel who try
[to] taint Islam to undermine the Palestinians."
Let me characterize those "factors" this way: hot, warm, ice cold.
Islamist terrorism is real, and intractable. It is not the product of a
mere "radical fringe" of Muslims. Al-Qaida finds fertile soil for its
fanaticism across the Middle East, in Indonesia, in downtown London.
There are plenty of bad ideas in the Muslim world being spread by people
who find haven in countries that coddle the fanaticism they profess to
We talk of a "war on terrorism," and even that phrase is a curiously
tolerant evasion. If we are in a war, it is against a dangerous, and
quite real, trend within Islam toward religious fanaticism and
nihilistic violence.
The majority of Muslims who do not embrace this radicalism undoubtedly
suffer the indignities inherent in the effort to root out those who do.
But it is important to stress - given the trauma of 9/11 and the daily
Muslim-on-Muslim death toll in Iraq or the deadly backlash against the
Danish Mohammed cartoons and the Taliban's return to Afghanistan - how
tolerant and patient Americans remain.
As for the "supporters of Israel who try [to] taint Islam to undermine
the Palestinians": Show me the ZOA or MEMRI news release that has even
the fraction of the power of an Islamist suicide bombing to tarnish
Islam, or the ability of an Internet "beheading" video to cement public
If Americans stereotype Muslims, it is not because the "Israel Lobby"
told them to. It is because innocent people feel targeted by those who
would kill them for not being Muslim, or not being a certain type of
Muslim, or, really, for no reason at all.
Yoffie's speech is canny, beginning with a direct appeal to what
concerns his listeners most. That leads to a "let's all agree" second
half that tries to enlist them in his vision of a two-state solution in
the Middle East, unequivocal denunciation of terror, and, most
interestingly, an effort to stop thinking of the Arab-Israel conflict in
religious terms.
Can Muslims make this distinction?
"Political battles" have political solutions; "holy wars" are fought
only to the bitter end. Americans are ignorant of Islam, no doubt, but
the main thing they want to know is if its leaders and followers are
able to separate the religious and the secular and if groups like ISNA
are able to stand up and say, like Yoffie, "Let us do everything in our
power to prevent a political battle from being transformed into a holy
The writer is editor in chief of the New Jersey Jewish News.

The Hottest Spot in Town

The hottest spot in town

It is Shabbat at the Western Wall. The sun is setting, glistening in
amber off the domes of Al-Aksa and the Dome of the Rock. Below,
streimels ripple in the evening breeze, nigunim echo off the surrounding
stone, women pray quietly behind the high mehitza, while beautiful young
girls on the plaza glance flirtatiously at groups of teenage boys. All
is peaceful. All? Not quite, actually, far from it.
From the beggars pestering tourists for change to teenagers with a
little too much leg on display, from the haredi monopoly on permissible
religious practices to the long-running rebellion against it, it seems
this holy monument, which God is said to have left as a symbol of the
eventual return of the Jews from exile, has, on their return, become a
symbol of the friction and division within Judaism today.
The Wall still has a great appeal for many. For tourists it is the No. 1
attraction in the country. For Israelis it serves the important function
of being a center for IDF swearing-in ceremonies and is a place for boys
to celebrate their bar mitzvas. The administrators, meanwhile, have made
it accessible to Jews all around the world, with a live Web feed from
their Internet site.
However a single trip to the Wall shows how dominated it is by a single
religious sect. On Shabbat you could be forgiven for thinking you had
walked into a haredi synagogue. The majority of men praying wear
streimels and have peyot. Students from yeshivot march through the
promenade, arm in arm, singing nigunim, while many of the women have
their heads covered by shawls or wigs.
This nonpluralism is grating for members of other streams of Judaism.
Rabbi Uri Regev, president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism,
laments that most Israeli Reform Jews have been put off going to the
Wall altogether.
He agrees that, because the Reform Movement's attachment to the Wall is
essentially existential, as it is for secular Jews - it is significant
to them as a fundamental part of their heritage, rather than a remnant
of the literal home of God - they are less willing to fight for their
right to pray there than the Orthodox. However, he emphasizes that this
does not mean that they have less of an entitlement to the place.
"I feel we have a historical responsibility for the takeover of the
Kotel by religious fundamentalists," Regev says. "When fundamentalist
rule had not been firmly established and separation, not just of men and
women, but also of the different prayer services had not been
established, the religious emphasis could have shifted drastically from
fundamentalism to pluralism.
"In 1969 we held a convention in Israel. One proposal was to hold an
egalitarian service at the Kotel. However there were vehement verbal
assaults thrown at us. Eventually, the convention decided to back down.
If we had gone through with it, I believe we would have established a
precedent that would have developed a pluralist trend."
Regev concedes, though, that his power to change the current state of
affairs is limited.
And his feeling of powerlessness is not alone. Becky Brygel is modern
Orthodox. She regularly visits the Wall on Shabbat afternoons, when she
says the prayer area is tranquil and beggar-free. She feels
uncomfortable with certain aspects of both the fundamentalist attitude
that tries to protect its stranglehold on the Wall and people who use it
as a forum to make a political point against the haredim.
She recounts a time when she took a group of teenage girls there on the
March of the Living. They began to dance together, but were attacked by
other women who objected to them doing something "non-halachic." "This
was the girls' first time down at the Wall and it left a very bad
impression with them," she says.
"The focus of the Kotel should not be control," Brygel points out. "It
is not a banner through which we tell the world which strand of Judaism
is dominant, it is supposed to be a symbol of unity."
THE WALL is state-owned property. However in 1967, prime minister Levi
Eshkol decided to hand over its administration to the rabbinate. This
has given the rabbi of the Western Wall, currently Rabbi Shmuel
Rabinowitz, who was appointed by the Chief Rabbinate, control over what
is permissible practice there.
Sitting behind his desk in an office that overlooks the famous site,
Rabinowitz looks the epitome of a haredi. Dressed in a black jacket and
hat, he speaks in pointed tones from behind a thick, dark beard.
He explains that the Wall should be treated as a unifying factor in
Judaism and indeed for the world. Quoting from I Kings 8:41, he says
that, while the Wall belongs to the Jews, it is meant to be a place of
worship for people of all nations. This, he says, means that a person
can pray to whichever god he chooses, however he must do so whilst
respecting the Halacha and the Jewish tradition that dates back to the
time of the Second Temple.
Therefore, according to Rabinowitz, a man must wear a kippa as he prays,
there must be a mehitza separating the women from the men and, among
other rules women must adhere to, they are not allowed to read from the
Torah or to sing out loud.
But, for all his protestations of wishing the Wall to be for all Jews,
his insistence on these requirements is unpalatable to many.
Anat Hoffman is head of the Israel Religious Action Center (which is the
legal wing of the Reform Movement) and a member of the Women of the Wall
prayer group. "The Kotel can no longer be called a holy place under the
existing authorities," she says. She believes that the rabbinate has let
the Jewish people down. "They were not able to live up to their
rhetoric, they were not able to live up to the holiness of the Wall."
She is an advocate of a much greater degree of pluralism and a more
malleable approach to tradition which would ultimately allow groups such
as the Women of the Wall to pray at the Wall freely.
For 18 years the Women of the Wall have been fighting for their right to
read from the Torah and sing out loud during services, which they hold
at the Wall every Rosh Hodesh. The group's tactics for promoting change
have been described by one of its members as trying to "create facts on
the ground."
As well as fighting for change through the law courts and publicity
campaigns, it has held services at the Wall without the authorization of
the rabbi. During two consecutive services, this combative tactic led
fellow female worshipers to insult them, attack them and, at one point,
try to steal their Torah.
In a landmark decision in 2002, the High Court of Justice decided to
allow the Women of the Wall to worship at the Wall as they wished, free
from hindrance. However, after an outcry by the religious parties, which
tried to impose a law making the Women of the Wall's actions a crime
punishable by seven years in jail, the government asked the court to
review the case, saying it could not ensure public safety if the
decision stood. The ruling was eventually overturned. Instead the judges
decided that Robinson's Arch, an area of the wall further to the south,
would be prepared for alternative prayer services.
This has left the Women of the Wall's members far from pleased. They
view the fact that they have been allocated a spot far from the main
tourist attraction as proof that they are being treated as nothing more
than second-class citizens.
"Robinson's Arch has no symbolic meaning for the Jewish people," Hoffman
says. "It is an archeological dig, not a holy site. The government does
not even treat it as a holy place. There is no permanent Sefer Torah
there, as there is at the main plaza."
HOFFMAN ARGUES that the whole dispute, which stems from haredi
reluctance to accommodate other forms of prayer service, is illusory
anyway. She points out that there is no halachic law which actually
prevents women from reading from the Torah or singing aloud. Meanwhile,
she argues that Rabinowitz's emphasis on tradition is also largely
artificial. Sixty years ago, during the British Mandate, there was no
mehitza separating women from men or strict code of prayer.
Rabinowitz dismisses Hoffman's arguments. He says that although there is
no precise law pertaining to women reading from the Torah, what matters
is that there is a law stating that one must respect tradition as if it
were law. He also says that it is of no importance that there was no
mehitza or regulation of prayer service during the British Mandate,
because at that time there were so few Jews praying there that women and
men did not need to intermingle.
What matters, he says, is what practices were adhered to when the Second
Temple still stood. Because Jews are using the Wall as a substitute for
the Temple, they must pray as if it were the Temple, in which there was
a mehitza and women could not read from the Torah.
Hoffman, however, asks why if Rabinowitz places such emphasis on
tradition does he keep meddling with it.
"The reason God never permitted David to build the Temple was that he
was a man of war. He said that no sword must enter His house, so He left
it to Solomon, who was a man of peace, to build it," she says. "Yet now
Rabinowitz is happy to allow the swearing in of IDF soldiers, who are
carrying guns, to take place in the plaza."
The real reason, she says, that Rabinowitz does not allow the Women of
the Wall to pray there is simply territorial. Although the Women of the
Wall have proved themselves to be religiously devoted across three
decades of protest and have always conducted themselves in a restrained
and respectful way, she says that the haredim see the Wall as their turf
and them as imposing upon it.
Not everyone sees it that way. Earl Cox is a prominent American
evangelical Christian who has a strong attachment to the Jewish people.
For 12 months beginning in January 2004 he went to the Wall to pray for
eight hours every day. He was motivated to do it by a commitment to the
people of Israel, saying, "I believe those who bless Israel will be
blessed in turn." Furthermore, as a Christian he says that the Wall has
great importance for him because it lies at the location of the second
coming of Jesus.
During his time there, he was joined by Christians from all over the
world, but he never held prayer services or even prayed out loud. He has
a reverence for Orthodox Judaism that can be seen in that he calls God
by a Hebrew moniker, "Hashem."
"I never had any problems with the ultra-Orthodox there," he says. "At
the beginning perhaps they resented me being there, but I always
respected their customs by wearing a kippa and I never tried to convert
anybody or to missionize."
After a month or so he noticed that they began to respect his
dedication. "One rabbi would bring me a doughnut every morning. He would
never disturb my prayer; he would just place it down quietly and leave."
He also recalls being invited to join a minyan on several occasions.
Cox believes that the haredim have earned the right to control the Wall
through their immense dedication to the place. "The ultra-Orthodox are
there every day, morning and night. It bothers me that people would go
after them."
And one would be mistaken in thinking that the haredim have it all their
own way though. At the opposite end of the spectrum from Hoffman, people
are afraid that there are too many Jews who do not pay significant
respect to the Wall's sanctity.
On a Friday night in midsummer, a fairly wide dichotomy can be observed
between those praying and those standing in the forecourt. Organizations
such as birthright take groups of teenagers there every Shabbat in July
and August as part of their Israel experience. Many of the girls wear
short skirts, though they had been asked to dress modestly by their
Israeli guides, showing off the new shade of bronze that the Middle
Eastern summer has bestowed upon them. It is clear that this makes many
of the religious men extremely uncomfortable. Haredim can be seen
staring at the ground as they march through, trying not to glimpse any
Rabinowitz says he has had complaints about this from people from all
the religious sects and that it has turned into a real problem.
Therefore he has proposed placing about 10 women at each of the
entrances to make sure girls are dressed modestly as they enter.
But Hoffman says that, on this issue as well, the haredim are only too
happy to resort to violence and intimidation as a means of getting their
Besides, she argues, "the Kotel is this young girl's birthright. It
should take her doing something very offensive indeed for us to tell her
that she should change who she is before she can go there." She
dismisses people's anger on this issue as "very trivial."
Another sensitive subject which has been brought to the fore this summer
(although has been around for a long time) is the many beggars who
disturb people as they pray. In the months leading up to the High Holy
Days, it is impossible to escape them tying ribbons around your hands
and asking for spare change. Begging at the Wall has been illegal since
1981, although action is rarely taken to prevent it.
Many people suspect the beggars' sincerity, since they are almost
nonexistent during the low tourist season, while others say that such a
holy site is not suitable for such practices.
Rabinowitz stresses that the act of charity is one of the most important
mitzvot that a Jew can perform, however he concedes that the beggars
have become a major nuisance.
What to do about it, though, is extremely problematic. For a religious
movement to be seen manhandling a beggar would be a public relations
nightmare. Therefore he has deferred the issue to Attorney-General
Menahem Mazuz, who is in the process of coming to a decision.
Hoffman says that the rabbi of the Wall has always been happy to use the
beggars for his own purposes. She recalls a conversation she had with
Meir Yehuda, Rabinowitz's predecessor, who told her that the only way he
could control the religious zealots who tried to disrupt his authority
was by allowing some of them to beg in return for keeping a watch over
people's activities there. Apparently, even among haredim there are
territorial squabbles that surface over such seemingly minor things as
the exact positioning of tables or bookcases.
ANY FIGHT for reform in the way the Wall is managed is likely to be long
and arduous, since the state provides little backing for it.
Former religious affairs minister Shimon Shetreet explains that the law
provides almost no basis for an argument advocating change to the Wall's
rules based on freedom of religion. He points out that the last basic
law to pass in the Knesset in 1991, the Basic Law: Human Dignity, made
no mention of freedom of religion because of the concern it caused among
the religious parties.
Meanwhile, a bylaw passed in 1981 bestowed upon the administrator of the
Wall, appointed with the government's authorization the power to eject
people who dress inappropriately, hand out fliers against his
authorization, beg or hold an unauthorized religious service.
Theoretically the rabbi of the Western Wall is accountable to the Prime
Minister's Office for what happens there. But Hoffman complains that the
government allows itself to be pressured by the threat of haredi
violence. In stark contrast with foreign policy, she says that when
faced with threats against fellow Jews from Jewish religious
fundamentalists, the government caves in, such as in the case of the
Women of the Wall. "They are secular Jews who see Orthodoxy as the
'true' form of Judaism and through this have handed over control of
religious affairs to it," she says.
The Prime Minister's Office responds that "there is no justification for
any violence against worshipers and, in the case of violence breaking
out, law enforcement bodies enforce the law to protect the people
It also points out that millions of shekels were spent on the Robinson's
Arch prayer area which, at the time of the High Court ruling, all the
parties involved agreed upon.
Where to go from here is not an easy question to answer. Rabinowitz is
adamant that there should be no change at the wall and he appears to
have the government behind him.
His opponents know what they think should happen, be it a division of
the wall based on partition or time sharing. According to Hoffman, the
Wall should be turned into a national monument over which no religious
group has control.
But implementing reform will be difficult. Regev is pessimistic that any
change will come soon. "At this point, the unholy alliance of religion
and state still has a hold on Israel. It is preventing greater
accommodation at the Wall and it will continue to for years to come."
Muslims and the Wall
The Western Wall has a certain, controversial significance for Muslims
as well as Jews. In Arabic it is called Al-Burak. The name is derived
from a ninth-century legend in which Muhammad is said to have left Mecca
on a night journey on the back of a winged creature called Al-Burak,
which took him to the farthest mosque in the lands of Islam, the Aksa
Mosque. It was said that Muhammad tied up his steed to the wall below,
from where the connection is derived.
In the Mameluke period Islamic scholars tried to ascertain which mosque
Al-Aksa was and decided that it was the Jerusalem mosque which bears the
name today. At the time it was believed that the wall he tied the
creature to was the southern wall, which is the closest to the mosque
It was only in the early 20th century the link to the Western Wall first
began to gain prominence. As the city's Jewish and Muslim communities
began to fight for dominance over the site, the British Mandatory
government decided to institute a "status quo" in which the Jews were
allowed to continue to pray there on the condition they did not bring
tables or chairs up to the Wall. The 1929 Arab riots, in which dozens of
Jews were killed, broke out in part because Orthodox Jews continued to
try to bring a mehitza to the Wall.
However, according to Moshe Sharon, a professor in Islamic history at
the Hebrew University, the Muslim connection is a complete fabrication.
"Jerusalem is unimportant to Islam until someone else wants it," he says.
He points out that there is no mention of Jerusalem in the Koran and
also denies that there is any mention of the Western Wall in early
Islamic writing. "Even the tradition that the Aksa Mosque is the actual
mosque to which Muhammad traveled was disputed in the Mameluke period,
when there were many alternative traditions saying that Al-Aksa was
somewhere else."
That there was never a mosque built at the Wall nor did Muslims ever
pray there, even in the early 20th century, Sharon argues, is proof of
the lack of religious value it actually has for them.
The real reason, he argues, for its rise to prominence was that
anti-Zionists, led by Haj Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti of
Jerusalem, an ally of Adolf Hitler, saw it as a powerful symbol in the
struggle against Jewish statehood.
To this day it remains a powerful propaganda tool in the Muslim world.
In February 2000, Egypt's leading Muslim authority, Sheikh Nasser Farid
Wassel, decreed that the Western Wall remain an Islamic endowment forever.
Wassel claimed the Burak Wall is a part of the western wall of the Aksa
Mosque. He added that the wall would belong to all Muslims "until the
end of the Earth."

weekly update 25/09/07

Dear Members,

We have two attachment for you for this Succot. First of all the
newsletter from our friends at the Leo Baeck education centre in Haifa.
Second a very well written Yom Kippur article on attitudes towards and
practice of Reform Judaism in Israel.
As always we are delighted to hear your feedback.
We will be having a weeks break from our e-mails over Chol HaMoed
Chag Sameach
Daniel and all at Pro Zion

Jews who hate Reform Jews

Yom Kippur 2007: Jews who hate Reform Jews
By Bradley Burston

The Scene: A spinning class at a smartly appointed gym at a kibbutz in
the Judean Hills, a few days before Yom Kippur. The instructor has yet
to arrive. "We have a minyan, we can begin anyway," says one member of
the class.

"Wait," says another, astride his exercise bike. "Women aren't counted
in a minyan."

"Reform Jews do count women in the minyan," says a woman in the class.
The man on the bike is unmoved. "The Reformim aren't Jews," he says.

There are those among us Jewish Israelis, whether we define ourselves as
traditionalist or secular-as-Stalin, who cannot abide Reform Judaism and
those who choose to practice it.

"I have to admit that the pseudo-spiritualism that the Reform Jewish
synagogue manufactures is foreign to me," wrote Gafi Amir in an opinion
column in Yedioth Ahronoth this week

Taking a shot at the "neo-secular, particularly those who congratulate
themselves for being enlightened and pluralistic," Amir decided that
their level of religious observance will not include the commandments of
fasting and searching one's soul.

"On Yom Kippur they will skip over these two clauses when they visit the
Reform synagogue. Afterward, they will wear out their less enlightened
and secular friends, like me, with the purifying experience they
underwent there."

There's a certain glee in the tone of these words. Part of it is because
the words break new ground, going well beyond the timeworn observation
that "The synagogue that I do not attend is Orthodox."

In particular, the words identify and castigate a new foreign body, yet
another enemy in our midst. The words address the "Reformim" with the
same dismissive contempt once reserved for Arabs, or for Jews who came
from the other side of the Ashkenazi-Mizrahi divide.

The words treat the Reform as some form of quaint, deluded,
would-be-Jewish tribe, like the map that Yedioth splashed across its
front page the day before, pinpointing what it suggested were Jews who
aren't really Jews in a dozen countries from Brazil to China.

Deep down, we all know what the glee is really about. It is the blissful
assurance that the collective "We" silently agrees with Gafi Amir, that
it scorns and even pities these pathetic self-styled people of faith.

But even that will not suffice. Borrowing another image from the Yedioth
front page of the day before, Amir tells us exactly how far these
Reformim are from being a part of Us.

With a nod to the photo spreads on the celebrity participants in last
week's Kabbala conference in Tel Aviv - among them non-Jewish stars
Madonna, Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, James Van Der Beek ("Dawson"), and
Rosie O'Donnell - Amir delivered her coup de grace to the Reform and
other neo-secularists who, she says, selectively perform only
"mannerisms of Judaism":

"Many of them will joke around at the expense of Madonna/Esther and the
delegation of Hollywood stars that landed in Tel Aviv. I haven't
succeeded in seeing the difference between them."

Inherent in the hatred of Reform is the assumption that even the most
pork-stuffed of the secular know authentic Judaism when they see it, and
a fraud when they do not. They can somehow divine lack of commitment and
observance in Reform, even when they themselves do not study, do not
practice, do not believe.

Fundamentally, the ridicule of Reform ignores the fact that all over
Israel, Jews raised in Orthodox homes have become active members of
Reform and Conservative congregations because they believe both in
religious Judaism and in equality for women within Jewish observance.

I suspect that much of the scorn directed toward Reform Judaism reflects
a certain frustration over the inability of many Israelis to feel a part
of any congregation, Orthodox, Conservative or Reform. For many, the
gulf between secular Israeli culture and the available forms of
organized religion has yet to be bridged by liturgy and customs that
speak to the non-religious.

Oddly, the anti-Reform venom in us seems to seep out most strikingly at
this time of the year, those 10 days beginning on Rosh Hashanah, during
which the Gates of Repentance are briefly open, and secular Jews the
world over, decide how - and if - they want to walk through.

Abroad, the decision may have to do with such factors as, Can my career
stand taking off work for Yom Kippur? Do I really want to spend hundreds
of dollars, pounds, or euros on synagogue seats for the family? Can the
kids bear the services? Can my spouse? Can I?

Here in Israel, of course, the questions are radically different, if
they are asked at all. In this place, socialism-bred kibbutzniks may
know infinitely more Hebrew - and even more of the Hebrew Bible - than
many formally Orthodox Jews abroad.

But as Amir and others stress, powerful efforts by the kibbutz movement
to replace Orthodox practice with a new religion based on values of
agriculture, Jewish history, the Bible as literature, and modern Israeli
culture have been sidelined as the kibbutz movement itself has imploded.

Israeli Jews are searching for a synthesis that will speak to them.
Judaism evolved over thousands of years. We would be well advised to
allow people of good faith to carry out their trials, without laughing
like bullies at their errors.

It is Yom Kippur. It is time to lay anger aside. It is time, as the
prayers of both Orthodoxy and Reform specify, to shelve slander, scorn,
ridicule and baseless hatred.

It is Yom Kippur. It is time to let Jews be Jews. It is time to
recognize that Judaism itself is changing - even Orthodox Judaism. It is
time to let individuals be alone with their God, and, at least this one
day of the year, to accord that relationship the respect it deserves.