Ultra-Orthodox Control of the Israeli Rabbinate Stands in the Way of Resolving the Conversion Question

Jan. 22 2020

With another election approaching, issues of religion and state have again raised their head, with politicians from the militantly secular Yisrael Beytenu party trading barbs with the Sephardi chief rabbi. The bone of contention relates to the conversion of immigrants from the Soviet Union and their children—many of whom are of only partial Jewish ancestry. Behind such controversies, writes David M. Weinberg, is the ḥaredi takeover of the institutions of the chief rabbinate in the early days of the peace process:

In the 1990s, the political left gave the keys to Israel’s Jewish character to ultra-Orthodox politicians in order to purchase ḥaredi support for the Oslo process and the subsequent Gaza disengagement. Ḥaredi rabbis began a slow but inexorable conquest, with the backing of the reigning Labor party, of city rabbinates, religious courts, conversion courts, municipal religious councils, and kashrut agencies, turning the chief rabbinate into an ossified, contrary force that has created more problems than it has solved.

Religious Zionist and Modern Orthodox rabbis, who had built and controlled the rabbinate for the country’s first 40 years and who were generally much more attuned to the needs of the non-religious and Zionist public, were pushed out. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the same Faustian bargain in 2013, when, for narrow political reasons, he supported the ḥaredi candidate for chief rabbi, David Lau, over the Religious Zionist candidate, Rabbi David Stav.

As far as most ḥaredi rabbis are concerned, the many Russian non-Jews who came to Israel, and their children, can simply remain Gentiles—since ḥaredi society has no intention of mixing with that public anyway. . . . Religious Zionists feel differently. They generally view the wave of Russian immigration as a blessing from the heavens: a gift from God that imposes a responsibility on rabbinical leaders of this generation to develop solutions so that intermarriage with non-Jews does not become a problem in Israel as it has been in the Diaspora.

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Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Conversion, Israeli Chief Rabbinate, Peace Process, Religious Zionism, Ultra-Orthodox

Will Costco Go to Israel?

Social-media users have mocked this week new Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich for a poorly translated letter. But far more interesting than the finance minister’s use of Google Translate (or some such technology) is what the letter reveals about the Jewish state. In it, Smotrich asks none other than Costco to consider opening stores in Israel.

Why?

Israel, reports Sharon Wrobel, has one of the highest costs of living of any country in the 38-member Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

This

has been generally attributed to a lack of competition among local importers and manufacturers. The top three local supermarket chains account for over half of the food retail market, limiting competition and putting upward pressure on prices. Meanwhile, import tariffs, value-added tax costs and kosher restrictions have been keeping out international retail chains.

Is the move likely to happen?

“We do see a recent trend of international retailers entering the Israeli market as some barriers to food imports from abroad have been eased,” Chen Herzog, chief economist at BDO Israel accounting firm, told The Times of Israel. “The purchasing power and technology used by big global retailers for logistics and in the area of online sales where Israel has been lagging behind could lead to a potential shift in the market and more competitive prices.”

Still, the same economist noted that in Israel “the cost of real estate and other costs such as the VAT on fruit and vegetables means that big retailers such as Costco may not be able to offer the same competitive prices than in other places.”

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Costco, Israel & Zionism