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

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

The Arab Press Blames Iran Rather Than Israel for Gaza’s Woes

Following the fighting between Israel and Islamic Jihad over the weekend, many journalists and commentators in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia didn’t rush to condemn the Jewish state. Instead, as the translators at the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) note, they criticized the terrorist group for “operating in service of Iranian interests and thus inflicting suffering on the Gaza Strip’s residents.” One Saudi intellectual, Turki al-Hamad, wrote the following on Twitter:

It is apparent that, if at one time any confrontation between Israel and the Palestinian organizations would attract world and Arab attention and provoke a wave of anger [against Israel], today it does not shock most Arabs and most of the world’s [countries]. Furthermore, even a sense of human solidarity [with the Palestinians] has become rare and embarrassing, raising the question, “Why [is this happening] and who is to blame?”

I believe that the main reason is the lack of confidence in all the Palestinian leaders. . . . From the Arabs’ and the world’s perspective, it is already clear that these leaders are manipulating the [Palestinian] cause out of self-interest and diplomatic, economic, or even personal motives, and that the Palestinian issue is completely unconnected to this. The Palestinian cause has become a bargaining chip in the hands of these and other organizations and states headed by the [Iranian] ayatollah regime.

A, article in a major Arabic-language newspaper took a similar approach:

In a lengthy front-page report on August 7, the London-based UAE daily Al-Arab criticized Islamic Jihad, writing that “Gaza again became an arena for the settling of accounts between Iran and Israel, while the Palestinian citizens are the ones paying the price.” It added that Iran does not want to confront Israel directly for its bombings in Syria and its attacks on Iranian scientists and nuclear facilities.

“The war in Gaza is not the first, nor will it be the last. But it proves . . . that Iran is exploiting Gaza as it exploits Lebanon, in order to strengthen its hand in negotiations with the West. We all know that Iran hasn’t fired a single bullet at Israel, and it also will not do this to defend Gaza or Lebanon.”

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Read more at MEMRI

More about: Gaza Strip, Iran, Islamic Jihad, Israel-Arab relations, Persian Gulf