Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Israelis have spoken – that is, 67.52% of Israel has spoken equaling 3,777,977 votes with a smaller percentage of Israeli Arabs voting than ever before. In the next six weeks we will learn what the ruling coalition will look like.
There were some big surprises in the final vote tally representing a kind of tikun (correction) within Israeli politics. Rather than continuing the trend towards a more extremist right-wing government, Israelis wanted their next Knesset to turn back towards the middle of the political spectrum.
The two most significant winners are Yair Lapid of “Yesh Atid” (i.e. There is a Future) representing the middle with 19 seats, and Naftali Bennett of “Bayit Yehudi” (i.e. The Jewish Home) from the right with 11 seats. Netanyahu was the big loser though he will likely remain Prime Minister. Kadima dropped to 2 seats and the ultra-Orthodox parties lost strength as well with a total of 19.
What does it all mean?
For the past two months I have been studying modern Hebrew by Skype with two wonderful teachers in Israel. Tomer lives in Tel Aviv, is 25 years old, secular, a graduate student in history and literature at Tel Aviv University, a jazz musician, and interested professionally in the media. He was among the 20% of “undecided voters” until he walked into the voting booth and cast his vote for Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party.
My other teacher, Avital, lives in Efrat (on the West Bank), is 28 years old, religious, a graduate student in Hebrew grammar at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and wishes to be an editor and translator. She was viscerally excited whenever speaking about Naftali Bennett.
Both teachers are smart, sophisticated, educated young Israelis. They are concerned about quality of life, the Israeli economy, the growing deficit, and the future of the middle class. Each was drawn to a candidate who is straight-talking and unencumbered by political corruption.
Tomer worries that Lapid yitkapel (slang: “he will fold/cave” to the pressures of Netanyahu and politics). Avital had wished that Bennett would have fared better. She liked his campaign's emphasis on family and Jewish study. Both Tomer and Avital liked that their respective candidates each emphasized the importance of shivyon b’nitel (“sharing the burden of military/civilian service, including the ultra-Orthodox).
Bennet and Lapid are alike and dissimilar, mirror images of each other. Lapid has called for a renewal of negotiations with the Palestinians leading to a two-state solution, is against the division of Jerusalem and wants the large settlement blocs to remain in Israel with appropriate land swaps in a final settlement.
Bennett wants to annex 60% of the West Bank and is opposed to the establishment of a Palestinian State anywhere on the land west of the Jordan River.
Lapid is a secular Jew and attends our starship Reform synagogue Beit Daniel in Tel Aviv occasionally. He believes in a pluralistic democratic Israel.
Bennett is a modern orthodox Jew who is married to a secular woman and wants the government to support all the orthodox parties and not just Shas. He and Bayit Yehudi have provoked the scorn of Shas' 90 year old spiritual father, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who branded them as a party of "goyim." Bennett does not speak about religious pluralism nor about equal rights for Reform and Conservative religious streams. He wants to change the way judges are appointed so as to prevent them ruling on the constitutionality of legislation passed by the Knesset. He charges that the media is controlled by the left, though neglects to note that the most widely read Israeli newspaper is Israel Hayom, financed entirely by the wealthy American right-wing Jew, Sheldon Adelson.
A defining decision will be whether Netanyahu includes Bennett in his coalition or excludes him. If Bibi excludes him the government will essentially re-affirm the goal of a two-state solution. If he includes Bennett, he will signal his disinterest in negotiations leading to a two-state solution.
Secretary of State designate John Kerry is planning to visit Israel and the Palestinian communities in February to get a lay of the land. I would hope that President Obama will come as well, or very soon thereafter, in order to speak heart to heart with the Israelis and demonstrate his personal concern for their security and welfare as a Jewish and democratic nation, and then do the same with the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, thereby opening up the process leading to a final two-state solution.
Granted, the President has much on his plate, not the least of which is the Iranian nuclear threat. But only the President can act as the divorce mediator between the Palestinians and Israelis, and I hope he will take on that role.
Tomer and Avital, their generation and the people of Israel deserve nothing less.
12.11.13 at 2:49 pm | Exile is not just about one’s physical. . .
12.7.13 at 5:18 pm | Joseph and Nelson Mandela demonstrate that a few. . .
12.3.13 at 6:33 am | Anat Hoffman's letter and a link to include your. . .
12.2.13 at 7:19 am | To acknowledge vulnerability is to accept our. . .
11.29.13 at 6:59 am | The recently published Pew Study of the American. . .
11.27.13 at 8:45 am | The two pieces below published in today’s. . .
12.7.13 at 5:18 pm | Joseph and Nelson Mandela demonstrate that a few. . . (98)
12.11.13 at 2:49 pm | Exile is not just about one’s physical. . . (59)
6.19.12 at 7:13 am | One has to ask why would so many people would. . . (56)
January 21, 2013 | 5:34 pm
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
As I watched today and saw one million citizens standing on the Washington Mall waving small American flags in a flutter of red, white and blue as the first African American President was inaugurated for the second time, I felt such deep pride in being an American.
On NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” today, I heard Nikkey Finney, Professor of English Literature at the University of Kentucky, read part of a poem called “The Cure of Troy” by Seemus Heaney (1939-2013), the 1995 Nobel Prize winner in Literature, and thought – Yes! That is what this moment in time is all about and that is what we are here to feel, think and believe.
The Cure of Troy
…History says, Don't hope
on this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
the longed for tidal wave
of justice can rise up,
and hope and history rhyme.
So hope for a great sea-change
on the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
and cures and healing wells…
January 16, 2013 | 8:12 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Rabbi Eric Yoffie has challenged Prime Minister Netanyahu to bring religious pluralism to the Jewish state and show respect and honor to Reform and Conservative Jews in Israel and the Diaspora.
Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu:
American Jews are exceedingly agitated about issues of religious freedom, and there are things that you—acting on your own—can do about it.
I write to you now because after the election, which I am sure that you will win, you will be immersed in the politics of putting together a new coalition. Everyone, including the Orthodox parties, will be making demands of you, and it will be easy to forget that the citizens of Israel are not your only constituency. The Jews of the Diaspora—and of America in particular—also look to you, as the Prime Minister of the Jewish State, for leadership. And what they need right now is your help in creating a new alliance between the Diaspora and Israel built on trust and mutual respect.
And the starting point must be a new approach on Israel’s part to issues of religious pluralism. Peace, settlements and the Iranian threat are all matters of deep concern, in the Diaspora as they are in Israel. But the simple fact is that the failure of Israel to offer recognition and support for the streams of Judaism with which the great majority of American Jews identify is nothing less than a disgrace—and an obstacle to engaging fully on all the other issues on Israel’s agenda.
Read the full post here.
January 13, 2013 | 7:53 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
It would be easy to throw up one’s hands in despair about prospects for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal anytime soon. Most of the news is negative except that Israeli pollsters say the vast majority of Israelis dearly want peace and accept the principle of a two-state solution, but few expect it to happen soon.
Mahmud Abbas does not sound of late like the peace-partner Ehud Olmert and Shimon Peres believe him to be. In a major speech last week, for example, President Abbas made no mention of the necessity of a two-state solution and the land-for-peace formula. Instead, he called on the Palestinians to continue their struggle and he pointed to Hajj Amin al-Husseini as a memorable past Palestinian leader. Al-Husseini was in alliance with Hitler during WWII and developed plans to build an “Auschwitz” in the West Bank.
I understand why Abbas has turned to more extreme rhetoric, to counteract the ascendency of Hamas. But his doing so is a tragedy. I had hoped that after his successful UN bid he would take the opportunity to drop his preconditions and sit down with Netanyahu to negotiate an end-of-conflict solution. It is exceptionally disheartening that he did not do so.
On the other hand, Israel’s election campaign has given voice to the most extreme elements in Israeli society and politics. Naftali Bennet and his new “Jewish Home” party has called for the unilateral annexation of 40% of the West Bank into Israel, and polls indicate that he would attain between 16 and 18 mandates in the next Knesset. Likud’s Moshe Feiglin, representing the extreme wing of Netanyahu’s party, has called for the unilateral annexation of the West Bank and suggested that Israel pay each Palestinian family $500,000 to leave their homes and go to another country. The growth of the right-wing settler movement combined with the ultra-Orthodox religious parties will likely pull Netanyahu further to the right, which will make achieving a two-state solution even more difficult in the next Knesset.
Both sides are frustrated, afraid of losing face and are digging in their heels. Palestinians see Israeli intransigence, continued occupation and a denial of their human rights and a state of their own as intolerable. Israelis fear the radicalization of the Palestinians and Hamas’ potential overthrow of the PA and endless terror and war, and they worry further that the “Arab Spring” will continue its hostility to Israel. And, last but certainly not least, they regard Iran’s development of nuclear weapons as a mortal threat.
And then there are those of us in Israel and America who believe that the only solution that preserves Israel’s Jewish majority and democratic character, while being the best guarantor for the Jewish state’s long-term security and improved international standing as a progressive nation is the two-state solution.
I asked recently an Israeli friend whether he feels despair given the current trends and he said, “John, in Israel despair is not an option.”
In difficult times as these I find it worthwhile to look to history for wisdom and hope, whose ark often swings from one extreme to another. With this perspective, it is remarkable indeed that our own American founding fathers created the constitutional democracy that we have today, that the allies defeated the Nazis, that in their place emerged a new Germany and eventually a strong European Union, that the State of Israel was created at all, that the Berlin Wall fell and soon thereafter the Soviet Union crumbled, that peace came to Northern Ireland, and that an African American was elected twice as President of the United States.
History holds many surprises, and I hope that the next big one is peace between Israel and the Palestinian people.
Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav taught: “Remember: Things can go from the very worst to the very best…in just the blink of an eye.”
And Dr. Martin Luther King, whose birthday we recall this week, said, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
I wish the Israelis well in their election next week. Should Prime Minister Netanyahu form a new government, as he is expected to do, I pray that he commit himself to find a way to work hard for peace between Israel and Palestinians in a two-state end-of-conflict solution.
From here, thousands of miles away, we American Jews have the duty, I believe, to do everything we can to support that effort by persuading President Obama and the United States to engage aggressively and soon to help the Israelis and Palestinians achieve an agreement that addresses the yearnings of both peoples for dignity, security, justice, and peace.
None of this will be easy, but as my Israeli friend reminded me, “In Israel despair is not an option.”
January 9, 2013 | 8:19 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster’s blog, printed in The Jewish Daily Forward (below) expresses well why torture is contrary to Jewish values and tradition.
She is Director of North American Programs for Rabbis for Human Rights-North America and a board member of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.
The resources she cites (below) show why, in truth, torture does not work and that the torture shown in this remarkable film, “Zero Dark Thirty” did NOT lead to information identifying Osama bin Laden’s courier, per Senators John McCain, Diane Feinstein and Carl Levin with access to classified CIA information.
Rachel and Rabbis for Human Rights-North America have done us a tremendous service in bringing this material to public attention, and I am happy to post the links to her article and this information here.
January 7, 2013 | 7:11 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Anat Hoffman is the Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), the social justice arm of Israel’s Reform Movement (i.e. “The Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism – IMPJ”). She is also the leader of a separate group called “Women of the Wall” a convening of religious women for prayer on the first of every Hebrew month (Rosh Hodesh) at the holiest site in Judaism, the Western Wall (Kotel) for many years.
The following is her report on the current status of her arrest and incarceration two months ago for praying, singing and wearing a tallit publicly. Also, you may click here and sign a petition of protest.
Dear John ,
On October 17, 2012, Rosh Chodesh Heshvan, I was arrested at the Western Wall for the crime of wearing a tallit and singing. Although it was only two months ago, so much has happened since. The level of intimidation by the authorities at the Kotel is getting worse. Additional women have been detained for a similar crime, including a prominent Reform rabbi. In light of the Jewish Agency recently taking up this issue I wanted to update you on my personal situation and IRAC’s continuing work to make the Western Wall a home for all Jews.
The arrest and the treatment I endured during my night in prison was a difficult experience, but what has been even harder for me is seeing how successful the Rabbi of the Kotel, Shmuel Rabinowitz, has been at making women from all denominations afraid to visit Judaism’s holiest site.
After my arrest for "performing a religious act contrary to local custom" (saying the Shema), I filed a complaint with the Jerusalem police department’s equivalent of Internal Affairs. When I told them how I had been treated by their officers they seemed genuinely shocked. We had high hopes for the results of their investigation, but my case sat dormant for over a month.
Finally we were told that they see nothing wrong with the action of the police and the treatment I received. They said that pulling me across the floor by my wrists, two strip searches, and making me sleep on the floor were all within their regulations. My case was moved from the police internal investigations department to the civilian complaint department.
Last week IRAC went to the High Court to try to change the composition of the governing body that decides what religious acts are acceptable at the Western Wall. Currently, that body is the Western Wall Heritage Council, which is made up of 15 ultra-Orthodox men. In their minds, the way millions of Jews in Israel and around the world pray is not legitimate and has no place at Judaism’s holy sites. We strongly disagree.
The physical scars from my ordeal two months ago have healed, but my desire to see an end to the ultra-Orthodox domination of religious and civil life in Israel is stronger than ever. Everywhere I go in Israel and abroad people give me words of support, and I cannot tell you how much that means to me. I have no doubt that by working together we can make religious life in Israel inclusive and pluralistic.
Executive Director, IRAC
Action Alert: Help our petition grow!
For several months we have been collecting signatures for our Kotel petition. We have already reached over 30,000 signatures, but we need more to accomplish our 50,000 goal. Join us in petitioning the Israeli government to make the leadership of the governing body of the Western Wall Complex more inclusive and more representative of Israeli society and the wider Jewish world. If you have already signed the petition please click here to help us collect more signatures.
December 31, 2012 | 7:37 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
"An Israeli Spring?" by Yair Rosenberg in Tablet analyzes the current efforts by moderate religious Orthodox Zionists to wrest control of Israel's Chief Rabbinate from the ultra-Orthodox.
This is an important article on what is happening politically in Israel before the elections on January 22 that is likely to affect the next government under PM Netanyahu. The issue is whether the ultra-Orthodox Rabbinate will continue to control the office of the Chief Rabbinate and keep Israelis in a strangle-hold on issues of status, conversion, marriage, and burial, among other issues.
A “renegade rabbinic organization called Tzohar (meaning "window" and referring to the window in Noah's ark) has joined forces with Likud-Yisrael Bateinu (Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman's combined party) and the ultra-Orthodox party Shas to wrest control from the ultra-Orthodox Chief Rabbinate in order to promote a more moderate orthodox Chief Rabbinate thereby excluding ultra-Orthodox parties from the government (other than Shas) and relaxing many heretofore restrictive policies overseen by the Hareidi ultra-Orthodox.
Despite the strong support in the country for Tzohar, this DOES NOT MEAN RELIGIOUS FREEDOM for Jews in Israel. (Note: See comment below from Rabbi Stanley Davids of Jerusalem who explains this more fully). Even with a more moderate Chief Rabbinate, religious affairs would still be controlled by an Orthodox rabbinate. The article, though excellent in describing the political issues at hand, mis-characterizes the nature of Reform and Conservative Judaism in Israel.
Though originally born out of the Diaspora Jewish experience, both the Israeli Reform and Conservative movements are run by Israelis and are fashioned to Israeli needs, culture and religious/spiritual/moral outlook. As such they are increasingly more and more popular among Israeli secularists.
What is really necessary is the abolition of the Chief Rabbinate altogether along with its strangle-hold over Israeli religious life and the disbursement of government funds almost exclusively to Orthodox institutions. This means nurturing a religiously pluralistic society.
The following is quoted from the article (the complete article link is below and is well-worth your reading in its entirety):
“The solution in Israel should not be Rotem’s solution or Tzohar’s solution of ‘we will make Orthodoxy more moderate and it will solve everyone’s problems,’ ” said Yizhar Hess, executive director of the Masorti/Conservative Movement in Israel. “This is false! I don’t want to have a moderate Orthodox religious service. Each [movement] has its own identity. That’s how it should be.” In other words, no matter how benign this reformed rabbinate might prove, it would still be an Orthodox rabbinate—one that doesn’t recognize Reform and Conservative rabbis or their marriages and conversions. For Hess, the “smiley face” of the moderate Tzohar rabbi is the façade that masks a more fundamental problem: Israel’s lack of full religious freedom.
‘As well-intentioned as Tzohar’s mission may be … it has no problem with an Orthodox monopoly on Judaism in the State of Israel.’
“As well-intentioned as Tzohar’s mission may be,” argued Rabbi Uri Regev, CEO of Hiddush, an Israeli nonprofit organization promoting religious freedom, “it emerges that to it, American Jewish pluralism is anathema.” In fact, the organization “has no problem with an Orthodox monopoly on Judaism in the State of Israel.”
For these non-Orthodox leaders and their counterparts in America, the rabbinate as currently constituted is an unacceptable entanglement of religion and state. “The institution of the chief rabbinate as a state-funded and empowered agency strikes me as anti-democratic and doomed to failure,” said Rabbi Daniel Nevins, dean of the rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary. “As for Tzohar, I am impressed by their track record, but if they were granted political power, they too would be tempted to enforce their religious views and practices on the public. Political power corrupts religion; every group is vulnerable to this temptation. The only solution is to discontinue the state regulation of religion and to allow for freedom of conscience and equality of religious practice in Israel.”
Stav and Tzohar are indeed unapologetically Orthodox and make no secret of the fact that they would not recognize non-Orthodox forms of Judaism were they to attain the chief rabbinate. Why, then, do many secular Israelis and their politicians support Tzohar over a pluralistic approach? According to many, the answer is simple: American Judaism and its particular flavors have never made much sense to Israelis, or gained much traction on the ground. Brandeis Professor Yehudah Mirsky, who has written at some length on this question, explains that Israelis and Americans are speaking two very different languages when it comes to Jewish life and practice, which stem from two distinct historical experiences.”
The following comment was sent to me following receipt of the above on my personal blog from Rabbi Stanley Davids, Past President of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA) who lives in Jerusalem.
The article is fascinating both in the issues it raises and in the mis-conceptions that it engenders. ZOHAR, by the way, is named to allude to the skylight in Noah's Ark -- an interesting way of stating that its founders were looking for new sources of illumination in troubling times. Were that only truly the case.
I witnessed Rabbi Stav's presentation to the Jewish Agency's Unity of the Jewish People Committee. Let there be no doubt that he strongly supports an Orthodox controlled Chief Rabbinate -- and that in fact he and his organization do everything possible to avoid public conflicts with the Chief Rabbinate. Zohar is no friend of religious pluralism, no friend of mutual respect and recognition, no friend of any move designed to ease the blight of religious coercion in Israel.
I agree with Yizhar Hess's comments as well as those of Uri Regev. I would caution all who read the article that it is replete with error -- for example, the mood of the current electorate clearly puts socio-economic issues down the list of its priorities -- otherwise, Labor's polling numbers would be heading up instead of down, BUT "socio-economic" in any event has absolutely nothing to do with synagogue-state issues. The issue of freedom from religious coercion is no where being debated -- not by Labor, not by Yisrael Beiteinu, and certainly not by Bayyit Yehudi -- whose new leader has recently been espousing some radically troubling positions.
A final note -- I sat with MK Rotem in his office during the Knesset debate on his conversion bill. He was resolutely intractable, unwilling to even listen to the slightest possibility that his moves would lead to grave damage in Diaspora-Israel relations. He is a committed ideologue with whom reasoned discussion seems like a foreign concept.
Other than that -- thank you for opening up this incredibly important conversation.
December 21, 2012 | 9:00 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Every year this season draws families, friends and colleagues together. There is love in the air, but also painful memories of breached trust and unresolved conflict. The power of forgiveness, the instinct for revenge and the need for reconciliation is ever present in our lives. Forgiveness may be the most difficult challenge we ever face. For those, however, who are able to forgive and are graced by others who forgive us, we are fortunate indeed.
Rabbi Abraham Twerski, in Forgiveness – Don’t let resentment keep you captive, writes that every experience we have in our lives is stored in the memory hard drive of our subconscious. Some are harmless, some edifying and others painful. Though we may have repressed them we are, nevertheless, the sum total of those memories. We are fashioned by them and we relate to others through our memory’s lens.
Rabbi Twerski says: “With every additional year there are more provocations (major and minor) and the sum total is cumulative…when we don’t forgive an offense, it remains in the subconscious and it joins similar feelings for the various complexes to which it belongs.”
Forgiveness is often misunderstood. Forgiving does not mean excusing the bad behavior of others or forgetting that we’ve been wronged. Rather, forgiveness means letting go of the anger, resentment and need for revenge.
What if the people who hurt us or offended us have not apologized and think they were justified in what they did? Are we supposed to forgive them? The answer is yes, not for their sake but for ours. Forgiving an offender is not about doing him a favor. Getting rid of our resentment and need for vengeance is for our own good so that those negative feelings cease to complicate our lives.
The ideal goal is reconciliation with the offending other. But this is not always possible.
I heard a moving story this week about a woman in her 70s who had not spoken with her sister in 40 years. One day out of the blue her sister called to inform her that she was dying, and before she died she wanted to see her. They met, her sister apologized for the wrong that had caused the breach and asked for forgiveness. They wept together and reconciled. After she died the surviving sister felt as though a heavy burden had been lifted from her, and the love she once felt for her sister returned.
As we encounter family, friends and colleagues during these final days of the year, perhaps now is our time to dig deeply, summon the courage, take the risk, and ask for and seek forgiveness of others.
Michael McCullough, in his book Beyond Revenge – The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct, extends the principles of interpersonal forgiveness to groups, communities and nations. He writes:
“The forgiveness instinct needs to be activated. When we do this we can change the world. Groups can be helped to forgive other groups, communities can be helped to forgive other communities, …and nations can even be helped to forgive other nations. Leaders… can offer apologies on behalf of their people to groups with whom they’ve been in conflict. They can also offer gestures that express remorse and empathy for the suffering of another group, and they can provide compensation to groups of people whom they’ve harmed – just as individuals can. When they engage in such gestures, it is often to great effect.” (p. 182-183)
Think of such gestures on the world stage that have been offered, and the effect. Pope John Paul II apologized to the Jewish people for Christendom’s participation in the Holocaust. Japanese leaders offered public apologies for war atrocities committed against China, Korea and other neighbors. The United States apologized to Japanese Americans who we interred in concentration camps during World War II. The Irish Republican Army apologized for the deaths of noncombatants during the war in northern Ireland.
Is it not time for Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas to apologize on behalf of their peoples for the pain and suffering experienced by non-combatants on each side as a first step to a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
It is never too late. Forgiveness can come at any time.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote:
If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.