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  • No religion does not mean no nationality

    07 October 2011

    A single, equal nationality for all citizens, whatever their religion or lack thereof, as required by the Declaration of Independence and the laws of the state.

    The Jewish year 5772 began with grand tidings: The Tel Aviv District Court recognized author Yoram Kaniuk's right to be registered in the state population rolls as "without religion" rather than "Jewish." In his appeal petition, Kaniuk explained that he would prefer to have his nationality status registered as "Israeli," but that this is not yet possible since he cannot produce a certificate of conversion to another religion.

    Is something wrong with this picture? This confounds the most basic logic: If someone declares himself as being without religion, how can he be asked to prove his conversion to a different religion? Kaniuk, author of "1948," concluded that this important ruling means that he has no religion but is Jewish by nationality.

    Is this indeed the case? How and where is there a Jewish nation that is separate and distinguished from the Jewish religion? Israeli law defines a person as "Jewish" who has a Jewish mother and has no other religion. The condition - being born to a Jewish mother - is a condition set by Jewish law. In other words, the condition is religious in nature. The conclusion that the separation of religion and state has been achieved because an Israeli citizen whose mother was Jewish has been allowed to be classified as having no religion remains a fervent wish only.

    The enormous significance of Judge Gideon Ginat's decision, however, lies not in what it does not say, but rather in what it does say, and in its implications. Kaniuk declared that the court "granted legitimacy" to every person to live in accordance with their conscience. To be more precise, this right - not legitimacy - is the right of every person in Israel, by the force of the Declaration of Independence and the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom, as the court made abundantly clear.

    That same Basic Law, however, has been brutally and consistently violated by the state since its establishment; all efforts to require the judicial system to enforce their compliance on state institutions (as in the issue of recognition of the Jewish nationality ) have failed, and they are passed from one court to another: from the Supreme Court to the District Court, from the District Court to the Supreme Court and back again.

    The Jerusalem District Court has ruled that the issue of recognizing "Israeli" as a nationality was nonjusticiable; the appeal of this ruling is still pending in the Supreme Court.

    Consequently, Ginat's ruling does not establish the existence of a Jewish nationality as distinct from the Jewish religion. Neither the law, nor simple logic, admits to any such separate existence. The implication of the recent ruling in Kaniuk's case is that any Israeli born to a Jewish mother who declares themselves to be religion-less is also classified as nationality-less.

    Is this outcome intolerable? Absolutely, unless and until the court orders the state's executive branch to recognize the existence of an Israeli nationality: a single, equal nationality for all citizens, whatever their religion or lack thereof, as required by the Declaration of Independence and the laws of the state.

    It should be noted that the state itself recognizes the Israeli nationality in a single document only: The Israeli passport. As the saying goes, be a man outside and a Jew at home. The enlightened view of Judaism does not distinguish between being a Jewish person and being a person.

    This article was first published in Ha'aretz. The writer, Yoella Har-Shefi, is an attorney and mediator.



  • Not only in Gaza

    22 July 2014

    This is not an easy time for tolerance and decency in Israel. We're trying to change that by identifying and supporting the activists who are making a difference.

    Read more...

  • Once More The Israeli Government Threatens To Deport Eritreans To A Third Country In Africa

    05 June 2013

    Monday, June 03, 2013

    By Sigal Rozen, Public Policy Coordinator, Hotline for Migrant Workers

     
    In a hearing held by the HCJ yesterday (Sunday) with regards to the NGOs petition against the Anti Infiltration Law, Adv. Yochi Gnesin, representing the government, claimed that there is already an agreement with a third country that agreed to accept the Eritreans from Israel. She refused to reveal the name of the country or the conditions under which the Eritreans will be sent there.

    Eritreans calling from Saharonim prison told the Hotline for Migrant Workers today that they were gathered by the authorities in prison and were told to be prepared since a third country was found for them in Africa. They were not told which country.

    The decision issued by the HCJ yesterday, ordering the State to provide an affidavit within a week about the third country to which the refugees would be deported and all the relevant details regarding this agreement, unique in its kind. A week after the State's affidavit, we (the NGOs) will need to supply the Court with a short statement
    http://elyon2.court.gov.il/files/12/460/071/S22/12071460.S22.htm (Hebrew)

    According to an article by Barak Ravid and Amos Harel today: Unnamed senior official confirming that an agreement has been reached with some country to accept the refugees, says the disastrous deportation to South Sudan is the model:
    http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/african-country-agrees-to-take-in-eritrean-labor-migrants-living-in-israel-government-claims.premium-1.527381#

    Article by Or Kashti about this offer:
    http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/treating-migrants-in-israel-like-chattel.premium-1.527409

    It should be mentioned that toward the end of the hearing at the HCJ yesterday, Adv. Gnesin stated that the agreement between Israel and the third country will remain secret "because all the countries of the world want an agreement like this, but it seems that we have something to offer that other countries do not" (this is not an exact quote, but a paraphrase).

     

  • One woman’s battle against extremism

    18 April 2012

    By Roni Hazon-Weiss

    RoniPosterI was delighted to take part in promoting public awareness for preventing the exclusion of women in public spaces in Jerusalem specifically and Israel in general. My name is Roni Hazon-Weiss, 28 years old, Jerusalemite, married to Nachi and mother to 9 month old Yuval, a teacher and educator at the Givat Ronen school in the Katamon neighborhood of Jerusalem, studying for my Master’s in Talmud and Halacha and Women’s Studies at the Schechter Institute.

    In addition, I am a social activist in the “Yerushalmim” (Jerusalemites) movement, and a board member of Ne’emanei Torah vaAvodah. I joined Ne’emanei Torah vaAvodah in order to take a part in changing the national religious community in Israel. The movement – which was established in the 70s – seeks to critique the Orthodox community and to present an alternative Jewish, religious, Halachic perspective on issues relating to religion and state, democracy, education, and the status of women. We work to prevent the growing extremism in the religious community. The movement is active in both spirit and deed.

    As part of my social activism, I participated in Yerushalmim’s campaign, “[Women] uncensored – men and women fighting against the exclusion of women in the public sphere”.

    The campaign began in Jerusalem, at the initiative of the Conservative rabbi, Uri Ayalon – the Director of Yerushalmim – in response to the absence of women in public space: on billboards, ads etc… The campaign, which started as a Jerusalem-based struggle, expanded into a nationwide struggle about the place of women in public spaces.

    When Rabbi Ayalon invited me to participate in the campaign, it was clear to me that I needed to take part in this initiative: as a woman, a mother, a teacher, a Jerusalemite, and an Orthodox person. Participation in the campaign was the beginning of the activities to return women to the public sphere, whether on billboards or as a part of ceremonies, cultural events, and the like.

    The sense that Jerusalem is slipping through our fingers prompted a personal and public realization that shaping Jerusalem’s character as a pluralistic capital is in the hands of the general public. It’s in the hands of the majority to which I belong as an Orthodox woman. We now know that we cannot continue to compromise on our values in the name of the “public sensitivities.” After all, we too have feelings. We must therefore stress to everyone the value system by which we live. As a religious woman it was important to me to take a part in the campaign in order to say that there is another Judaism, that this is not the Judaism I grew up on, and that I have a place in Judaism as a woman, both in the private and the public sphere.

    As a teacher, I was able to bring this value system to the classroom, to the boys and girls whom I teach. The poster campaign began while I was on maternity leave. When I returned to school, my students asked me about it.

    I could feel that my presence in this campaign increased the sense of belonging, and of pride, among my students. It triggered a deep discussion on values, on feminism, on activism, and on the difference between public and private spaces

    The campaign began by hanging huge posters from the balconies of private homes, coffee shops, and cultural institutions facing the street. The second stage was to place posters on billboards throughout Jerusalem. The advertising company we approached told us that we were crazy, that all our signs would be destroyed, that it would be a wasted effort. To my delight, they were wrong. Some posters were vandalized, but most were not.

    The campaign proved that we should not be afraid. In the wake of our efforts, advertising agencies and cultural institutions, such as the Jerusalem Theatre, found the courage to include women in different ads around the city.

    I choose to emphasize the fact that I am an Orthodox woman who is active in Ne’emanei Torah vaAvodah in order to convey that the censorship, the growing extremism, and the obliteration of women from public spaces is not the true face of Jewish Halacha, but the view of a radical minority which has taken hold in recent years and which has no basis in Jewish law. As part of my activism, it is important to me to show a different Halachic perspective, to work to advance gender equality, and to make women’s voices heard.

  • Opposing the ASA Boycott: A "Hopefully Flawed" Israel

    24 December 2013

    As more and more attention is being given to the American Studies Association decision to boycott Israel, I want to share with you NIF's approach to the issue.

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  • Optimism and "The Terrible"

    27 February 2014

    It was one of those moments when you can really see, all around you, the incredible progressive civil society sector that works tirelessly to build an Israel we can believe in.

    Read more...

  • Our Cantor Is Pregnant

    23 October 2013

    By Laura Diamond, October 2013

    [image - Laura Diamond]

    Growing up, my family belonged to a Reconstructionist synagogue, Kehillat Israel. Beginning in pre-school, I learned that one of Reconstructionism's hallmarks is the equality of women and men, including the first Bat Mitzvah. This was my proud inheritance, and my lived experience of Judaism was blissfully removed from the inequalities suffered by other American Jewish women and girls. I belonged as much as the next kid. And why wouldn't I? This fit with what my parents taught me at home, where my bookshelf held "Free to Be You and Me."

    The Cantor who helped me learn to read Torah for my Bat Mitzvah was a woman. Almost a year after my Bat Mitzvah, she asked if I would like to help her lead the morning service when my Torah portion would be read again. The reason? She was eight months pregnant, and needed to sit.

    I still belong to Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades, and my sons are learning that Judaism is inclusive. I study Torah with our female Rabbi, who will next year become Senior Rabbi. I am grateful that my sons (and nieces) are being raised in a community where Judaism includes us all, where boys and girls and men and women feel that we all matter, and where the work of Tikkun Olam is the responsibility of us all.

    Part of that work must be for a world where all Jews can grow up with the same expectation of equality as birthright.

    Laura Diamond is a writer and lawyer in Los Angeles, California. She is the Editor of "Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood." Her website is www.confessionsofmotherhood.com.

     

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  • Out of the Depths

    28 October 2013

    By Rabbi Neil Blumofe, October 2013

     

    As one who came of age while walking the warrens of Jerusalem's Old City, I could easily disappear into the miracle of a vibrant and exciting Jewish life that has been fought for and established in this place of miracle. And yet -- our sages of old are still calling. Calling for us to not live complacently or with complicity, or to use our received wisdom as a bludgeon. Rather, we are invited to continue to turn and reimagine a flourishing Judaism that beckons us into a deeper relationship with each other -- finding kindness and generosity as we ingather and make room to live with each other.

    Women's rights is not an American import -- authentic exploration that is steeped in tradition is a timeless Torah value that inspires and strengthens each of us as we quest for meaning and community before God. I stand with those who support gender equality to further Jewish life that is based in curiosity, purpose, and love of regular ritual. May we all write our Torah that is in conversation with ways that we can bring forward inspired kedushah, without fear of reprisal or accusations of speciousness. May we honor the precious legacy and the holy places that we inhabit and be worthy of God's name as we call out from our labyrinthine narrow places.

    Neil Blumofe is the Senior Rabbi of Congregation Agudas Achim in Austin, Texas. A Rabbis Without Borders Fellow, he is also a Fellow at the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.

     

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