October 6, 2019


Israel's struggle over Jewish identity (The Week, October 6, 2019)

Israel's Jewish population is united in the belief that Israel is a homeland for the Jewish people. Beyond that, though, there are deep divisions among secular Jews, the ultra-­Orthodox, and the religious Zionists, and the conflict shapes political arguments over Israel's future as a democracy. Israelis are about 60 percent secular or traditional; about 12 percent Haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, adhering to strict observance and gender segregation; and perhaps 9 percent religious Zionist, believing that Jews have a divine mandate to rule all the lands of ancient Israel, including the West Bank and Gaza. The other roughly 20 percent of citizens are Israeli Arabs -- mostly Muslims with a small number of Druze and Christians. While religious Zionists have largely driven Israeli policy in the past decade by forcing expansion of West Bank settlements, it is the special status of the Haredim that currently dominates Israeli politics -- particularly the exemption from military service that the ultra-Orthodox have traditionally enjoyed.

What do the Haredim believe?

The Haredim maintain separate communities, following strict Jewish law and rejecting modern customs. Many do not support the existence of an Israeli state, but believe that Jews must wait for the Messiah to come and end their exile. Some Haredim refuse to vote, although most ultra-Orthodox men do accept the small government stipend they get for studying the Torah. 

Who is qualified to officiate a halakhic marriage? (Elli Fischer, OCT 6, 2019, Times of Israel)

At the tail end of an election season in which matters of religion and state featured prominently in the campaigns of several major parties, Israel's High Court of Justice convened to deliberate the marriage of Noam Oren and his wife, who wed under a ḥuppah and through the vehicle of kiddushin, "in accordance with the law of Moses and Israel" - albeit outside the auspices of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. They made this choice in view of the agunah problem, desiring to sign a prenuptial agreement and to make their kiddushin conditional; their intent was to foreclose any possibility that their marriage would leave the woman "chained" to an unwanted marriage and subject to the caprices of a recalcitrant husband.

The wedding was officiated by Rabbi Dr. Michael Avraham, and the Jerusalem Beth Din, headed by Rabbi Avraham Dov Levine (who, sadly, recently passed away), approved its validity. After the wedding, the couple turned to the Rabbinate to register as a married couple in the eyes of the state. However, the state rabbinical courts, which have jurisdiction over such matters, determined that there is an "uncertain kiddushin." In its own words: "This, on one hand, refrains from declaring the couple to be married, and on the other hand, imposes restrictions on the couple that are akin to those of a married couple."

The rabbinical court explained its ruling by saying that the officiating rabbi, a well-known and highly-esteemed Torah scholar, was not authorized by the Chief Rabbinate to conduct weddings, and he therefore cannot be considered as one who "knows the nature of writs of divorce and kiddushin" (Kiddushin 6a).

Posted by at October 6, 2019 7:25 AM