In his recent article, “How CNN’s ‘Believer’ Smears Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox As Intolerant ‘Black Peril’” published in the Forward, Rabbi Avi Shafran takes issue with CNN religion reporter Reza Aslan’s portrayal of Haredi Jews in Israel as “bent on creating an oppressive theocracy.” Shafran, who believes Aslan’s piece maligned the Haredi, used his op-ed to depict the ultra-Orthodox of Israel as simply wanting their “space and their traditions.”

I disagree with Aslan’s conclusions that Haredi “demographic changes pose a severe threat to Israel’s status as a modern, secular democracy.” I have faith that Israel will continue to remain a free country. Unfortunately, I cannot agree with Rabbi Shafran either. The fact of the matter is that there is growing extremism in Israel, yet Rabbi Shafran presents an alternate reality and whitewashes this truth. That this is done by a rabbi who serves as a spokesperson for much of the Orthodox world is part of this very problem.

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Originally published in In Jerusalem, April 28, 2017

Planning a meaningful, enjoyable and affordable event to celebrate a bar/bat mitzva, wedding or anniversary can be daunting. Doing so from across the world can be exponentially harder. Yet, every year, that is exactly what thousands of Jews from around the world do in order to celebrate their smahot in Israel.

The calm before the guests arrive

Celebrating in Israel connects the celebrants with their nation, land and history. It also provides an opportunity to add meaningful elements to the occasion that go beyond a party, by partaking in one of the many hessed (charitable kindness) opportunities available specifically for people marking their occasions here.

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Originally published in In Jerusalem, March 10, 2017

 

Noam and Noa wanted to marry according to Jewish law and tradition, but wanted nothing to do with the Chief Rabbinate. Both felt that, with its stranglehold on marriage and more importantly, divorce, where the rabbinate must approve a couple’s desire to divorce before it can be implemented, the institution does more harm than good.

They searched high and low for a way that would enable them to marry according to Halacha, without having to encounter the rabbinate at all.

Why would a young couple on the verge of starting a new life together be thinking of the end of their marriage?

Jewish law mandates that when a couple seeks divorce, it is the husband who must give the bill of divorce (get) to his wife, and she must accept it. Aguna is the term used to describe a woman trapped in marriage, while she awaits the delivery of a get from her husband. According to traditional Jewish sources, the classic case of an aguna was a woman whose husband
could not be found. One whose husband was lost at sea, did not return from a journey, or was missing in action; those are the traditional agunot. Continue reading

Originally published in In Jerusalem, The Jerusalem Post, September 30, 2016

‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ has long been the policy of the Haredi parties when it comes to how the State deals with public works on Shabbat. As long as the work was kept quiet, the Haredi parties did too. However, as was recently the case with rail work on Shabbat, as soon as the Haredi media reported it, the politicians had to protest publicly. And they did. And work was halted, stranding thousands.

Since its founding, the State of Israel has had to maintain the delicate balance of being both a Jewish and democratic country. While Jewish and democratic values often align, when the two clash– they do so with vigor.

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MK Rachel Azaria

For much of the State’s history, religious matters have been the domain of the ultra-Orthodox, the legacy of David Ben Gurion, to ensure unity and support for a Jewish state. The “status quo” arrangement Ben Gurion made remains in effect. 

And it worked — for a long time. Matters of religion used to be black and white, as MK Rachel Azaria of Kulanu explains it. People were religious or they weren’t. They kept kosher, or they didn’t. Over the past 20 years, however, many Israelis have taken on an in-between ideology, one that incorporates religious observance with democratic values, and therefore conflicts with the strict ultra-Orthodox approach that has governed the Jewish identity of the state.

At the same time, Israeli society has absorbed more than a million immigrants from countries where Jewish family lines had been blurred, leaving many unable to prove their Jewish roots. Thus, they are sociologically Jewish, but not necessarily as far as traditional law is concerned. Continue reading