religious freedom

The Kotel and Conversion Controversy- A Tempest In A Teapot?

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As I sat in my living room yesterday on an overcast fast day marking the beginning of the three week mourning period for the two destroyed Temples in Jerusalem, I could not help but reflect on the current Kotel and Conversion controversy which threatens to weaken the ties between Israel and its brothers and sisters in the Diaspora. One of the main reasons the Rabbis give for the destruction of the Second Temple, is Sinas Chinom, the baseless hatred of one Jew to another. This, I fear, is what this controversy may lead to.

Does Israel really not care for Diaspora Jews and is it indifferent to their feelings and religious beliefs? Is Israel a country a country controlled by the Haredim, or (Ultra Orthodox), whose every whim is honored? Do secular, Reform and Conservative Jews really not have a place where they can pray as they wish in the Kotel complex?

Nothing could be further from the truth. Israel values and appreciates Diaspora Jews of all types. The country is not controlled by Haredim. In fact, 44% of Israeli Jews self identify as secular, while only 9% identify as Haredim. There is a pretty area near the Kotel set up for egalitarian prayer. Unlike the separate areas for men and women at the Kotel, which are often crowded and under the direct sun, the egalitarian area is shaded and often empty.

So why the uproar? It’s mainly about the Compromise bill on the Kotel, the Western Wall, which was approved by Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and Haredi ministers, but frozen at the last minute at the behest of the Haredi party in the government. Yes, since the Haredim initially approved the compromise, they should have gone along with it. if the compromise was not acceptable to them, they should never have approved it. If later they were not happy with it, they should have discussed their objections with the other parties to the compromise. The freezing of the compromise bill and the lack of notice and consultation with parties to the agreement, greatly angered those affected, especially, the Reform and Conservative movements. The bill would have given the power to oversee the egalitarian space to a committee that would have included representatives of Conservative and Reform Judaism. The freezing of the bill means that the egalitarian area will continue to be overseen only by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation. This loss of power over a segment of Judaism’s holiest site was a big blow to the non Orthodox movements and they reacted accordingly.

However, their reactions made it seem as if the Israel government had denied the right of non Orthodox people to pray in an egalitarian area at the Wall. That’s fake news. The egalitarian area is alive and well and this bill does not change that. In fact, the government said that the area will be enlarged and made even more  aesthetically pleasing. However, through this bill, Conservative and Reform Judaism hoped to gain official recognition as alternate forms of Judaism in Israel. Both the Reform and Conservative movements are very weak in Israel, as Israelis who are religious are generally traditional, Orthodox or Haredi, and those who are secular usually do not belong to any movement. So this was the opportunity the  two movements were waiting for to become official alternate forms of Judaism, and it failed.

While their disappointment and anger is justified, making it seem that the Israeli government is ignoring the needs of Diaspora Jews is just not true. There is an egalitarian area for prayer and no one is taking that away. The potential loss of power of the Conservative and Reform movements of the egalitarian prayer space is inconsequential to all but the movements’ leaders. Members of these movements will not be affected in any way by the freezing of the Compromise bill.

The Conversion bill which would have given sole authority for conversions in Israel to the Chief Rabbinate also would not change the status of Reform and Conservative Jews. All conversions in Israel are currently done under Orthodox auspices. The bill would only have prevented private Orthodox courts, a desirable alternative for many, from granting conversions in Israel. The conversion bill would not have changed anything under the Law of Return.

The Kotel is a religious area. Religious Jews have been praying there and preserving its holiness for millennia. They pray daily for the restoration of the Temple and fast a few times a year to commemorate events which negatively affected the Temples’ existence. The Kotel is open to all, as is the egalitarian area. The failure of the Compromise bill to pass has not affected the rights of secular Jews to pray there in any way. All Jews, no matter how they were converted in the Diaspora, are still Israeli citizens under the Law of Return.

So let’s put this incident in perspective. Leaders of the Reform and Conservative movement suffered a loss of power, but their members were not negatively affected in any way. So let’s stop insinuating that the Israeli government took away the rights of secular Jews to pray, or failed to appreciate their invaluable contributions to Israel.

In these trying times, when anti semitism is rebounding, let’s remember that we are all Jews, regardless of our way of showing it. Let’s unite behind Israel, which is the only Jewish state in the world and the only country which can guarantee that Jews will not be discriminated against because they are Jewish. Israel needs the Diaspora Jews and the Diaspora Jews need Israel.

Show your support by coming to Israel and praying at the Kotel or its egalitarian area. You’ll be glad you did.

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Categories: Israel, Jerusalem, Jewish, Jewish Blog, Judaism, religion, religious freedom, Western Wall Kotel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Jerusalem Day Is Important For Jews

                  

Last night and today Israelis celebrated Jerusalem Day, or Yom Yerushalayim, as its called in Hebrew. This year marks the 50th anniversary of this momentous day.

Just why are they celebrating and why should Jews everywhere celebrate the day? This day marks the high point of the Six Day War, in 1967, when Israeli soldiers liberated eastern Jerusalem and the Old City and were finally able to see, touch and pray at the Western Wall, the Kotel.

Why is this important? Tuesday of this week Trump paid respects to the holiest site in Jerusalem by praying there. Prior to this, during the illegal Jordanian occupation  of the eastern half of Jerusalem (from 1948-1967). Jews were expelled from the area and were barred from praying at the Wall. Rachel’s Tomb and the Cave of the Patriarchs were also off limits. Jerusalem was a divided city, divided in half by a concrete wall topped by barbed wire. Jordanian snippers regularly fired into Western Jerusalem. As a result of the Six Day War, Israel regained control of all of Jerusalem. It reunified the city and extended Israeli law to all its parts. It also guaranteed freedom of worship and protection of the holy sites of all religions.

Is this the only reason the Six Day war is important? Not all all. As a result of the war, Israel more than tripled the size of the area under its jurisdiction, from 8,000 to 26,000 square miles, about the size of New Jersey. Israel captured the SInai (which it later returned to Egypt), the Golan Heights (from Syria), the Gaza Strip (which was controlled by Egypt) and from which Israel withdrew its forces and expelled its citizens in 2005, and the West Bank.

It was a momentous miraculous victory. Three armies- Egypt, Jordan and Syria were massed to attack Israel. Frenzied mobs called for its destruction. The United Nations peacekeeping force assigned to Sinai to keep peace between Egypt and Israel was forced to leave by the Egyptians. Israel stood alone against three armies. A victory by those forces would have, Heaven forbid, resulted in the elimination of the Jewish State. This was one war Israel had to win. And win it did, but the victory came at a high cost. Israel lost twice as many men in proportion to its population as the United States lost in its eight year war in Vietnam.

And what if Israel had won, but had not captured any territory. Well, the Golan Heights would have remained under Syrian control. That means that Israel would have been infested with Hezbollah and ISIS fighters. Jerusalem would have remained a divided city, with the Old City of Jerusalem remaining under Jordanian control. Jews would have been barred from the Wall and from living in East Jerusalem. Israel would, in fact, have been hard pressed to remain stable and safe. Without ’67, Israel’s enemies would be demanding their rights to Tel Avi, Haifa and of course the western part of Jerusalem. The ’67 war turned Israel into a viable nation.

Why is a united Jerusalem important to all Jews? Jerusalem is the capital city of Israel, the land of the Jews. It was Israel’s capital thousands of years ago and has never been the capital of any other country. It is the heart and soul of Israel. Jerusalem cannot be divided. Asking Israel to do so, is not only against Israel’s interests, but also against the world’s interests. Israel safeguards all holy places and allows freedom of access to all. In contrast, the Jordanians who control the Temple Mount refuse to let Jews even mumble a prayer on the Mount, but they let their children play sports on the plaza. So much for its holiness. Control of the holy places by the Palestinians, or even international forces which can be expelled by the host country, will not ensure freedom of access to all. Rachel’s Tomb, which is in Bethlehem, is now covered by concrete and barred wire to ensure the safety of its visitors. The Tomb of Joseph in Nablus is not safe for Jews to visit. The Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron requires an armed Israeli presence to protect worshippers. In short, only Israel guarantees the safety of Holy Places under its rule. Furthermore, it would not take long for Hamas to take control of any area ceded to the Palestinians  by Israel. Those would be dangerous times for Israel and its neighbors.

But there’s more. In order for Israel to remain viable, it needs to have defensible borders. It’s neighbors have waged war against it and while Israel has signed peace treaties with some, others are waiting to pounce on it. And Israel must remain strong, very strong. Israel is the last place of refuge for Jews. As anti semitism and terror raise their ugly heads in all parts of the world, Jews now have place of refuge, a place where they can live openly and freely as Jews and where all can pray at the holiest of all synagogues. Those are real reasons to celebrate.

Categories: Anti Semitism, Hamas, Israel, Jerusalem, Jerusalem Day, Middle East, Politics, Pro Israel Post, religious freedom, Terrorism, Yom Yerushalayim | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chanukah Musings

Shalom Y’All:

Happy Chanukah!

Tonight we light the first Chanukah candle. As we do so, we should keep in mind that while Chanukah is a joyous holiday, its true meaning should not be obscured by the latkes and the gifts. Chanukah is all about religious freedom, the freedom to serve G-d as we wish. Back then it was the Greeks who tried to make Jews into Hellenists and killed those who refused. But this modus operandi is not limited to the Greeks. It was practiced by both Christians and Muslims during the many many years of Jewish persecution.

Today ISIS and the Taliban are killing those who do not practice the same brand of Islam as they do. A tragic recent story described the beheading of four Christian youngsters in Iraq who refused to convert to Islam. Religious bigotry, unfortunately, is alive and well. The freedom to practice any religion freely is not a given in many countries. Jews, in particular, are unwelcome in many parts of the world. They no longer exist in most Arab countries and have been attacked in a number of European cities. The difference is that fortunately, today, unlike in the past, persecuted Jews have a place to go, a place where they are free to practice and believe as they wish. That place of course is Israel. Israel by the way is also a safe haven for many other groups that that been persecuted because of their religion, such as the Bahai, and Ahmadi.

So as you light the candles, think about how fortunate we are that our kids no longer have to play dreidel to hide their Jewish education, that you can practice your religion freely and that if worse comes to worse, you have a place to go where you will be safe.

Enough of the seriousness. Let’s lighten things up a bit. Here are links to eight Chanukah videos that you may enjoy.

Chanukah Music Videos:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSJCSR4MuhU&index=4&list=RDlZE3pyAAn28-Maccabeats

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gv-7WdpB72o&list=RDlZE3pyAAn28&index=5-Mattisyahu

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mwb1PnLcchw&index=6&list=RDlZE3pyAAn28- Debby Friedman

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mvY337zKttA&index=7&list=RDlZE3pyAAn2-NCSY

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K3knzAt4zyI&index=9&list=RDlZE3pyAAn28-Adam Sandler

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KyKWUpSMegE&list=RDlZE3pyAAn28&index=11-Aish

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0K9M6lCeZw&list=RDlZE3pyAAn28&index=24-Six13

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqEQy6l1kzc KeyTov Orchestra

Some of these are classics. Some have newer versions, such as the Maccabeats, whose newest video can be found here.

Happy Chanukah from JewTee! May your Chanukah be joyous and full of laughter and good cheer.

Categories: Judaism, religion, religious freedom | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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