July 2018 | Pluralism Update

Quarterly iRep Update On Key Issues Relating To Religion And State In Israel

Volume 8, July 2018

This Religion and State Update covers the period from May - July 2018.


In early June, Moshe Nissim published his recommendations on the problem of conversion in Israel. Nissim recommended establishing a new state-run Orthodox Authority – not under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate in order to speed up the rate of conversions for hundreds of thousands of Israelis. According to the document, only traditional Jewish law (Halakha) conversions done in Israel will be recognized but they will also officially recognize conversions performed abroad by Reform and Conservative Rabbis. Under this proposal the Chief Rabbis would be involved in appointing the judges (dayanim) in the new Conversion Authority but would not have a veto power over the appointments.

The Ultra-Orthodox leadership opposes the recommendations because of the stripping of the Rabbinate from sole control over the conversion processes and the official recognition of Reform and Conservative conversions (from abroad). Minister Areye Deri of Shas declared that the recommendations will not be adopted by the government. This reaction seems to indicate that the recommendations will not be moving forward and presented as a government bill to the Knesset.

The State is requested to respond to the High Court of Justice on the recognition of Reform and Conservative conversions by the end of 2018.

Nissim was appointed by PM Netanyahu to make recommendations on the conversion issue following the public outcry after the government approved a bill that would have the State recognizing only conversions implemented under the supervision of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate.

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In May, after years of deliberations, The Israeli Interior Ministry decided not to grant recognition to the Abuyadaya community, the Jewish community of Uganda. The Abayudaya began practicing Judaism about 100 years ago and were officially converted by Conservative rabbis in recent years. The Jewish Agency considers them to be a recognized Jewish community, but the Interior Ministry, which has the final say on such matters, decided they are not a Jewish community for the purpose of the Law of Return. 

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The Kotel (Western Wall)

IIn February 2018, construction began on a permanent pluralistic prayer pavilion at the Western Wall in the Robinson's Arch area. Since it is an archeological site, conducting renovations requires the approval of a ministerial committee. In June 2018 Miri Regev, the Culture and Sports Minister resigned from her role as chairwoman of the committee following her insistence not to approve upgrades to the egalitarian prayer section. Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked quit the committee for the same reason, and later David Azulai, minister of Religious Affairs quit as well. The government approved Minister Steinitz and the Prime Minister as replacements and the altered committee approved the renovation plans.

Previously, at the urging of Ultra-Orthodox coalition partners, the Government of Israel (GOI) voted on June 25, 2017, to formally freeze the Kotel Resolution calling for the erection of the new pavilion. Despite the freeze, The PM announced that the government will continue efforts to build a new prayer plaza at the Robinson Arch area of the Western Wall. 

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Marriage and Divorce

A study done by Panim – the Israeli Judaism Network on behalf of iRep, found that a growing number of Jewish couples are choosing to wed in Israel outside the Orthodox-run Chief Rabbinate. 2,434 Jewish marriage ceremonies were held in Israel outside the Rabbinate’s authority in 2017 – 8% higher than the previous year. The study is the first ever attempt to measure this growing phenomenon.

There is also a significant increase in the level of support for change in the marriage laws. A July 2018 poll by iRep grantee Hiddush, found that 70% of the Jewish population wants the State of Israel to recognize all forms of marriage, including civil, Reform and Conservative weddings. In 2009 the number was only 53%.

The survey also found a significant rise in the number of Jewish citizens who would prefer marriage options outside the Rabbinate for themselves or their family members: A rise from 37% in 2015 to 50% in 2017 and 53% in 2018. Even under current law, when the alternative marriages are not recognized and couples who choose them are considered only a “common law married couple”, there is a strong preference for alternatives to the Rabbinate: 67% prefer one of the alternative ways of getting married: Secular, private Orthodox, Reform and Conservative or no ceremony at all. Only 33% of the Jewish public prefers the Rabbinate marriage today.

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In July 2018 the Israel police opened the first-ever case against a Rabbi who conducted private marriage ceremonies outside the jurisdiction of the Chief Rabbinate. Rabbi Dubi Hayun who is a Conservative Rabbi was taken into the police station for questioning after the Haifa Rabbinical Court demanded that the police investigate him on charges of officiating unreported weddings, and for marrying people who are forbidden from marrying in Israel. Israel’s attorney general halted the proceedings soon after. 

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In June 2018 a private rabbinical court (Beit Din) dissolved the marriage of a Jewish Israeli woman whose husband has refused to grant her a religious bill of divorce (Get) for 23 years. Tzviya Gorodetsky has been unsuccessfully pursuing a Get through the state rabbinate system since 1995. The private Beit Din decided that there were legal flaws under Jewish law (Halacha) in the original marriage ceremony and declared the marriage void, meaning Gorodetsky’s status is of a single woman who has never been married. While the decision is not recognized by the State of Israel, it allows Gorodetsky, a religious woman, to form a new relationship if she chooses.

The first case of private divorce proceedings was quickly followed with a second one. In July 2018 a private Beit Din has voided the marriage of Oshrat Ben-Haim, whose husband refused to grant her a divorce for nine years. Her divorce petition was heard by the Haifa Rabbinical Court, which did not take significant action to force the husband to give a Get. Ben-Haim is currently in a relationship with another man and was about to give birth to a child. The private Beit Din's decision declared that her marriage was void, and she is single, therefore the child who is about to be born will not be illegitimate under Jewish law (Mamzer).

These two cases may signify a new trend of alternative divorce proceedings to the Rabbinate, whose policies on divorce do not give an answer to some cases in which other Orthodox rabbis see a Halachic solution.

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In June the Knesset adopted legislation granting Rabbinical Courts jurisdiction over international Get (Jewish bill of divorce) refusal cases. The new law grants authority to the rabbinical courts to preside over a divorce suit of a Jewish woman who seeks to receive a Get from her Jewish husband, even if they have no connection to the State of Israel. Lawmakers argued that even this limited version of the legislation expands the authority of the Chief Rabbinate over Diaspora Jews while it does not do well in solving the problems of Get refusal in Israel. It was argued that this broad authority may cause serious disruptions for the lives of Jews who did not choose to live in Israel and whose Jewish identity the Rabbinate may not even accept, such as Reform or Conservative Jews.

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The Attorney General’s Office ruled in July 2018 that a private Kashrut line may not give certificates testifying to the kashrut status of a business. According to the new guidelines, a business owner may detail in a certificate “the standards which he himself uses in dealing with food products,” and specify the person or organization that provides the inspection service, but not present a certificate by the organization itself. Some commentators saw this development as a significant obstacle to the private kashrut services, but Tzohar, a leading mainstream national-religious NGO which started to issue Kashrut certificates as a competitor to the Rabbinate, stated that it does not see this as a barrier to its activities. Currently, Tzohar has about 70 businesses under its kashrut supervision.

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In June a huge public outcry erupted following the Barkan Winery’s decision to ban employees of Ethiopian descent from coming into contact with wine in order to comply with strict new requirements of an ultra-Orthodox Mehadrin Kashrut line. The ultra-Orthodox private Kashrut service doubted their Jewishness and requested that they do not take part in the preparation of the wine as a precondition to granting the private Kashrut certificate. Israel’s Chief Rabbi condemned the ban as “pure racism,” and the Knesset and President condemned it as well. The winery announced that it will reinstate the Ethiopian employees in their previous positions, but an examination 3 weeks later shows that the workers did not go back to their original roles. 

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In July Culture and Sports |minister Miri Regev signed new regulations that require the various sports associations to take “reasonable” measures to accommodate Sabbath observant competitors in sporting competitions and tournaments in order to qualify for state funding.

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In early August 2018 Interior minister Deri notified 4 cities that he doesn’t approve their bylaws that allowed certain convenience stores be open on Saturday, the Jewish day of rest. The four cities—Holon, Givatayim, Herzliya and Modi’in—join Rishon LeZion, which received a similar notice a month and a half ago. The Rishon municipality submitted a petition to the Supreme Court to force Deri to approve their bylaw, and at least some of the other 4 municipalities intend to join the petition.

The Interior Ministry explained that Minister Deri rejected the proposals because the municipalities were unable to satisfactorily explain why it was necessary to open the businesses on Shabbat. The municipalities maintain that it is the decision of the residents of each city which business to allow to open on Shabbat, in what neighborhoods and under what regulations.

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The issue of the IDF drafting of Ultra-Orthodox men came before the Knesset again in July 2018. The Knesset passed in a first reading a bill that imposes an obligation on UO men to enlist in the IDF and places financial penalties on the Yeshivas if they don't reach their quotas of enlistments. The bill is based on recommendations made by the IDF. The Ultra-Orthodox parties oppose the bill, but so did many secular parties and leaders who claimed that it, in fact, lets the vast majority of the ultra-Orthodox men avoid army service, which the other Jewish men are obligated to do.

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In recent months more testimonies came forward about stricter ‘modesty rules’ enforced in different army units over female soldiers. For example, female soldiers were told not to wear white T-shirts, not to smoke next to religious men, or not to wear swimming suits in order to enter the swimming pool during a respite activity, while the men soldiers were allowed to enter.

In response, the Head of the IDF's Manpower Directorate issued instructions to all commanders to implement IDF policy of protecting the rights of female soldiers and not issue stricter rules than are mandated by the army orders.

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Gender Segregation

Habbad planned a big rally in Tel Aviv’s Rabin square in June. The rally was to be in separate seating for men and woman. The municipality said it would ban organizers from holding a segregated event, but the Tel Aviv District Court ordered the municipality to grant the license for the event even if it has gender segregation, based on the organizers statements that it would be voluntarily separated seating. Reports from the event were that in fact the segregated areas were fully enforced.

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In July the Supreme Court held a hearing on a petition by a number of women’s organizations and Ultra-Orthodox women who demanded that the Ultra-Orthodox party Agudat Yisrael (part of the United Torah Judaism alliance) allow women to run for office. The court recommended that the party remove an article in its charter that stipulated that only men canjoin the party and participate as a candidate in local and national elections. A similar petition was filed against Shas, which has a similar clause in its charter. The party will answer the court at the beginning of September.

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In July 2018 the Knesset passed an amendment to the Surrogacy law that expands eligibility for state-approved surrogacy to include single women but excludes single men and gay couples. Previously, approval for surrogacy was only given to married heterosexual couples.

In response, LGBT organizations organized a strike and major companies joined it and allowed their workers to be absent from work in order to take part in the protests. Tens of thousands attended a protest calling the government to give equal rights to LGBT persons. Much of the indignation of the LGBT community was pointed at PM Netanyahu who declared that he is pro LGBT being eligible for surrogacy services but voted against that clause in the Knesset. The huge support for LGBT rights created a backlash with hundreds of Orthodox Rabbis signing a statement against giving recognition and rights to gays and lesbians. The heated debate takes place especially within the NationalReligious community, whereas in the general population there is a very wide support to the LGBT community.

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