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April 17, 2014 / 17 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Chaim Amsalem’

Reform and Conservative Leaders Deemed Rabbis, to Receive Israeli State Funds

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

The Israeli government announced on Tuesday that, for the first time, it will pay the salaries of a small number of Reform and Conservative rabbis who are considered leaders in their communities, and will also recognize them as rabbis.

The state initially agreed to recognize non-Orthodox rabbis as “community leaders”, but a panel of judges led by Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein asked Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to agree to the terminology “rabbi of a non-Orthodox community”, which the State subsequently did.

The deal, brokered in response to a 2005 petition by the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, in the name of the Reform community of Kibbutz Gezer and community leader Rabbi Miri Gold, extends to up to 15 non-Orthodox rabbis in farming communities and regional councils.

While the salaries of Orthodox rabbis come from the Ministry of Religious Services, monies for the non-Orthodox rabbis will come from the Ministry of Culture and Sport.  The funding is earmarked as financial assistance, and will not constitute direct employment by local authorities.  It will also not be applicable in large cities, but only in small outlying towns and agricultural communities.  Up until now, all funding for the salaries of non-Orthodox rabbis in Israel have come from local membership dues.

The move will not impact the Orthodox Rabbinate’s control of marriages, conversions, and related legal questions, and will not render the non-Orthodox rabbis legal, religious, or halachic deciders.

Rabbi Dov Lipman, Director of the English Speakers Division of Am Shalem, a party led by former Shas MK Haim Amsalem, blamed the religious establishment’s rigidity for leading Israelis to seek an alternative to Orthodox Judaism.  “I feel that the unwillingness of the establishment to be more embracing and willing to solve problems has led us to this point,” Rabbi Lipman told The Jewish Press.  “I believe we have reached this point because over the last few decades, extremist parties have taken control of the religious ministry and religious services. Their policies have distanced people from Judaism and have led to the search for official alternatives.”  He said Am Shalem seeks, in accordance with Jewish law, to “restore religious services to their more embracing nature, as it was when the State was founded”  in order to make them more sensitive to the needs of the wide array of Israeli Jews, including converts.

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, head of Israel’s Reform movement, praised “the state’s decision to support the activities of Reform rabbis in regional councils, while clearly acknowledging their roles as rabbis,” and called it “an important breakthrough in the efforts to advance freedom of religion in Israel.”  Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, said the measure made it “a historic day for Israelis and Jews around the world.”  Rabbinical Assembly President Rabbi Gerald Skolnik said he hoped the decision would “open the door to new and exciting Jewish spiritual opportunities”.

Religious Service Minister Yaakov Margi (Shas) responded to the news by threating to resign if the salaries would be drawn from the Religious Services Ministry.  MK Uri Ariel (National Union) called recognition of non-Orthodox Jewish chaplains as rabbis “anti- Jewish” and a “serious injury to the values of Israel”, and said that the decision to equate non-Orthodox rabbis with Orthodox ones would be “recorded with shame”.

According to Gold and Anat Hoffman, executive director of the legal arm of the Reform Movement in Israel, the Reform movement will now seek recognition for Reform and Conservative rabbis as state and city rabbis.  The Conservative “Masorti” movement is represented in just 100 congregations throughout Israel and approximately 8 percent of Israeli Jews.

In an interview with the Jerusalem Post, Hoffman said major support for their Israeli campaign – “the engine making this happen” – came from Diaspora Jewry, telling the Post “Israel is too important to be left to Israelis.”

Hoffman also said that she believes the move will cause Orthodox Jewry to understand that it is in competition for adherents, and that it will be forced to make itself more attractive to all those looking to find their place in Judaism.

A New Party With An Old Platform For An Old-New Land

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

Chaim Amsalem, a current member of Knesset and former member of Shas, is in the midst of establishing yet another Israeli political party, called Am Shalem. Though the Israeli polity already maintains a dizzying array of political factions, whose platforms traverse the many social and political cleavages of the nation, Rabbi Amsalem and his followers have built a unique movement around one of the most basic and most grossly overlooked aspects of Israeli society: national unity, civic equality and a moderate religious elite.

A well-established figure in Shas, and the only one of its members to hold rabbinic ordination from the Rabbanut HaReishit, Rabbi Amsalem was expelled from Shas earlier this year, after breaking ranks with the political aides of the party’s indomitable premier, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Rabbi Amsalem’s rupture with Shas followed in the wake of several years of reciprocal discontent, as both Amsalem and Shas’s elite came to the mutual understanding that the party was not representative of the man, while the man was no longer representative of the party. Rabbi Dov Lipman – a leading member in Am Shalem who, should the party gain enough seats to be admitted to the Parliament, would be the first American Member of Knesset to have made aliyah as an adult – explained that the Algerian-born Amsalem initially believed that Shas represented the “crown of Israel’s Sephardic political establishment,” but he eventually grew increasingly discontented with the Party’s emergence as merely “another arm of the other Lithuanian haredi parties who are pushing the haredi community further to the extreme.”

Following his dismissal from Shas for his views against the community’s high levels of unemployment and his vocal opposition to the party’s hard stance against the halachic conversions of unquestionably loyal Jews with patrilineal lineages, Amsalem sought out a party whose platform looked to establish national unity and domestic development. Over the past number of years, Amsalem has written extensively in favor of these types of conversions citing the halachic principles of Zera Yisrael as support for his views. (Zera Yisrael mandates that Jews with ambiguous heritage, many of whom have served in the IDF, should still be included in the broader Jewish community if they seek proper conversion and demonstrate fidelity to the religion and the people.) Yet, while Israel’s roughly seven-and-a-half million people are served by a dozen distinct political parties that hold seats in the Parliament, Amsalem could not find a single party which called for the broad reforms that he deemed critical to Israel’s continued social development. Though other political factions have tried and overwhelmingly failed to curb extremism within the haredi community, Amsalem believes that his years of leadership in the religious community will enable him to succeed where others had not.

MK Rabbi Haim Amsalem (right) receiving the Quality Leadership Award for 2011, with Rabbi Dov Lipman.

Rabbi Dov Lipman explained that many within Israel’s political elite focus their attention towards foreign issues such as national security and the peace process. In the meantime, the nation’s social foundation has decayed from within, with religious and secular Jews being more ideologically divided than ever. According to Amsalem, at the forefront of national discord is the increased radicalization of the haredi establishment that has overwhelmingly shirked its civic responsibilities since the founding of the State. Entire haredi communities dedicate themselves exclusively to religious study, remain unemployed and rely solely on government welfare for subsistence. Furthermore, most within these communities abstain from compulsory national service, a staple of Israel’s social fabric.

Over the years, Rabbi Amsalem has grown increasingly discontented with this long standing status-quo and has resolved that his political future be dedicated to rectifying these dangerous social inequities. Therefore, in its dedication to national unity, the Am Shalem Party will assume a very unique identity within the Israeli polity as a party that will join in coalition with any party that achieves premiership. Am Shalem does not represent a special interest constituency, and unlike other parties it will not look to push forward the agendas of any individual political position, Amsalem has said. Instead, Am Shalem and its leaders will join with any party in government to advocate for legislation that will strengthen national unity and secure Israel’s social foundation for its posterity.

Though Amsalem initiated the development of the party while still occupying the upper echelon of Israel’s political hierarchy, at its foundation Am Shalem is a social movement. It is this identity that Am Shalem’s founding fathers cleave to, as both a practical and ideological impetus for the party’s continued development. Rather than campaigning in the traditional sense, Amsalem and Lipman have publicized their platform on the streets of Beit Shemesh, where national and religious disunity and the lack of a greater collective Israeli identity has littered the headlines of newspapers worldwide. Amsalem maintains that his calls for increasing the employment rates within the haredi population, enforcing compulsory national service, passing legislation that would encourage the establishment of haredi schools that would teach secular studies, and calling for the modernization of the rabbinic gentry are views that are espoused both throughout Israeli society and by most within the haredi community.

Shas MK: All Israelis Should Serve Their Country

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

Shas MK Rabbi Chaim Amsalem, writing in a column for the Jerusalem Post, lambasted UTJ MK Moshe Gafni for his “cynical declaration” that the ultra-Orthodox should not serve in the IDF.

Amsalem wrote that he was “confused and angered” by Gafni’s statements earlier in the week because they had “no basis in Jewish law or tradition, or in basic human ethics . . . they were nothing more than a continuation of extremist haredi policies and politics.”

Amsalem said that “Jewish tradition is replete with teachings regarding the responsibility we have toward one another,” and cited the Bible portion where Moses rebuked the tribes of Reuven and Gad for attempting to shirk combat in order to settle on the eastern side of the Jordan River.

Amsalem added: “I plan to continue encouraging haredim to serve in the IDF while working together with the army leadership to make sure all their needs are met.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/shas-mk-all-israelis-should-serve-their-country/2012/01/18/

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