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September 1, 2015 / 17 Elul, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Who is a Jew?’

Jewish Agency for Israel Calls for Special Diaspora Conversion Courts

Wednesday, June 24th, 2015

The Board of Governors of The Jewish Agency for Israel is calling for the establishment of special religious courts in the Diaspora to handle conversions outside the State of Israel.

A resolution adopted by an overwhelming majority of the board at its meeting Wednesday (June 24) said that in the absence of such courts, the Agency would send rabbis to assist local communal rabbis in the endeavor.

“In light of The Jewish Agency’s responsibility to help ensure the unity of the Jewish people and in recognition of the existence of many interfaith families in various Jewish communities, The Jewish Agency wishes to facilitate these families’ full integration into the Jewish people via conversion, as well as through the possibility of Aliyah. In the absence of conversion courts able to serve those who wish to convert in many Jewish communities, The Jewish Agency will cooperate with the special conversion courts established for this purpose by sending rabbis to assist local communal rabbis.

“The Jewish Agency will accompany the converts through their process of preparing for Aliyah, for those who choose that option.”

“The Jewish Agency serves the needs of Jewish communities around the world,” said Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Agency.

“This is one of the very real needs voiced by various Jewish communities. The time has come to respond.”

The issue of Jewish conversion both in Israel and abroad is one that is complex, controversial and fiercely debated between individuals as well as communities.

Recently the community leadership position of a major Anglo-Israeli rabbinic figure came under question, it was believed, in part due to the controversy generated over this topic.

Jewish Sen. Bernie Sanders to Run for President

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Jew who is not involved in organization religion, will toss his hat in the political rang today and announce he is challenging Hillary Clinton to be the Democratic party’s nominee for president in 2016.

We would write that he is throwing his kippa into the ring except for the faint possibility that he even owns one.

Vermont Public News (VPR) reported, “Sanders will release a short statement….and then hold a major campaign kickoff in Vermont in several weeks…. Sanders’ basic message will be that the middle class in America has been decimated in the past two decades while wealthy people and corporations have flourished.”

Sanders is an Independent and a vocal critic of “corporate America” and the government’s proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal.

A socialist, the 73-year-old Sanders wants to make campaign finance reform, climate change and the rich-poor gap as the center of his campaign, and he will focus on the proposed TPP to try force Clinton to declare whether she supports or opposes it.

Sanders might be exactly what the United States needs, someone who is not afraid to challenge the “billionaire class” instead of cooperating with it while the middle class, as in almost every other western country, fells it is becoming an endangered species.

His being Jewish is not going to win him any points from Orthodox or even the Conservative Jews.

Sanders, born in Brooklyn, once volunteered on an Israeli kibbutz after university, an experience which may have bolstered his socialist views.

As for Judaism, he is not actively involved, and the Burlington, Vermont Free Press reports:

When it comes to the impact of religion on his life, he said, ‘I find myself very close to the teachings of Pope Francis,’ and he described the pope as ‘incredibly smart and brave.’

A quote from Pope Francis also graces Sander’s Sanders for President Facebook page.

Judaism and being Jewish are not part of his public face. The Jewish Telegraph Agency wrote last January after an interview with Sanders, “With a series of observations about the Jewish history of rootlessness and oppression, Sanders begins to describe the role of his lower-middle-class upbringing in forging him into the Congress’ only self-described socialist.

Sanders boycotted Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s speech in Congress last month. He has deep roots in the civil rights and the anti-Vietnam war movements but has tried to remain neutral concerning Israel.

He said a Town Hall meeting in Vermont last year that Israel “over-reacted” to Hamas missile attacks but noted that the terrorist organization attacked from within populated areas and wants to destroy Israel.

If it is good news that this Jew is running for president, pray that he beats Clinton so he can lose the big race.

Below is a video of Sanders explaining why he boycotted Netanyahu’s speech.

Jewish Agency Planning for Massive Aliyah of 120,000 French Jews

Monday, January 26th, 2015

The Jewish Agency is making plans to settle 120,000 Jews — one in every five French Jews — over the next four years.

The project sounds fanciful if one looks at recent history, but radical Islamic terror and country-wide anti-Semitism have cast a shadow of the Nazi era over Jews in France.

The Jewish People Policy Institute, the Jewish Agency’s think tank, is drawing up plans for opening up job opportunities to attract French Jews, who enjoy a relatively high standard of living.

The number of Jews from France who moved to Israel last year was 7,000, a small number by itself but a dramatic jump from previous years. Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky has said he anticipates 15,000 Jews from France to make Aliyah by 2016, but the Agency’s think tank has bigger plans.

If history repeats itself, the project for mass Aliyah will create lots of work for Jewish Agency , inflate its budget and bring in only a trickle of results.

Aliyah from Western countries never has been very impressive except in the hey-day of Israel’s victory over Arab enemies in the Six-Day War in 1967.

Since the 1970s, the only really impressive Aliyah has been from what was the Soviet Union, from where more than 1,000,000 Jews — and 300,000 people who were not Jews according to Jewish law — moved to Israel.

But Jews have a tradition of enjoying a good life in the Diaspora, hanging on until they are expelled or often trying to flee after it is too late.

Fear and loathing have not yet sent shivers down the spines of American Jews, most of whom consider Israel a place for hapless Jews who cannot survive elsewhere. The “Golden Medina” has been a tough nut for Aliyah ever since the re-establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.

On a trip to Baltimore in 1951, Prime Minister David Ben Gurion told rags to-riches millionaire Jacob Blaustein of expectations of the Aliyah of thousands of Jews every month, to which Blaustein retorted, “American is our home.”

Just think if one in every five American Jews were to make Aliyah. The economy would boom. The so-called “demographic problem” of an Arab and Bedouin population dominating Jews would disappear.

If even 10 percent of 1 million American Jews were to settle in Judea and Samaria, there would be no question about its place in Israel.

But Americans do not face the imminent threat that has caused French Jews to panic and fear.

The Jewish Agency plans are not a pipe dream.

“I was in Netanya this past Shabbat, and everyone is talking about the Aliyah of Jews from France,” French expatriate Yisca Maimon told The Jewish Press Sunday.

She explained:

They are afraid to go to the supermarket and to synagogue and get killed. The Aliyah movement starts with one friend, and then another friend, and everyone influences one another. Jews in France are very close to one another. People are afraid of Islamic terror because there is absolutely no security there. Yes, there are attacks in synagogues and supermarkets in Israel, but here we have the IDF. We are in our own home.

Jews in France feel they cannot stay there anymore. They know they have to leave. There are nearly 8 million Muslims in France, and their presence is increasingly overwhelming. Everyone is afraid.

There is another reason for Jews to flee France, if they want their children to remain Jews. The assimilation rate is nearly 70 percent, which raises the question of which Jews will move to Israel.

Haredi rabbis who are not raving Zionists — except for the fact that they live in Israel — already have objected to mass Aliyah because of problems of Jewish law.

They say they are afraid of more secular Jews but  in truth they also are afraid of the growing national religious community in Israel, which in the past two decades has become very influential in the IDF, professional fields and now in the Knesset thought the Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party, which has opened up its doors to secular Jews who also are strong nationalists.

The Jewish Agency will have to deal with the problem of “Who Is a Jew” when the time comes. It also will have to streamline the absorption process to allow professionals, such as doctors and lawyers, to practice in Israel without some of the obstacles that have no logic but simply exist from the earlier days of the modern State when old-line Israelis expected everyone to be like them.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the Cabinet Sunday, “We must prepare to absorb large-scale immigration to Israel. To this end we are working to remove the impediments to [recognizing] diplomas and professional degrees in Israel. At the same time we will prepare an emergency plan to cancel bureaucracy so as to enable massive construction to absorb the immigrants, just as we did previously to absorb the major immigration from the Soviet Union.”

If the Jewish Agency can succeed, it might even begin to attract more Americans, not enough to make baseball the Israel National Pastime but enough to at least make hamburgers as popular as falafel.

 

Yisrael Beitenu MK Says ‘Reform Movement Is not Jewish’

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

Likud-Beiteinu Knesset Member David Rotem, chairman of the Knesset Committee on Constitution, Law and Justice, said Tuesday “The Reform movement is not Jewish… they are another religion.”

The Reform Judaism in Israel movement said in an e-mail to its members, “The expression ‘another religion’ was not used by MK Rotem by accident. The Israeli Law of Return uses this exact term to exclude non-Jews from making Aliyah, and therefore according to him, Reform Jews have no place in Israel. ”

Israel Reform Movement’s Executive Director, Rabbi Gilad Kariv responded, “We were witness to this unrestrained declaration of MK Rotem about non-orthodox streams of Judaism. An assertion such as this makes it impossible for MK Rotem to continue to chair discussions on sensitive issues such as conversion, who is a Jew and other topics that are associated with Religion & State matters and the relationship between Israel and the diaspora.”

That may have won over a few Orthodox liberals, but Kariv then showed the Reform movement’s penchant for interpreting the Bible for its own principles of showing how little it knows and quoted Proverbs 3:17, which states, “Its ways are the ways of pleasantness and all her paths lead to peace.” It follows, according to him, “We must all ask ourselves, with which religious heritage MK Rotem identifies.”

Chances are that the MK would answer, “I identify with the Torah and Jewish Law as handed down by sages and Torah scholars and not with some kind of instant heritage created by those whose Judaism is defined by their own personal interests.”

How Jewish Is Jewish History?

Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

Once we asked, “Who is a Jew?” Now the big question is, “What is Jewish History?” Both questions are largely academic and typical of a particular mindset that desires to know exactly how to characterize human affairs and where other human beings fit it. It is a product of Western philosophical culture, modern nationalism, and indeed scientific categorization.

I don’t for the life of me understand why it has taken me so long to read Moshe Rosman’s excellent How Jewish is Jewish History? (Littman Library of Jewish Civilization). I must have been sleepwalking, for it is a most important and essential book for anyone interested in Jewish affairs. It is an overview of how academic theories of modernism are changing and have changed perceptions. It is a vital analysis of how many different approaches to Jewish history there are.

Even the ancillary issue of when does “modern Jewish history” begin is the subject of constant debate and modification. Was it the French Revolution? The American Revolution? Napoleon? The Haskalah, the Enlightenment? Mercantilism? The exile from Iberia? The rise of nationalism? The collapse of autonomous Jewish life in Poland? The first mass migration to Israel under Yehuda Hachasid? Does it really make any serious difference?

It all confirms what we inside have always known. You can define neither Jews nor Judaism in a way that will satisfy all its various elements. What is the difference between a “people” and a “nation”? Is Judaism an “ethnic culture” a “religious culture” or neither? Jean-Paul Sartre thought it was anyone who others think is Jewish. Homi Bhabha thinks it is any group that suffers as a result of imperialist domination.

Modern theory is right to try to avoid “The Simple Solution”, “The Grand Scheme”, or the “Neat Title”, whether it is “The End of History” or “The Clash of Civilizations”. They might sell books, but they get just as much wrong as right. We do know that modernism has freed us to think more as individuals than as members of established ideologies. The internet in all its varieties has, for better and worse, enabled more of us to “pursue our own ideas and goals”. Political, religious, and social groups try to control and dominate, but the genius of mankind is its ability to resist automatonism and to allow us to be ourselves as we define it. We might call it existentialism or phenomenology, but the fact is that just as much as some humans need to lose themselves in the comforting but suffocating embrace of societies, communities, and ghettos, many others resist these constrictions. There are plusses and minuses in both, and it would be wrong to say only one is right and all the others wrong. But that sadly is precisely what fundamentalism does.

Rosman’s book highlights the achievements, advances, and the limitations of academia. Old models are challenged and superseded, and the new models in turn will face revisionism. It is a world in which great minds toil and produce theories, defend them with aggression and determination, devote passion and animosity to demolishing competition, and invariably end up being as doctrinaire, unreasonable, and closed-minded as the worst anti-academic fanatics. Those of you who saw that brilliant Israeli film Footnote know exactly how it works on the academic shop floor. It is hard to find a more competitive and cutthroat atmosphere outside of a Marxist coven. It makes rabbinic conflict look positively benign, and it explains why so much antagonism towards Israel comes from universities.

Rosman raises all the fascinating issues. Can Jewish history only be about Jews? What about their relationship, for better and worse, with their host societies? Is an English Jew more English or more Jewish than a French Jew? Is an American Jew more comfortable with other Americans or with other Jews? Is a Charedi Jew more at home with a Salafist Muslim or a secular Jew? Is a liberal Jewish female more at home with other feminists?

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/how-jewish-is-jewish-history/2014/02/02/

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