Makom’s Hot Topics aim to ask Jewish questions of Israeli current affairs.
Designed to be short, accessible, and challenging, each Hot Topic attempts to ask us to align our Jewish identity with the ongoing drama of Israel and the Jewish People.
We are currently experimenting with a double-format – two pieces from two different perspectives on the same issue… Comments are welcome!
December 4, 2012
On the 29th November observer status was granted to the Palestinian Authority by the United Nations.
Israel’s government has strongly condemned this move, that unilaterally bypasses the already-battered Oslo Accords.
In turn, Israel’s responses to the move of the Palestinians and the United Nations have drawn unprecedented criticism, even from those who did not support the UN’s decision.
Israel now stands more isolated than ever – a phrase repeated so often in the past few years that it deserves further consideration.
What does it mean for our nation to be isolated among the other – seemingly united – nations?
Jewish tradition points us in at least two different directions.
The prophecy of Bilaam (Numbers 23:9), that presents the Hebrews as:
הֶן-עָם לְבָדָד יִשְׁכֹּן, וּבַגּוֹיִם לֹא יִתְחַשָּׁב
It is a people that shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations.
And on the other hand the adjuration from Talmud Bavli (Ketubot 111a):
שהשביע הקדוש ברוך הוא את ישראל שלא ימרדו באומות העולם
The Holy One adjured Israel not to rebel against the nations of the world.
Which approach would seem to be more relevant and applicable today?
Is isolation our fate, or the result of our actions?
What are the existential costs or the benefits of such isolation?
June 11, 2012 by Rabbi Benny Lau
The first Reform Rabbi will now receive a salary from the State, it was decided last week. Rabbi Benny Lau, a modern orthodox leader, wrote this article in response. It first appeared in Hebrew in Makor Rishon, a newspaper closely identified with the National Orthodox public.
The decision of the Legal counsel to the government, to permit local councils to employ non-orthodox Rabbis on the payroll of the State, allows us to open up the subject of funding for religious services in Israel. It is no secret that the deep connection between politics and religion means that religious services arouse both concern and distaste. The issue of Rabbis’ salaries gives the public an ever-growing feeling that there is no correlation between those receiving salaries and the people who are supposed to receive their services. Too many times we find that someone can be sitting in the office of Community Rabbi, when no one in the neighborhood even knows his name. To Full Post
January 30, 2012
Beyond the fact that it has one of the cutest typos in the Jewish world, the latest Guttman-Avi Chai report into the beliefs, observance, and values of Israeli Jews has much to teach us.
An overwhelming 80% of Israeli Jews believe that God exists (or is that “exits”?), and 67% believe that Jews are the Chosen People. Some more secular anti-religious commentators (who make up only 3% of the population, apparently) have found this worrying, though the survey did not explore people’s interpretations of what being a Chosen People may mean.
Democracy and Judaism
Most Jews in Israel 73% believe that Judaism and Democracy are not mutually exclusive, while an overwhelming 85% believe that Haredim should be drafted into the army. Coming back in the other direction, 34% fear that Jews who do not observe orthodox religious precepts “endanger the entire Jewish People”.
With regards Israeli Jews’ relationship to the Jewish world, we would point out a few interesting details.
Any heterogeneous Jewish community around the world would be over the moon to find that 90% of the community see Seder Night as important, 60% make kiddush on a Friday night, and even 20% study the night away on Shavuot. Who says that diaspora Jews have nothing in common with Israeli Jews?
Auguring less happiness in the direction of Israel-Diaspora relations would be the resonant number 48 – the minority percentage of people who accept non-orthodox conversions.
Similar cause for future concern may also be the way in which Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist denominations are not on the list of self-definitions. 54% are Haredi, Orthodox, and Traditional (not the same as Conservative, however it may translate!) while the rest are simply secular – differentiated only by the degree to which they dislike the religious.
As headlines fly in the Jewish and Israeli media, pulling out choice excerpts from the report, we encourage you to look at the research yourselves, and share with us your insights.
December 1, 2011
A set of commercials have been produced by the Israeli Ministry of Absorption, with the intention of encouraging ex-pat Israelis to return to Israel.
Their tone is the tone of “negation of the Diaspora”: in the Diaspora your children will call you Daddy not Abba, they will get confused between Chanukah and Christmas, and your partners will not understand your grief on Yom HaZikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day).
At the same time, Birthright-Taglit goes from strength to strength. Over 300,000 young Jews have visited Israel in the past 10 years, and the numbers are only growing. Significant Foundations and Federations have invested huge amounts of money into this program in the (not-unfounded) conviction that 10 days in Israel does more for a young person’s Jewish Identity than any other program in North America.
The tone of Birthright commercials is not “negation of the Diaspora”, but it does most certainly push a very similar idea: If you want a good strong shot of Jewish ID, you’ll find it in Israel and not in the Diaspora.
Is the uproar at the Israeli commercials only over their tone?
Is there, at root, a fundamental agreement that Israel is the storehouse, resource, and generator of meaningful Jewish identity, with the only argument about the way we express this fact?
Or is there a rumbling of discontent over the way that Jewish life in the Diaspora continues to be seen by establishments – both Israeli and Diasporan – as somewhat lesser?
For More on this…
November 17, 2011
Two bills have passed the Knesset’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation, aimed at preventing foreign governments’ funding of NGOs in Israel. In essence, the government has just voted to curb the income of left-leaning NGOs. If they receive money from foreign governmental bodies they will either lose their tax-free status or have the size of their donations drastically reduced.
It would seem to be an axiom that healthy democracies need NGOs to bring to the fore information and issues that would otherwise be hidden from the public. To Full Post
November 17, 2011
Two bills have passed the Knesset’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation, aimed at preventing foreign governments’ funding of NGOs in Israel.
It is argued that this is an anti-democratic move, restricting citizens’ rights to openly examine and critique their government’s actions. Yet the restriction is not on critique – these NGOs remain free to continue their work – but on the ability of foreign governments to intervene on a primary political issue in Israel. To Full Post
November 5, 2011
Prior to 2009 Judge Richard Goldstone was a respected Judge, who had gained great respect in his native South Africa for his work against Apartheid, and universal approval for his UN prosecution of Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. All this changed when this Jewish self-proclaimed supporter of Israel accepted the lead on a fact-finding mission of the UN Human Rights Commission into the Gaza war.
September 20, 2011
The UN will shortly address the issue of a Palestinian State along 1967 borders.
Questions abound in the media, asked with excitement or trepidation or both. Will the State be recognized? If the State is established, what difference will it make and to whom? If it does make a difference, who will this please and who will this injure? And if it makes no difference, who will this injure and who will this please?
September 9, 2011
On Saturday night the Middle East witnessed another remarkable demonstration of the spirit of democracy.
Over 450,000 people, 6% of Israel’s entire population, were out demonstrating against government policy.
That’s the equivalent of almost 19 million marching throughout the USA, over 2 million in Canada, and nearly 4 million people walking peacefully in the streets of the UK.
July 24, 2011
The summer protest season is showing signs of longevity. The trail of tents fills not only Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, but streets throughout the country. Young people demonstrated last night against the high price of housing, and filled the streets of Tel Aviv.