Hot Topics

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!

Assassination and Education

October 8, 2013 by

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This year it will be the 16th Memorial Day of the Assassination of Rabin. Every event that repeats itself year on year presents an educational challenge, but unlike traditional Jewish holy days, the shape of this Memorial Day is being formed in the here and now. And I ask myself what will make this Memorial Day into something different from other value-laden days like May Day, Yom Ha’atzmaut, Columbus Day? Is there anything to be learned from a political assassination? Did the world learn anything from Kennedy’s assassination? Martin Luther King’s? To Full Post

The Paradox that was R. Ovadia Yosef z”l

October 7, 2013 by

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What was the secret of the charm of Rav Ovadiah Yosef?

On the one hand there were his fans and followers through fire and water who related to every word of his as holy; yet on the other, a whole swathe of Jews who saw him as a leader whose statements were hurtful and communally insensitive?

How is it possible that there can be those who saw him as a great leader who established the tent of the Torah, and others who saw him a leader of a crowd of primitives?

How can it be that a man of phenomenal intellect and superlative expertise in all areas of Judaism, failed again and again by shaming and slandering other leaders? To Full Post

Hot Topic – Donations for fire-bombed Islamic Center

June 6, 2013

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An Islamic Center in North West London has been destroyed by fire.

It is strongly suspected that this was a racist arson attack, in “revenge” for the horrific murder of Drummer Lee Rigby by Jihadists.

Key members of the Jewish community in Britain have pointed out that the center is in an area of London that is heavily populated by Jews. They have begun mobilizing to raise money for the rebuilding of the center. As one UK Jewish leader pointed out: “There are 60,000 Jews in the borough of Barnet. If every one of us were to donate the equivalent of $25, we would have a million pounds to give towards the rebuilding of the center.”

Responses have been overwhelmingly positive, and a search is on for a charity that would be able to receive the funds.

At the same time, some fundamental questions about the philanthropy of the Jewish People have been raised:

One person responded to the call by saying that this should not be the Jewish community’s responsibility or priority, when funding is short, Jewish educational programs are closing down all the time, and when the Muslim community has not tended to endear itself to the Jewish community. 

Another responded by pointing out that one million pounds would have saved Jerusalem’s Bikur Holim from closure. There is also no doubt that a million pounds would also save a significant number of welfare programs within the Jewish community of Britain.

Where should our charity be directed?

What principles should govern our choices?

What would you do, and why?

Coalition-building in Israel

February 12, 2013 by

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The Israeli elections are not yet over. 

After the public has cast its vote, the Prime Minister-designate must form a coalition. This process, which can take a month and sometimes longer, tends to be viewed with great distaste by public and politicians alike.

Yitzhak Rabin z”l coined the word “Go’alitzia”, which forever blended the Hebrew for coalition, together with the Hebrew for “disgust”. 

Yet it is clear now more than ever that a coalition must be built out of parties who chose to define themselves as different one from the other. How to create a unity out of difference must inevitably require compromises.

Can we ever reach our peace with compromise? Is there a moral and trustworthy way of reaching a compromise? 

We believe that Avishai Margalit’s book “On Compromise and Rotten Compromises” offers a fascinating way to begin to think about coalitions, and many other issues in Israel whose solution will require engagement with compromise.


Palestinian recognition at the UN

December 4, 2012

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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?

Who’s Afraid Of The Reform? – Rabbi Benny Lau

June 11, 2012 by

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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

God exits – a portrait of Israeli Jews

January 30, 2012

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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?

Israel-Diaspora Relations

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.

The 30-page abstract is here, and the full report here.



The “Come Home” videos – substance or style?

December 1, 2011

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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…

Coming Home – Blog

Birthright-Taglit Videos

Real Talk – educational materials for beginning a different discussion about Israel

Why Israel? An educational pack for exploring the issues


Questions from a different angle – the NGO funding clamp-down

November 17, 2011

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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

Questions from another angle – the NGO funding clamp-down

November 17, 2011

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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

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