Pushing the Button

Some issues in Israel are complicated. 

Let’s face it, most issues in Israel are complicated. 

Sometimes we do not do them or us justice when we skim through only a headline.

In this new section, Pushing the Button, we hope to take a headline further, inviting different voices and different media to shed light into unexpected areas.

Encouraging Aliya - insensitive?

The videos produced by the Absorption Department encouraging Israelis in North America to return to Israel, ignited a controversy. Within a few days the Prime Minister himself ordered the campaign to be cancelled. 

Yet in the meantime, an interesting and important dialogue had begun to open up. Were the commercials really so offensive? Or were they mainly touching on a subject that itself is terribly sensitive yet crucial: What is the value of Jewish life in Israel as compared to the Diaspora? Indeed, how do we define a valuable Jewish life?

Over the next few days we shall be publishing short responses, so as to encourage the beginning of a meaningful dialogue.

Women in public

The place of women in the public sphere is becoming a source of controversy. Soldiers have walked out of events featuring singing women, women’s images have been removed from advertising hoardings, separation between men and women on public transport has been challenged.

Provoked by the situation, Shay Charka produced an illustration , to which we asked for responses.

Kol B’Isha Erva

This phrase emerges from a discussion in the Babylonian Talmud about prayer, and has been extrapolated by some to indicate that a man must never hear a woman sing, since it serves as an erotic temptation. Kol B’Isha means a woman’s voice. The word “Erva” is open to several interpretations. In rabbinic leadership it is usually understood to mean “lewdness”, but for a more literal translation click here

Ethiopian Jewish Aliyah

An editorial in the Jewish Week – “Why The Delay In Ethiopian Jewish Aliyah?” calls attention to a strange hiccough in the aliyah of Ethiopia’s remaining Jews. 

Despite an agreement reached in November 2010 between the Israeli government and a number of advocacy groups on behalf of Ethiopian Jewry to bring this last group out at a rate of 200 a month — so that everyone on a list determined to be Jewish would be out by March 2014 — the government has reduced the monthly number to 110, extending the completion date to March 2015.

“Making these people, many of them children, wait as long as three years to leave Gondar, under terrible conditions, is an appalling injustice without precedent in Israeli history,” says longtime advocate Joseph Feit of the North American Conference for Ethiopian Jewry, “not to mention the additional cost to Israel and the American Jewish community in supporting them.”


Here we present a gathering of Makom materials referring to Ethiopian aliyah, and their absorption into the country, including a wonderful collection of photos from Gondar – the place where Ethiopian Jews will apparently remain for two more years.

Global Jewish Forum - Haredim

“Wedding” by Yoram Amir


Recommended reading prior to the Forum:

Gender Trouble – Yehuda Mirsky

Does Israel live in Diaspora Synagogues?

On May 7th a piece by Makom’s Robbie Gringras appeared in the Jewish Week. We reproduce it here, since it appears to have stirred some controversy. While it was written with respect and even affection, it also offered a critique of the way an Upper West Side synagogue might symbolize a distancing from Israel. This was, of course, a one-off, snap-shot view, that could not (and perhaps should not) be seen to represent all that one synagogue has to say about Israel. 

The questions about where a connection to Israel might fit into Jewish ritual, how Zionist thinking might or might not harmonize with Diaspora credo, and how progressive approaches to Judaism might affect Israel itself, are all key questions worth delving into. 

We have approached several figures in the North American Rabbinic and Educational establishment for their thoughts and responses to Robbie’s piece, and genuinely hope a deep and constructive discourse might ensue. In the meantime Robbie has also written a follow-up piece…

Headlines, Guidelines, and Red Lines

In late December of 2013 a story broke in the New York Times of a controversy within Hillel in North America. A group of students at Swarthmore Hillel had chosen to declare themselves an “Open Hillel”, in defiance of National Hillel’s Guidelines for Campus Israel Activities. The response of Hillel President Eric Fingerhut was clear, and the debate set off…

Here is our contribution to the conversation, and an alternative perspective from Keith Kahn-Harris.


What are the questions?

For several weeks now there has been an ongoing furore about the place of women and religion in Israel: Orthodox soldiers walked out of a ceremony involving singing women. Mehadrin bus lines force women to sit at the back of the bus. Women are removed from advertisement hoardings in Jerusalem. A Haredi sect in Bet Shemesh uses unacceptable means to try to stop girls going to school in their area.

In an attempt to clear our heads, we are trying to work out what are the underlying fundamental questions at play? What, if anything, do these different incidents have in common?

We have formulated a collection of questions, and below we are gathering the responses and suggestions of Jews around Israel and the world.

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