January 24, 2019

Election Collection: Fresh and Familiar

Once again, it’s time to talk about Israel’s next elections.

Earlier this week, two events made early elections — possibly in May — much more likely. Event one: The police recommended to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on bribery charges. Event two: Israel’s Supreme Court gave the government until mid-January to pass a military draft law, for which there is not majority support among current coalition members. To prepare for this event, read the next eight comments (it’s Hanukkah, so eight is the only number we considered appropriate). And note that events on Israel’s northern border can thwart all previous calculations. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched an operation in the north on the morning of Dec. 3 to expose and destroy Hezbollah attack tunnels. The operation was limited in scope, but one never knows where it might lead (I’ll update developments concerning this operation on the website).

1. Regarding Israel’s elections: It’s early. It’s not known who is running or how. Former IDF Chief of Staff Benni Gantz faces possibly the most important decision. Polls show that he can get more than 15 in the Knesset as a head of a stand-alone party, or close to 25 as the head of the Zionist Camp. With more seats, he might conceive of becoming the next prime minister. With an independent party, he has more flexibility in joining various possible coalitions and securing a significant portfolio. So going it alone makes more sense, as long as Netanyahu seems likely to have the majority to remain as prime minister. 

2. If you believe the polls (I do, based on experience), if Gantz runs alone, the Zionist Camp is in huge trouble. It is likely to become insignificant even as an opposition party. 

3. The polls also show that Netanyahu can have a small yet coherent coalition without Gantz or Yair Lapid. Or he can invite one of these two into his coalition and have a very large coalition. Or he can invite both and have a gigantic coalition (possibly more than 80 seats). The question, of course, is whether it can also be functional. 

Netanyahu did well this term with a small and coherent coalition.

4. It’s important to remember that parties with four to five projected seats might not pass the electoral threshold. If, for example, Shas (an ultra-Orthodox party) fails to get four seats (as some polls predict), coalition calculations become more complicated. 

5. Polls predict that about 20 seats will go to new, unknown, barely established and untested parties (the “social” party of Knesset member Orly Levy-Abekasis, and the new Gantz Party). Clearly, Israelis are looking for something that doesn’t currently exist in their political universe. Or possibly they’re looking for a way to beat Netanyahu.

“It’s important to remember that parties with four to five projected seats might not pass the electoral threshold.”

6. Most polls we look at were taken before the police made its recommendation to indict Netanyahu. On Dec. 2, after this development, the prime minister gave a powerful speech to his supporters, defending himself and denouncing what he interprets as a double standard in the way he is investigated. Don’t be surprised if the police make Netanyahu less popular among his rivals and more so among his supporters. Especially so, if right-wing voters feel that their camp might lose its grip on the reins of government as a result of Netanyahu’s troubles. 

7. Opting for new elections over the draft bill can be tricky for the government. Because the Charedi deferment of military service is highly unpopular among Israelis (for good reason), the opposition will surely try to convince the voters that the draft bill is the most important item on the agenda. This will not be easy, as Netanyahu’s investigation is likely to dominate the news.

8. The next election won’t necessarily be a race for prime minister. Unless something dramatic changes (early indictment, health issues, voters’ sudden change of heart), Netanyahu will be remain prime minister. 

So you might want to think about the next election as a race on who is going to be defense minister. Avigdor Lieberman wants the position back — and will get it back only if he has enough seats and bargaining power. Naftali Bennett wants it badly. He will need even more bargaining power because Netanyahu dislikes him. There is also Gantz. If he gets many votes, Netanyahu can use him either to tame Lieberman’s/Bennett’s ambitions — or as defense minister in a coalition that begins with 45 to 50 seats (the combined projected number for Likud and Gantz).

In other words: There’s a good chance that the race for defense minister will be much fiercer, crueler, bloodier and more interesting than the race for prime minister.

Letters to the Editor: Demographics, Israeli Supreme Court, Salvador Litvak and Marcus Freed

Demographic Study Would Aid Stories on L.A. Jews

As a former Angeleno and current doctoral candidate studying the American Jewish community, I read with disappointment the framing for the story “Building Boom: Is Jewish L.A. Defying National Demographic Trends?” (Nov. 17). I celebrate that a number of schools and synagogues, including my family’s, are growing, but the article does not tell the full story — the fact of the matter is, it can’t, as no one knows the full story of L.A. Jewry. It has been two decades since the last demographic study, the only way to systematically understand what is happening within the Jewish community of greater Los Angeles. A lot has changed since 1997 — for starters, I’m no longer in fifth grade at the VBS Day School.

In the absence of recent data, it may seem all well and good to focus on national Jewish trends as identified by the Pew Survey in 2013, but I’m sure every Angeleno will agree: L.A. is not like the rest of the country. In the absence of up-to-date estimates of the population, geographic distribution, migration habits, ritual practice, organizational involvement and more, communal institutions are left reacting to perceived trends, rather than planning ahead for growth, stabilization or even decline. Would it not be to the community’s benefit to know the relative proportion of 20-something Jews on the Westside who are Orthodox; young families in the Valley interested in Jewish summer camp; or senior citizens in Santa Monica who need social support? It’s only with a local demographic study that questions like these can be answered, so the truly important one can be asked: How can local Jewish organizations help community members lead meaningful Jewish lives?

Matt Brookner, Brandeis University, Somerville, MA (formerly from Tarzana)

Debating the Israeli Supreme Court

I enjoyed the dueling stories by Shmuel Rosner and Caroline Glick on the Israeli Supreme Court. While posed as a debate, the two authors agree that the court suffers from ideological activism and has outsized power in the absence of a written constitution.

But what both miss is the underlying reason for the court’s current misalignment with Israeli society: the judicial nomination process. Whereas in the United States, the executive branch nominates a candidate and the legislature confirms — ensuring democratic input — in Israel, an independent “judicial selections committee” is responsible for nomination and confirmation. The nine-member committee operates in secret, and while composed of members from all three branches, a majority is unelected and therefore unaccountable to the Israeli public. In fact, the largest bloc on the committee is the Supreme Court justices themselves, allowing the court to essentially self-select its composition, refining its ideological uniformity with each successive iteration.

While we in the U.S. view checks and balances among the branches as a vital democratic feature, Israel has chosen a “hermetic seal” between the branches to ensure a judiciary independent of politics. While a noble sentiment, it essentially cuts off the court from its contemporary society, rendering it less and less relevant — and more and more controversial — to the citizenry. Indeed, in order to be saved, the system must be changed.

Jordan Reimer, Los Angeles

Israel and Ancient Claims to Its Land

Professor Judea Pearl conceded too much to the neo-Philistines, who suddenly discovered in 1967 that they, not we, are “Palestinian” (“The Balfour Declaration at 100 and How It Redefined Indigenous People,” Nov. 10.)

First the disclaimer: I hold that those Arabs who stayed in Israel in 1948 earned their Israeli citizenship. They and their descendants richly deserve it.

That said, they are not “equally indigenous.” We have been present in the land of Israel since before recorded history, millennia ago. That is why the Arabs were calling it the “Abode of the Jew” when they first invaded it in 632 C.E. True, most of us were exiled for many centuries, but there was always some Jewish presence. The Arab population, too, dwindled as they destroyed the very soil until it would no longer support them. Most current Arab settlers descended from infiltrators attracted by the new prosperity created by the Zionists.

Louis Richter, Reseda

Torah Portion About Sarah and the Handmaid

Well, that parsha was fun (“Vayera,” Nov. 3).

To David Sacks and Rabbi Ephraim Pelcovits: A Jewish child would say “Enough with the tests. I get too many of them in school.”

To Rabbi Ilana Berenbaum Grinblat: Older son, upon viewing his brother when the latter was brought home from the hospital, with the source explained as “Mommy’s belly:” “Put it back.” So sometimes there’s no “anymore” about it.

To Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky: The concentric circle model also applies to how one reveals himself to others. There is a core revealed to no one. The innermost circle can be, but need not be, one or more family members. It can be one or more friends. And so forth.

Finally, to Rabbi Michelle Missaghieh: My late father-in-law’s approach to life was very simple: “Whatever I have is the best.” No matter the example, “mine is the best.” Thus, he didn’t worry about competition, and the women you speak of might do well to consider something similar. I might add that it took a while for him to apply his philosophy to his two sons-in-law.

Steve Meyers via email

From Facebook …

Salvador Litvak Column

There is clearly a distinction between young people who make immature decisions whose ramifications are beyond their scope of experience and serial pedophiles/sexual deviants (“I Shot a Sex Offender,” Nov. 17). The stigma of being convicted of a sexual offense seems to have no pyramid of seriousness, and often the term becomes dissolved into an ambiguous term that simply translates to “sicko” or “pervert.” There are literally ex-prostitutes who are registered sex offenders for prostitution too close to a school or playground (even when no children are present). Studies have shown that the wide-stroke brush of “sex offender” for minor offenses is detrimental to the public at large, places tremendous strain on law enforcement, and has not proven to reduce recidivism. Hearing the words “sex offender” places a stereotypical image in the listener’s mind of a sex predator, when the vast majority of those who commit sexual offenses are not registered offenders. I think the videographer’s open-mindedness is in good faith, and that there is much to learn from his efforts.

Brandon Moore

This is why there needs to be clearly defined parameters as to who is and who isn’t a pedophile. Those who engage in pedophilia are highly recidivist in nature. Extensive studies have shown they cannot be weaned out of it. So, this article would suggest that while he might have engaged in what is considered a sexual offense, it wasn’t pedophilia. The idea that G-d forgives the truly penitent, so we should as well … runs against what we believe — that G-d only forgives, once those we’ve transgressed against, forgive.

Batsheva Gladstone

Back and Forth Column

I actually agree with both of them (“Reform. Orthodox. Let’s Talk.” Reform Rabbi Sarah Bassin and Orthodox Rabbi Ari Schwarzberg, Nov. 10) — but the Orthodox rabbi was correct when he said “Many would applaud others’ activism and philanthropic work while claiming that our resources must be allocated to the sustainability and future of our own community.” In our own synagogue, we have seen the numbers of millennials dwindling and are not seeing the growth necessary to exist in the near future.

Sherri Chapman

Help for Marcus Freed

Thank you Jewish Journal for covering this story and helping to support Marcus J. Freed! (“A Community Rallies to Help Beloved Teacher,” Nov. 17.)

Audrey Jacobs

Supreme Court orders Netanyahu to release some details of Sheldon Adelson calls

Photo by Gali Tibbon/REUTERS

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must disclose the dates and lengths of the phone conversations he had with billionaire American Sheldon Adelson, publisher of the pro-Netanyahu daily newspaper Israel Hayom.

The Supreme Court ruling on Monday was a response to an appeal filed by a reporter for Israel’s Channel 10 and overturns a Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court decision in 2016. The Magistrate’s Court ruling had overturned a decision calling for the release of the material in 2015 by the Jerusalem District Court.

The reporter, Raviv Drucker, has requested the material under Israel’s Freedom of Information Law, calling the information of public interest.

“There is a clear public interest in exposing the nature and strength of the relationship” between Adelson and Netanyahu, Justice Menachem Mazuz said in his decision, Channel 10 reported.

Channel 10 noted that the release is not a violation of privacy, since the requested information does not relate to the content of the talks but rather to when they took place.

Netanyahu must transfer the call log to Channel 10 and Drucker within 15 days.

Adelson, a casino magnate, and his wife during recent visits to Israel have been questioned twice by police investigators in corruption scandals that allegedly involve Netanyahu. Police have assured the couple that they are not suspects in one of the probes.

Part of the investigation includes accusations that Netanyahu and Arnon Mozes, publisher of the daily Yediot Acharanot, discussed a deal in which Netanyahu would receive favorable coverage in Yediot in exchange for legislation that would cut into the circulation of Adelson’s free paper.

In recordings obtained by police of Netanyahu and Mozes discussing such a deal, they referred to Adelson as the “gingy,” or redhead. Investigators reportedly have asked if Adelson was aware of the deal.

Miriam Adelson reportedly deals with the couple’s Israeli affairs, including the newspaper. The Adelsons and Netanyahus are considered to be close friends.

Western Wall suit to come before Israel’s Supreme Court in July

Women of the Wall members bringing Torahs to the Western Wall on Nov. 2, 2016. Screenshot from Twitter

The Israeli Supreme Court will hold a hearing in July on the status of the non-Orthodox section of the Western Wall.

The court will convene July 30 to discuss a petition from last year calling on the Israeli government to implement the Western Wall compromise passed in January 2016, according to Anat Hoffman, chairwoman of Women of the Wall, one of the parties to the petition.

In October, the court postponed a ruling on the petition to allow the government time to formulate a response.

On Sunday, the government voted to suspend most of the compromise. The compromise would have expanded the non-Orthodox prayer section south of the main Western Wall plaza, created a shared entrance to all prayer areas and appointed an interdenominational council to oversee the non-Orthodox section.

Sunday’s vote suspends the agreement but calls for accelerating the expansion of the non-Orthodox prayer area, though the timeline and dimensions of the expansion are unclear.

According to Hoffman, the government has until July 12 to give the court a response to the petition. Along with Women of the Wall, the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel are party to the petition.

Women of the Wall in petition to Israeli Supreme Court demand right to pray undisturbed

Photo courtesy of Women of the Wall.

The Women of the Wall filed a petition with Israel’s Supreme Court demanding the right to pray undisturbed at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

The petition, filed Tuesday against the Israel Police, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation and the Western Wall’s rabbi, Shmuel Rabinovitz, also asked the court to order the police to ensure that the women are safe from physical and verbal violence while praying at the holy site.

It requested a temporary injunction requiring the respondents to explain their failure to ensure the legal rights of the Women of the Wall to pray in the women’s section of the site without disturbance, according to a statement from the organization. The petition also demanded an explanation for the respondents’ failure to implement the necessary measures to halt those who regularly attempt to disrupt their prayer services with physical and verbal violence.

Women of the Wall said in a statement that during monthly prayer services, its members are exposed to “curses, incitement, spitting, ear-piercing whistling, intense and continuous shouting and bottles thrown at them. Despite this egregious conduct, including criminal offenses, their repeated pleas for protection are met with indifference by Israel Police and by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation’s ushers and guards.”

In January, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of women being allowed to read from the Torah in the women’s section at the Western Wall and declared that an egalitarian prayer area set aside at nearby Robinson’s Arch does not constitute access to the holy site.

The January ruling was in response to a petition by the Original Women of the Wall, a breakoff of the Women of the Wall group, who want to pray in the women’s section and reject a compromise, still to be implemented, that would expand an alternative prayer space at Robinson’s Arch.

Western Wall egalitarian prayer activists say they will go to Supreme Court

The negotiating team supporting the implementation of the agreement to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall said it was planning to initiate legal action in Israel’s Supreme Court.

In a letter sent Sunday to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, representatives from the Conservative and Reform movements of Judaism and the Women of the Wall organization, among others on the team, said that in the “very near future,” they will bring a petition to the high court demanding the reapportionment of the current northern plaza prayer area in front of the wall to three sections: men, women and mixed.

The letter added that the group will continue to hold mixed prayer services in the upper plaza of the Western Wall, despite the attorney general upholding the objections of the rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinowitz, and expected police protection from protesters and hecklers.

“We appreciate the commitment you expressed to implementing the Kotel agreement, yet we expect you to close the gap between your statements and the actions of your government,” the letter said. “We look forward to the day when headlines feature not hateful, demeaning stories of ultra-Orthodox intransigence but rather how PM Netanyahu courageously led the Israeli government to affirm the multiple ways Jews express their Jewish commitment at our people’s holiest site.”

The letter noted several developments that “bring us to a critical juncture and are already having a serious impact on the vital relationship between the State of Israel and world Jewry.”

Along with the lack of real progress in implementing the government decision earlier this year regarding the egalitarian section at the Western Wall, the negotiators mentioned the government’s intention to continue with legislating who can use public mikvahs and the “ongoing and unprecedented incitement” toward Conservative and Reform Jews by Israeli lawmakers.

The committee last met with Netanyahu in his office on June 1, according to the letter.

The letter said elements of the agreement for a prayer space on the southern plaza of the Kotel, including access, funding, recognition and oversight, are “all essential elements of the agreement” that were “the result of years of negotiation and compromise.” It pointed out that the Cabinet voted to approve the agreement and that the haredi Orthodox parties are obligated to uphold the government’s decision.

“But to date they remain unwilling to agree to even a part of this carefully negotiated compromise, which affirms that there is a place for every Jew at the Kotel,” the letter said.

It continued: “You tried to reassure us by saying that soon, your team at the PMO [Prime Minister’s Office] would begin implementing some of the physical aspects of the agreement, even without commitment for the entire agreement. We said then, and feel even more strongly now, that this would be a serious mistake. Such a tactic would undermine, rather than advance, our historic agreement.”

Democracy needs to come to the court

The passing of Justice Antonin Scalia has put the political world in the US into  discord. The President has announced his nominee Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. Republicans are vowing to block any nomination before the election. This conflict highlights the vital consideration of voters in Presidential elections, some basing their vote for President on the issue of court appointments. In the US Presidents nominate judges and the Senate confirms the appointment. Those appointments can have a profound long term impact on American society.

In Israel it’s not that way. Democracy  is not part of the  procedure for selecting justices for the Supreme Court. The Prime Minister or President does nominate judges. The Knesset  does not ratify them. There are no public hearings for justices, or public debates.

In Israel a small  committee of nine  make the choices behind closed doors.  The Chief Justice and two other members of the Supreme Court, the Justice minister, a cabinet minister, two Knesset members and two representatives of the bar association.  The meetings are done in the secret, Israel  law mandates that minutes of the selection committee not be made public.  A super-majority of this small committee is needed to appoint a judge. Judges presently serving on the court have a major influence, making it to a large degree a process of self-selection.

In the US it’s an open process, Democratic Presidents tend to nominate judges more the left and the Republican Presidents the right. The senate publically debates the appointments and ratifies them. The process has created a judiciary that is representative of varied legal philosophies. The judges debate between themselves, many times finding compromise. In Israel the court does not reflect diversity. The Israeli Supreme Court is to a large degree self selected, politically its clearly tilted to the left, activist, claiming for itself powers never given by legislation. It attempts to impose its will on the diverse society. In particular when it comes to issue of religion and personal status. The Court has a tendency to reflect a judicial philosophy antagonistic to Jewish tradition. 

A case in point was the Courts activist stance in striking down the Tal Law designed to slowly integrate Yeshiva students into Israeli society (personally I think this integration is vital to Israel’s future).  The Courts dramatic intervention created a political crisis. It set back the goal of Haredi integration significantly, empowering those voices of insularity who said “look the secular are out to get us.' The community circled the wagons and stepped back from greater engagement in Israeli society.   

In a remarkable moment of candor, one of the leading Supreme Court judges who was instrumental in striking down the Tal Law told me “we saw it was not working so we had to make the decision.” The ruling that came in waning days of the Benisch court. Clearly a purely political decision masked in legalese.  The liberal judges used their position of power to advance their personal political agendas. This decision was clearly the province of the legislative process. If the judges on the Supreme Court felt the need to engineer social change they should of doffed their judicial robes, and run for office.

The time has come for Israeli democracy to take a cue from the United States. A more democratic process to appoint judges is needed to insure continued trust in the court. The present system of judicial cronyism and self-selection has led to serious imbalance in the Israel legal system. It undermines the status of the Court,  many citizens lacking confidence in its fairness. Let judges from the left and right, secular and religious debate the great issues of the day behind closed doors, seeking compromise and consensus.  A Haredi judge on the court might have quietly suggested to those activist judges focused on social engineering for Yeshiva students that their ideas would create the opposite effect.  A more balanced court would also bring about greater respect from the all parts of the Israel spectrum.

The political left have historically opposed any effort at judicial reform in Israel claiming it a threat to democracy. This is smoke screen for their agenda for retaining their hold on the Court. They know they do not have the votes in the Knesset to advance their social agenda, by directing the selection process of judges, they continue to control Israeli society by judicial fiat.

One the striking friendships in the US Supreme court is the well-known comradery that existed between Justice Antonin Scalia, the conservative constitutionalist, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the liberal jurist. They socialized together, and even jointly attended the Opera. One can imagine that beyond the social engagement was an intellectual one, where great legal issues were debated, and compromise reached.

American democracy can teach an important lesson to Israel.  A Supreme Court has a immense power, to have the support of the citizenry it must be balanced,  and reflect diverse legal philosophies. Behind closed doors, judges of varied viewpoints should  debate and dialogue and find the best path  to uphold the law. The time has come for Israel to learn from the US, only a court appointed via a democratic process can truly reflect the variety of legal philosophies and be respected by the public.

Rabbi David Eliezrie is President of the Rabbinical Council of Orange County. His email is rabbi@ocjewish.com

Israeli conversion ruling dents Chief Rabbinate’s control of ritual

The Israeli Supreme Court decision on Jewish conversion changes almost nothing. But down the line, it could change a lot.

Under the March 31 ruling, the state of Israel must recognize Jewish conversions performed in private Orthodox conversion courts not run by its Chief Rabbinate. A network of such courts, called Giyur Kahalacha, or “conversion by Jewish law,” began operating last year.

The ruling concerned whether three people who had converted in non-Rabbinate courts could gain Israeli citizenship. Previously, Jews by choice could only gain Israeli citizenship if they converted through the Rabbinate, or if they converted outside of Israel and lived in a Diaspora Jewish community. Foreign conversions do not need to be Orthodox.

Now, according to the ruling, those who convert in any Orthodox court in Israel may gain citizenship.

“The Jewish nation is indeed one nation, but it is spread out across the world, and is composed of communities, layers and sub-layers,” the court’s decision read. “Oversight of legitimate conversions is not limited to the one and only possibility” of the Rabbinate’s courts.

The decision affects only a handful of people, and affords them no additional rights or privileges. It does not force the Chief Rabbinate to recognize the private conversions, nor does it require the Rabbinate to allow the converts to marry in Israel.

But advocates for religious reform say the ruling, in conferring legitimacy on private conversion, delivers yet another blow to the Rabbinate’s monopoly on Jewish rites in Israel.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, a judge on Giyur Kahalacha courts, plans to conduct weddings for his converts. A subsequent Supreme Court case, he said, could force the Rabbinate to recognize those marriages, usingThursday’s ruling as proof of the conversions’ legitimacy.

“From my point of view, I have every right to marry” those who convert under his supervision, said Riskin, rabbi of the West Bank settlement of Efrat. “I’m an Orthodox rabbi, and I was told by this ruling that this conversion is a valid conversion.”

A future court case, some speculate, might pave the way for more substantial change.

“This says we recognize you as part of the Jewish collective,” said Rabbi Seth Farber, a founder of Giyur Kahalacha. “That has symbolic meaning. Until now, [the Rabbinate] said we can’t marry someone who the state doesn’t recognize as Jewish.”

The decision’s immediate impact is small. Israel already recognizes Orthodox conversions performed outside its borders, and Giyur Kahalacha courts have converted only about 150 people.

Those converts will still not be able to marry or divorce in Israel because those rituals are run by the Chief Rabbinate, which has vowed not to recognize the private conversions. In a statement Thursday, Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef called the court ruling a “scandal.”

“It is inconceivable that the private conversion industry, which is unsupervised by any government body, would be recognized as official,” Yosef’s statement read. “This recognition, in practice, will bring the destruction of the state’s government conversion system.”

This is the second time in two years that Israeli conversion policy has been subject to change. A 2014 government decision allowed any of the 30-some city rabbis in Israel to convert people — expanding authority for conversion beyond the Rabbinate’s four courts.

That decision would have made conversion more flexible for approximately 400,000 Israelis — mostly Russian-speaking immigrants — with no official religion. But the decision was repealed when haredi Orthodox parties reentered the coalition last year.

If Riskin is right, and Thursday’s ruling ends up allowing non-Rabbinate converts to marry, it will essentially restore the 2014 reform. For now, Israel’s haredi Orthodox establishment is holding its ground. Haredi politicians have vowed to pass legislation overriding the ruling.

Israel’s haredi establishment already was on the defensive before the ruling. The government voted in January to expand a non-Orthodox prayer space at the Western Wall. In February, a Supreme Court decision required state mikvahs to allow non-Orthodox conversions.

But haredi lawmakers have persuaded Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reopen the Western Wall plan for debate. And last month, a bill overriding the mikvah ruling passed an initial vote.

No matter what happens, the Chief Rabbinate still won’t accept non-Orthodox converts. Nor will Israel recognize non-Orthodox Jewish weddings, which a large majority of Israeli Jews supports. So while some activists hope the ruling will create a domino effect in Israel’s religious establishment, others say the only answer is wholesale reform of government policy.

“The pressure needs to be on extending recognition that will allow civil marriage in Israel,” said Uri Regev, founder of Hiddush, a religious pluralism advocacy organization. “There is no chance to get the Rabbinate to recognize these conversions.”

Palestinian detainee ends 65-day hunger-strike

Palestinian detainee Mohammed Allan ended his 65-day hunger strike against his detention without trial on Wednesday after the Israeli Supreme Court suspended his arrest warrant, his lawyer said.

Allan has sustained brain damage as result of his hunger strike and is hospitalized in Israel in critical condition. The court said that in his current condition he poses no threat and therefore suspended his arrest warrant.

The 31-year-old Islamic Jihad activist's case was being monitored closely by opposing sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which had looked likely to boil over into new violence if Allan were to have died as result of his strike.

“The story is over, administrative detention is cancelled and therefore there is no strike,” Allan's lawyer, Jameel Khatib, told Reuters.

The Israeli government saw his hunger strike as a powerful challenge against “administrative detention”, a practice that has drawn criticism from Palestinians and human rights groups but which Israel calls necessary for its national security.

It fears his release would only encourage some 370 other Palestinian detainees held without charge to refuse food.

The court said Allan was to stay at the Israeli hospital where he was being treated.

Before Wednesday's court session got under way, Allan's lawyers said that in return for an end to the strike, Israel had pledged not to renew his six-month detention period, meaning he would go free on Nov. 3.

The hospital said Allan's condition had deteriorated since he was brought out of sedation on Tuesday. His attorneys said he did not respond to the proposal.

In court, a government lawyer said Israel was prepared to free Allan immediately if a scan carried out while court was in session showed that he had suffered irreversible brain damage and subsequently no longer posed a security threat.

But the scan results were not conclusive. Barzilai hospital chief Chezy Levy told reporters it showed some brain damage and it was not yet clear whether it was “completely reversible”. He said it was possible Allan would recover.

On Tuesday Allan instructed medical staff to halt intravenous treatment, but then agreed vitamins could be administered in the run-up to the court hearing.

Allan's case was originally seen as a possible test of Israel's new force-feeding law, which the country's medical association has condemned as a violation of ethics and international conventions. But doctors have said that option is no longer viable due to his grave condition.

Last week supporters of Allan clashed with Israeli right-wingers near the hospital. Israel has long been concerned that hunger strikes by Palestinians in its jails could end in deaths and trigger waves of protests in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Israel’s Supreme Court rejects removing Muslim Quarter from Jerusalem Day route

The annual Jerusalem Day march will still go through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City after the Supreme Court rejected a petition to change its route.

The court ordered police to arrest any participants who shout racist slogans or engage in violence or vandalism during Sunday’s march. Arab residents of the Old City must be given full access to their homes and businesses during the march, the ruling also said.

“With a heavy heart, we reject the petition,” Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein reportedly said.

The petition was filed by the Israeli NGOs Ir Amim and Tag Meir.

Last year, marchers were caught on video shouting “Death to Arabs” and “Muhammad is dead.”

Thousands of Israelis waving Israeli flags participate in the annual Jerusalem Day march of flags entering the Old City through the Muslim Quarter and making its way to the Western Wall. Jerusalem Day marks the reunification of the city following the 1967 Six-Day War.

Israeli court orders halt to construction in West Bank settlement

Israel’s Supreme Court ordered the state to halt construction of 40 homes in the West Bank settlement of Nokdim.

The court issued the injunction Thursday in reviewing a petition filed by Palestinian residents near the settlement, Army Radio reported.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin said in an interview with Army Radio that the plan to build the 40-home project “has nothing to do” with the visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry began on Thursday.

Kerry, who has met multiple times since assuming his job in February with top Israeli and Palestinian leaders, hopes to jumpstart peace talks. In the past, Palestinians and some peace activists have accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government of timing building launches to sabotage such peace bids.

Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon told Army Radio the plans were approved by his predecessor, Ehud Barak.

On Wednesday, the Jerusalem Municipality approved construction permits for 69 new homes in Har Homa, a neighborhood in east Jerusalem.

The Palestinians have demanded Israel halt construction in eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank before peace talks resume. Israel says such talks should go ahead without preconditions.

The U.S. State Department called Israel’s continued settlement construction “unproductive” and “unhelpful” to US efforts to bring the sides back to the negotiating table, a department official told Bloomberg News on condition of anonymity.

Katsav requests presidential pardon on rape conviction

Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav requested a presidential pardon to appeal his rape conviction.

Katsav’s wife, Gila, filed the request with the Justice Ministry on Oct. 15. It will be forwarded to President Shimon Peres.

Katsav, 65, is serving a seven-year jail sentence for his conviction on two counts of rape and other sexual offenses. He entered prison in December.

His petition reportedly asks for a pardon so that he can appeal the conviction and clear his name from outside of prison. It also says that Katsav did not get a fair trial and that having to resign as president was punishment enough.

He reportedly has not expressed remorse for his crime, which is necessary for receiving a pardon. 

Prisoners convicted of rape and other sexual violence must undergo a rehabilitation program; Katsav currently is not participating, according to Haaretz. His appeal as currently tendered likely will be rejected by Peres, according to reports.

Katsav is the first Israeli president sentenced to prison. Israel’s Supreme Court upheld his rape conviction and prison sentence last November.

He resigned in the wake of the allegations shortly before the end of his term in 2007 and was succeeded by Peres.

Katsav, who immigrated to Israel from Iran in 1951, was elected president by the Knesset in 2000 in an upset over Peres.

Naomi Ragen appeals plagiarism conviction

Author Naomi Ragen has appealed her plagiarism conviction to the Israeli Supreme Court.

Ragen’s attorney said in the appeal document that the verdict has destroyed the Israeli author’s life, according to Haaretz, which on July 5 quoted from the document: “The ruling branded her as a thief and shattered her honor, both as a person and as a well-known and respected author both in Israel and worldwide.”

The Jerusalem District Court ruled last December that Ragen, who came to Jerusalem from New York City, used parts of author Sarah Shapiro’s 1990 book “Growing With My Children: A Jewish Mother’s Diary” in her book “Sotah,” which appeared in 1992. In addition to levying damages, as well as court costs and lawyer’s fees, the court ordered Ragen to remove the plagiarized passages in future printings of the book.

Ragen deplored the ruling and was quoted in the Israeli media as saying that while she may have been inspired by Shapiro’s book, it was not tantamount to plagiarism.

A month later, Ragen was found not guilty by Israel’s Supreme Court of plagiarizing in her book “The Ghost of Hannah Mendes” from self-published author Michal Tal.

A lawsuit against Ragen for copyright infringement over her book “The Sacrifice of Tamar” is scheduled to begin in September.

Israeli Supreme Court tightens equal pay enforcement

Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that employers paying men and women different wages must prove that those differences are not due to gender.

The court’s decision stems from a case that began with a woman who was earning 70 percent of the wage of a male colleague at a hardware store chain, the Associated Press reported. Her employer said the woman had requested a lower salary when she applied for the job.

The ruling shifts the burden of proof for gender discrimination to the employer, according Dana Naor-Mande’el, legal adviser to the Israeli Women’s Lobby, which brought the suit.

“An employer cannot hide behind the fact that a woman asked for less money,” she said, according to AP.

Israeli women earn about two-thirds as much as Israeli men, according to a 2009 figure.

Katsav denied new hearing in rape conviction sentence

An Israeli Supreme Court justice denied a new hearing for former President Moshe Katsav to request a reduction in his seven-year prison sentence for a rape conviction.

Supreme Court Justice Esther Hayut on Sunday denied the motion for a new hearing, meaning that the only possibility that Katsav has for a reduction of his sentence is through presidential pardon.

Katsav, who was elected president by the Knesset in 2000 in an upset over Shimon Peres, resigned in the wake of rape allegations shortly before the end of his term in 2007. Peres succeeded Katsav in the post and continues to serve.

Israel’s Supreme Court upheld Katsav’s rape conviction and prison sentence last November.

Rebels with a cause

“Leon Klinghoffer’s blood cries out from the depth of the ocean,” the 23-year-old law student told the Israeli Supreme Court in 1995. “We will not withdraw our complaint.”

That student was Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, and she had filed a petition on behalf of the victims of the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship, during which a wheelchair-bound Klinghoffer was tossed overboard.

She wanted the court to forbid the terrorist act’s mastermind, Muhammad (Abu) Abbas, from entering Israel under the Oslo Accords.

The court sided with the government and rejected the petition, and Abu Abbas went on to mastermind more terror attacks. Darshan-Leitner never forgot that defeat. Years later, during the height of the Second Intifada, she founded the non-profit Shurat HaDin — Israel Law Center, to fight for the rights of terror victims.

In the years since its founding, Shurat HaDin has filed hundreds of petitions and lawsuits in courts around the world seeking justice for terror victims.

“So much of this legal field is new,” she told me last week in her office in Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv. “We have to dig out the laws and statutes and apply them as best we can.”

So far, few entities have escaped their reach — they have taken on global banks, insurance companies, foreign countries and any person or entity they believe assists terror groups.

They served papers on former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami in the New York federal court on behalf of 17 Persian Jews unlawfully held in Iranian prisons. Charging North Korea with helping Hezbollah, they sued that country in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., on behalf of 30 U.S. citizens who were hurt during the second Lebanon War.

In a 2003 lawsuit against the Palestinian Authority and PLO, a U.S. District Court in New York awarded $192 million in damages to the family of Aharon Ellis, a victim of the Hadera bat mitzvah attack. When a Spanish court began a criminal investigation in 2008 against Israeli military and political leaders, Shurat HaDin struck back in the same court with a lawsuit against Spanish officials for war crimes, on behalf of the victims of NATO’s Kosovo bombing campaign.

Using a 2007 finding by the U.S. Treasury showing the transfer of funds from Iranian banks to Hezbollah to finance terrorist activity, they filed a $1 billion lawsuit against the Central Bank of Iran on behalf of American, Israeli and Canadian victims of Hezbollah terror. Last summer, they crippled the second Gaza-bound flotilla by threatening legal action against the companies insuring the ships, charging they were violating international maritime laws and anti-terror laws.

Story continues after the jump

The group’s latest brainchild is to go after the landlord and phone provider (Verizon) of the PLO’s office in Washington, D.C., because they believe the offices are in violation of a specific U.S. anti-terror statute. Using the same statute, they are also going after Twitter and Facebook. They have a big case pending against the Bank of China, among many others.

It’s a testament to the globally wired world we live in that Shurat HaDin can orchestrate its international legal battle against terror out of a tiny office in Israel, with just a handful of attorneys and volunteers.

While so many of us worry about making the case for Israel in the court of public opinion, Darshan-Leitner and her team worry about making Israel’s case in a court of law. They use the facts not to get sympathy from the world, but to get justice from the courts.

During my visit, I met another Jew who is obsessed with the facts, journalist Izzy Lemberg. As a news producer for CNN in Israel, where he just finished a 22-year stint, Lemberg has covered all the major news stories, including more than a hundred terror attacks during the Second Intifada.

“Too many journalists see their work as the pursuit of justice,” he told me when I met him late one night in Tel Aviv. “That should be the work of human rights activists. Journalists should pursue the truth.”

Lemberg’s pursuit of truth is now finding expression in a documentary he is producing called “Blame It on the Jews.”

He thinks one of the biggest stories of the past decade has been the growth of global anti-Semitism, often camouflaged behind criticism of Israel. He says his film will focus a calm, journalistic eye on this phenomenon, with in-depth interviews and rare footage to show the extent of the problem.

To help attract financing for the film, he has uploaded a preview of the film on YouTube.

Lemberg is careful not to disparage his former employer, but it’s clear from talking to him that he feels the media in general has not adequately covered the anti-Semitic phenomenon his film will address.

“You can’t be balanced about anti-Semitism,” he told me. “There’s no other side to that story.”

Nitsana Darshan-Leitner and Izzy Lemberg are two Israeli rebels fighting for a cause; one for justice, the other for truth. The line between the two is not as clear as Lemberg suggests. When the truth is well told, in a documentary or otherwise, it can only lead to justice.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Israel’s Supreme Court raps lack of outpost evacuations

Israel’s Supreme Court gave the government a week to report back on agreements reached on construction in outposts built on state land.

Tuesday’s order came in response to the agreement struck between the state and the Ramat Gilad outpost in the northern West Bank. Under the agreement, the outpost would become part of the Karnei Shomron municipality, and five of its 10 caravans and several warehouses would be relocated to areas on the hill that are not considered private Palestinian property.

The parts of the outpost on private land had been scheduled to be razed by the end of 2011 by order of the Supreme Court. The court granted the state’s request for an extension on razing several outposts, saying it wanted the issue to be resolved peacefully, according to Ynet. But the justices noted that the matter could not be put off indefinitely.

Meanwhile, a Knesset committee on Monday postponed debate on a bill that would require a Palestinian claiming ownership of land on which an outpost was to be built to prove his claim in court.

The bill had been dubbed the Migron bill, an effort to prevent the razing of the controversial Migron outpost. The Supreme Court has ordered the demolition of Migron by March.

The debate in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation has been postponed by three months, past the deadline for saving Migron.

Katsav says he’s a ‘wreck,’ proclaims innocence

Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav told an Israeli newspaper that he is a “wreck” but will not commit suicide.

Days after his rape conviction was upheld by the Israeli Supreme Court, Katsav said in interview with Yediot Achronot published Wednesday, “I promise my family that I will be strong, but even iron hit as many times as I have been hit in the past five years eventually bends.”

He added, “I curse the day I was elected president of the State of Israel.”

Katsav, 65, also apologized to his victims as he continued to proclaim his innocence.

“I apologize to the women who complained against me if I hurt them. I will continue fighting for my innocence,” he said in the interview. “My truth will come to light, even if it is after my death.”

Katsav said politics was behind his conviction in December on two counts of rape and other sexual offenses. In March, he was sentenced to seven years in prison.

The Israeli daily Maariv also carried an interview with Katsav.

Katsav, who has been free pending the appeal, was given one month to put his affairs in order and is set to enter prison Dec. 7. He is the first Israeli president ever sentenced to prison.

The Supreme Court last week unanimously upheld Katsav’s conviction in Tel Aviv District Court and the court’s sentence.

Israel’s Supreme Court to mull petition against Shalit prisoner swap

Israel’s Supreme Court will consider petitions by terror victims’ families to cancel the Shalit prisoner swap deal.

The court said Sunday it would hold a hearing before a three-justice panel at noon Monday to consider a petition filed by the Almagor Terror Victims Association against the release of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. The association also asked the court to delay the releases to allow more time to study the list and make objections. Several families also have filed separate petitions against the release of particular prisoners. 

Israel’s Prison Service late Saturday night published the list of the 477 prisoners to be released in the first stage of the Shalit deal. According to Israeli law, the names of the prisoners to be released must be made public 48 hours before the scheduled release to allow for appeals against their release.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, Israel began transferring Palestinian prisoners to jails near their release sites

Shalit is scheduled to return to Israel via Egypt on Tuesday at the same time as the first set of prisoners are returned to Gaza and the West Bank. Some Palestinian prisoners also will be deported abroad.

On Saturday, Israeli President Shimon Peres began formally pardoning the prisoners who are part of the exchange. He reportedly will attach a letter to the pardons saying that while he is pardoning the released terrorists, “I do not forget and I do not forgive.”

Shalit’s father, Noam, told Israeli media that the family has not yet received proof that his son is alive. The last proof that he was alive came in a one-minute video released two years ago.

Shalit was captured by Hamas-associated gunmen in a 2006 cross-border raid and reportedly has been held ever since in Gaza.

Over the weekend, German mediator Gerhard Conrad cautioned that the agreement signed by Israel and Hamas could still be derailed at the last minute, specifically by Iran.

In Gaza, preparations were under way for mass celebrations for the released prisoners, including setting up stages throughout the coastal strip and reception tents at the homes of the prisoners’ families.

Katsav appeals rape conviction

Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav has appealed his conviction on rape and sexual assault charges and requested a delay of his prison sentence.

Katsav is scheduled to enter prison next week to serve a seven-year sentence.

His appeal was filed Monday with the Israeli Supreme Court; his attorneys requested that the former Israeli president’s imprisonment be delayed pending a final decision on the appeal. The conviction and sentence was handed down in the Tel Aviv District Court.

Katsav also was ordered to pay more than $28,000 to the rape victim and about $7,000 to the sexual assault victim. He will serve two years of probation after he is released from prison.

The 300-page appeal suggests that it would be undignified for Katsav to show up at the Supreme Court for his appeal in handcuffs, according to reports. The appeal also asks that “weighty consideration should be given to the fact that Katsav served as the president of the State and Israel’s official representative at home and abroad.”

The yearlong trial, which was closed to the public, ended with a guilty verdict on Dec. 30. Two years before the verdict was handed down, Katsav declined what was seen as a lenient plea bargain—one that dropped the rape charges for lesser charges and likely would have left him with a suspended sentence—saying that he wanted to clear his name in court.

Katsav, who immigrated to Israel from Iran in 1951, was elected president by the Knesset in 2000 in an upset of Shimon Peres. In 2007, Peres assumed the post following Katsav’s resignation in the wake of the allegations shortly before the end of his term.

Your Letters

Joel Kotkin

Joel Kotkin’s article on Gray Davis (“The First Jewish Governor?” March 8) truly hit the mark. It underscores the point that a number of us in the Jewish community have been attempting to make — “Not all Jews look alike … and they don’t have to think alike, either.”

The wooing of the Jewish community for its financial support was not invented by Davis, although he has taken it to a new level. This has led Jews to a false sense of security that if they just elect someone who purports to be a friend of the Jews, the other problems of our society will take care of themselves. Unfortunately, Davis is not the only beneficiary of such misplaced trust. There are a number of Jewish politicians who have likewise thrived on just such a misconception.

Now is the time for Jews to take a good look at their society, country and government, and support candidates for more reasons than just being friendly to the Jewish community. We need to be more selective. If not, we simply invite deception by those who purport to be our friends.

Jack Ballas, Pacific Palisades

After reading Joel Kotkin’s recent story, one should feel ashamed and embarrassed if he or she is a Jewish Republican or centrist Democrat. Kotkin asserts that this may be the end of an era in which Jews support politicians who take seriously the idea “that the powerful should hope to help the powerless.” He feels that Jews have lost the passion for justice and good government and, as such, “may be becoming just like the gentiles, only richer.” What a smear. It’s time for the Jewish community to look beyond the rhetoric and failed social policies of the left and see that the Republican Party offers a viable, vibrant alternative. Those Jews who believe in personal responsibility, limited government, lower taxes, education alternatives and a strong military should not be made to feel like pariahs in their own community.

Eddie Blau, Calabasas

Daniel Pearl

No statement can truly reflect the deep revulsion we feel upon hearing of the barbaric slaying of Daniel Pearl (“A Voice Silenced,” March 1). Losing one’s life in the pursuit of truth reveals the enormity of terrorist danger. Reports of Pearl’s last words, “I am a Jew…” evoke the haunting memories of the Holocaust when Jews, in the last moments of their lives, proudly proclaimed their heritage.

Brian Goldenfeld,Woodland Hills

Amy Klein

I read Amy Klein’s column (“Divided We Stand,” March 8) about two hours after having a brief discussion with my 22-year-old son on religion. I summed up how I truly felt, and he was satisfied.

I told him that if every individual was allowed to practice his beliefs, or choose to believe in nothing, refrain from proselytizing, and most importantly, never self-righteously look down on anyone who felt differently, the world would be a nicer place. Simple? Yes. Prosaic? Yes. But think about the possibilities.

Karen Berrenson, Woodland Hills

Henry Waxman

I have spent a good deal of time thinking about the excellent article (“Justice Delayed and Justice Denied,” Feb. 15) and wonderful work of Rep. Henry A. Waxman in regard to the disappointing performance of the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims (ICHEIC). I believe that the problems pointed out by Waxman boil down to a simple proposition — participation in ICHEIC by the insurance companies is wholly voluntary. Consequently, there is, in the end, absolutely no mechanism by which to enforce its rules, its purposes or its goals. Any insurance company can withdraw from ICHEIC at any time without any adverse consequence. Ultimately, then, all power and all decision-making authority is vested in the companies themselves.

At Bet Tzedek, we represent hundreds of indigent Holocaust survivors.

The only reality of note is that the only action over the past 60 years that has had a measurable effect on recalcitrant insurance companies has been the filing of lawsuits in American courts. It was not until these suits were brought that the companies even thought about launching an effort, albeit a toothless one, to create a vehicle by which claims might someday be paid. Nothing but their fear of American justice has ever had any significant effect on the actions of the insurance companies.

Waxman ponders how troubling the prospect of ICHEIC operating without oversight is, particularly since the operation of ICHEIC has become the cornerstone of United States policy on Holocaust-era insurance claims. In truth, Waxman is rightly troubled. There is now no viable oversight capable of protecting and preserving the rightful claims of survivors. The United States, if it is to exercise any meaningful persuasive authority in this arena, must add to its arsenal of influencing factors its support of access by survivors to American courts of law. Trust in the American pursuit of justice is what we all need. Indeed no more powerful tool exists and no other method of persuasion has ever worked.

Waxman urges the United States to “explore new forms of leverage that will compel the insurance companies to live up to their obligations.” The newest leverage is the oldest — American justice.

David A. Lash, Executive Director Bet Tzedek Legal Services


Harold Schulweis has read the Supreme Court properly — as strengthening religious pluralism — and the Jewish “moral and legal tradition” selectively (“The Israeli Supreme Court’s Conscience,” March 1). Schulweis correctly quotes the standard “Amidah” and Maimonides as sympathetic toward faithful converts. The crucial question is: Who is a faithful convert? On this the traditional sources are clear. Converts are expected to accept all of the commandments — starting with kashrut, Shabbat and family purity — as defined by those traditional sources. According to those traditional sources, converts who do not accept all of the commandments are not deserving of the sympathetic treatment due to faithful converts; according to the traditional sources that Schulweis cites, they are not Jews at all.

Schulweis and his fellow non-Orthodox rabbis have adopted alternative, nontraditional, conditions for accepting converts that they claim are consistent with the spirit of the tradition. Nevertheless, if Schulweis is going to quote traditional sources (the liturgy, Maimonides) in defense of the Israeli Supreme Court’s decision, he should also note that the conversion standards he and the Israeli Supreme Court are advocating are clearly inconsistent with the conditions for accepting converts explicitly specified in the traditional sources he quotes.

Jacob Alex Klerman, Los Angeles

Thank you for highlighting the issue of non-Orthodox conversions of Israel. This historic ruling was the result of a united effort between NA’AMAT, Israel’s largest family service agency, and the Masorati and World Union for Progressive Judaism.

The effort began in 1995, when a group of parents who had adopted children from abroad found that they could not convert these children to Judaism and, in desperation, turned to NA’AMAT, known as the place to go when families have problems. NA’AMAT arranged for Masorati conversions and, simultaneously, began the suit concluded last week.

NA’AMAT USA is proud to support this important legal work and will continue to work with our sister organization in Israel to encourage an open society that respects all streams of Judaism.

Miriam Hearn, Western Area Director NA’AMAT USA

Kids Page

I want to thank Abby Gilad for her interpretation of Parshat Terumah (“For The Kids,” Feb. 15) I am a recent convert, landscape designer and avid Jewish Journal reader. I found it very interesting that the Israelites were commanded to build the ark out of shita (acacia wood) and cover the completed ark with gold, both inside and out. This is so fascinating because most acacia varieties at this time of year have golden yellow flowers covering their branches. One variety in particular is completely covered with golden flowers — acacia baileyana.The acacia may be a reminder to us when in full bloom of the events that happened at this time of year according to Parshat Terumah.

Sonny Estrada, Los Angeles

Jewish Porn Star

I have seen Nina Hartley in action (“The Porn Star and the Rabbi,” Feb. 15), which is precisely why I find her appearance within the sanctuary of Temple Beth Ami to be so very offensive.

The gimmick may be a brilliant publicity stunt, but it is also a complete desecration of all that is sacred to the Jewish faith. Judaism exalts physical intimacy between husbands and wives in a manner that reflects the sanctity of their union. With all due respect to Hartley’s expertise, her profession negates the essence of Jewish teachings which instruct us to imbue our actions and deeds with holiness. Her self-proclaimed “spiritual” experiences hardly qualify as a model for Jewish enlightenment.

At the end of the Shabbat, we distinguish between the sacred and the profane with the “Havdalah” service. Surely this separation should apply to our conduct within our synagogues and temples.

Shula Levitch ,Valencia

The Israeli Supreme Court’s Conscience

The conscience of the Jewish state has spoken through the recent landmark ruling of Israel's Supreme Court. It has taken an important step toward removing the pariah stigma from tens of thousands of Jews who converted to Judaism by the rabbinic authority of non-Orthodox rabbis, but ignored by the Jewish state.

With this new ruling, Israel's Interior Ministry is to register Israelis converted under Reform or Conservative auspices as Jews. That earned identification, previously denied them, will henceforth be inscribed on their national identification card. Jews in limbo have returned to their chosen home.

Imagine the joy of Russian Jews who made aliyah, fought in the wars to defend the State of Israel — some of whom were slain in battle and refused burial in Jewish cemeteries because they were not regarded as Jews — and who now will no longer suffer from such humiliating disenfranchisement.

What fulfillment of dreams does this ruling promise for themselves and their children? The ruling, of course, is a first step. Regrettably, these converts can be married only by Orthodox rabbis who alone are authorized to perform marriages legally recognized by the state and who alone have in their power the decision as to who is a Jew. The evolution of a democratic, pluralistic Jewish state requires time, vigilance, courage and unflagging effort.

The decision of Israel's High Court of Justice has regrettably met with predictable partisan denominational responses. Orthodox leaders regard the Supreme Court decision as a secular transgression of Orthodox halachic jurisdiction; non-Orthodox leaders understand the ruling as strengthening religious pluralism and as an act of Jewish unification.

In my view, the ruling embodies the moral and legal tradition of Judaism that — no less than 36 times throughout the Torah — mandates us to love the stranger, to know the heart of the stranger and, following many ethical imperatives, reminds us that we too were strangers.

Moreover, the rabbis of the tradition induced in the thrice daily “Amidah,” the 13th petition of which appeals to God to let His tender mercies be stirred for the gairei ha-tzedek (faithful proselyte). The Supreme Court's ruling expresses a transdenominational judgment that offers a healing balm to the self-inflicted wounds of sectarian denominational politics.

In these parlous times, when the enemies from without seek to tear us apart, this momentous ruling points the way to peace from within. When the rabbis in the Talmud (Yoma 9b) speculated as to the cause of the fall of Jerusalem and the second Temple, they did not point to the external factors of the superior military might of the Romans. Nor did they point to the lack of the study of Torah and ritual practices by Jews. The second Temple fell, they maintained, because of groundless hatred; because of internal factionalism that stemmed from disrespect for the judgments and perspectives of others. How then does one rectify the sins of groundless hatred which is still within us? Abraham Isaac Kook, the first chief rabbi of Palestine, answered, “The sin of groundless hatred can be overcome only with the mitzvah of causeless love.”

The Supreme Court's ruling should be greeted by all segments of world Jewry — secular and religious, left and right — as a therapeutic gesture toward the healing of our divided people. Through embracing the stranger in our midst, we may overcome the estrangement between us.

The Supreme Court ruling has deep traditional roots. Obadiah the proselyte once asked Talmudist and philosopher Moses Maimonides whether he could halachically pray, “Our God and God of our fathers.” Since Obadiah was a Jew-by-choice, he was informed by other rabbinic authorities that he was prohibited from reciting such a prayer. Maimonides ruled as follows: “By all means you are to pray 'Our God and God of our fathers.' If we trace our descent from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, your ancestry is from Him by whose word the world was created.”

The Supreme Court decision continues the spiritual and halachic tradition of Jewish moral sensibility. The Supreme Court's decision augurs the dawn of a harmonious state.