Jewish Brief August 26, 2013: Ahead of High Holidays, Naftali Bennett unveils new platform for egalitarian prayer

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Ahead of High Holidays, Bennett unveils new platform for egalitarian prayer

Source: JTA, 8-26-13

Ahead of High Holidays, Bennett unveils new platform for egalitarian prayer

Amid continuing protests over non-Orthodox prayer at the Western Wall, Israel’s religious services minister unveiled a new platform for egalitarian worship at Robinson’s Arch….READ MORE

Israel Political Brief August 20, 2013: Justice Minister Tzipi Livni wants constitutional proposal balancing Israel’s Jewish, democratic identities

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Livni wants constitutional proposal balancing Israel’s Jewish, democratic identities

Source: JTA, 8-20-13

Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni appointed Israel Prize winner Ruth Gavison to draft a constitutional proposal that would reconcile the country’s democratic and Jewish characters….READ MORE

Israel Political Brief June 30, 2013: PM Benjamin Netanyahu reassures Diaspora leaders he backs Sharansky plan for egalitarian prayer at Western Wall

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Netanyahu reassures Diaspora leaders he backs Sharansky plan for egalitarian prayer at Western Wall

Source: Haaretz, 6-30-13

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has sought to reassure Diaspora Jewish leaders that redesign plans remain on track for the Western Wall plaza that will allow greater scope there for non-ultra-Orthodox prayer services….READ MORE

Israel Brief April 22, 2013: Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky gets green light to pursue Western Wall prayer plan

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Sharansky gets green light to pursue Western Wall prayer plan

Source: JTA, 4-22-13

Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky was given a green light by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to pursue his plan for a permanent egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall…READ MORE

Israel Brief April 12, 2013: Rabbi Yaakov Yosef dies

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Rabbi Yaakov Yosef dies

Source: Ynetnews, 4-12-13

Son of Shas’ spiritual leader, known as one of most prominent right-wing rabbis, passes away after battling cancer. Some 80,000 people attend funeral; close friend reveals that as part of his will, deceased called on girls not to volunteer for National Service….READ MORE

Israel Brief December 12, 2012: Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, Prominent Israeli rabbi calls for recognition of non-Orthodox streams

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Prominent Israeli rabbi calls for recognition of non-Orthodox streams

Source: JTA, 12-12-12

A prominent Israeli Orthodox rabbi has called for state recognition of non-Orthodox steams of Judaism….READ MORE

Israel Political Brief July 18, 2012: PM Benjamin Netanyahu Expresses Deep Sorrow over the Passing of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv

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PM Netanyahu Expresses Deep Sorrow over the Passing of Rabbi Elyashiv

Source: PMO, 7-18-12

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expresses his deep sorrow over the passing of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv among the most important Torah leaders of our generation.

Prime Minister Netanyahu said the following:

“In his rulings, Rabbi Elyashiv made a deep impression on the ultra-orthodox world and on the entire Jewish People. In his teachings, he outlined a path for many, who drew their strength from his wisdom and his sharp thinking. Rabbi Elyashiv’s way was to love the Torah and humanity, to be self-effacing and to maintain the sanctity of life.

Today, the Jewish People have lost a sharp and incisive rabbi, a wise man of great stature, an emissary who was faithful to the values of the Torah and who gave to others. We mourn his passing.”

Jewish Brief July 18, 2012: Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, leading halachic authority, dies at 102

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Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, leading halachic authority, dies at 102

Source: JTA, 7-18-12

Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the leader of the Lithuanian haredi Orthodox and considered this generation’s leading halachic authority, has died….READ MORE

Israel Political Brief May 29, 2012: President Barack Obama Speaks to Conservative Judaism Leaders — Defends his Israel commitments, touts his Jewish ties

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Back to ‘kishkes’: Obama defends his Israel commitments, touts his Jewish ties

Source: JTA, 5-31-12

President Obama, shown speaking at a White House reception honoring Jewish American Heritage Month on May 31, 2012, told Conservative Jewish leaders the previous day that he probably knew more about Judaism than any other president.  (The White House)
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President Obama, shown speaking at a White House reception honoring Jewish American Heritage Month on May 31, 2012, told Conservative Jewish leaders the previous day that he probably knew more about Judaism than any other president. (The White House)

The so-called “kishkes issue” — what does President Obama, deep down, really feel about Israel — is now being addressed at the highest level by Obama himself.

Obama dropped in on a White House meeting Tuesday of lay and rabbinical leaders of the Conservative Judaism and Jack Lew, the president’s chief of staff. During his 20 minutes at the hourlong meeting, Obama emphasized his affection for Judaism and Israel, and like Vice President Joe Biden last week in a similar meeting with organizational leaders, his frustration with perceptions that he is cool toward the Jewish state.

The tone, coupled with blitzes of Jewish communities by Democratic leaders in recent months, reinforces the impression that the party’s leadership is unsettled by Republican inroads into what for decades has been a Democratic base constituency.

The presidential visit was “informal,” although the group of Jewish leaders knew a drop-by was likely. So when Obama walked into the Roosevelt Room, Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, the executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, was ready with the traditional blessing for heads of state….READ MORE

Obama chats with Conservative leaders

Source: JTA, 5-29-12

A group of leaders from the Conservative movement held an informal meeting Tuesday with President Obama.

Obama dropped by a scheduled meeting with White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew and thanked the 17 rabbis and lay leaders for their work to improve their communities.

The president stated his strong commitment to Israel’s security and discussed his actions to enhance security cooperation between the U.S. and Israel, as well as implement biting sanctions against Iran, according to a White House official.

Participants said they asked Obama questions about the social net, health care, the relationship with Israel, the threat from Iran, and Obama’s views on Jusaism and Israel.

The hour-long meeting with Lew in the White House’s Roosevelt Room was arranged by Rabbi Jack Moline, the rabbi of Agudas Achim synagogue in Alexandria, Va. and the director of public policy for the movement’s Rabbinical Assembly. Moline has close ties with the Obama administration.

“The meeting spoke to the president and administration’s deep appreciation of the values that motivate Jewish communities around the world,” Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, the executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, told JTA. “It was a values-driven conversation and represented the great potential for the Jewish community to make its views heard.”

Israel Brief April 5, 2012: Shalit family prepares for Passover with Gilad

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Shalit family prepares for Passover with Gilad

Former IDF soldier’s family to truly celebrate meaning of freedom, as Gilad joins Passover seder for first time after over 5 years in Hamas captivity

Source: YNet News, 4-5-12

For the first time after six years, Gilad Shalit will sit down with his family for the traditional Passover seder on Friday. The Shalit family had previously refrained from celebrating the Jewish holiday as long as Gilad was still held captive by Hamas.

“This year we feel true freedom,” Noam Shalit, father of the former captive soldier, told Ynet on Thursday.

Related stories:

During Gilad’s time in captivity, Shalit campaign activists staged Passover seders outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu‘s home in Jerusalem. In 2011, the Shalit family spent the seder in Jerusalem by chaining themselves to the PM’s Residence compound, while many Israeli citizens left an empty chair for Gilad at their seder table.

According to Noam Shalit, this year the festivities will truly be rejoiceful and include the extended family, as Gilad’s grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins will all join them for Passover.

“We’re preparing just like any other home in Israel,” he added.

שליט וההגדה המשטרתית. חג ראשון בשש שנים (צילום: באדיבות משטרת ישראל)

Zvi Shalit recieves special Haggadah (Photo: Israeli Police)

“It feels good. It’s the first time since Gilad was kidnapped when we can really celebrate the holiday. This time it truly feels like a feast of freedom.”

Despite many attempts made by rabbis and different organizations over the years, Gilad never received any of the Passover packages his family made for him during his time in captivity. “He only knew about the holiday from what he heard on the radio, but he never received matzah or wine to prepare a Passover seder,” Noam explained.

The Shalit family received a special Haggadah for the upcoming holiday, which includes photographs of Gilad from his IDF service, from the day he was released from Hamas captivity and pictures from the campaign to free him. The Haggadah was given to Gilad’s grandfather, Zvi Shalit, by Police Operations Division Chief Nissim Mor.

Israel Advocacy: Steven M. Cohen Study JTS Rabbis’ love for Israel: Is it a generational thing?

ISRAEL ADVOCACY 101

Israel & Zionist Education

Rabbis’ love for Israel: Is it a generational thing?

Source: JTA, 10-4-11

Steven M. Cohen. JTS Rabbis and Israel, Then and Now: The 2011 Survey of JTS Ordained Rabbis and Current Students. The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, September 2, 2011.

Celebrating Israel Independence Day at the Jewish Theological Seminary, which in its study of JTS-ordained rabbis and rabbinical students showed some evidence of a generational gap on their thoughts about Israel.  (Courtesy The Jewish Theological Seminary)
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Celebrating Israel Independence Day at the Jewish Theological Seminary, which in its study of JTS-ordained rabbis and rabbinical students showed some evidence of a generational gap on their thoughts about Israel. (Courtesy The Jewish Theological Seminary)

Do Conservative rabbis become more politically conservative on Israel as they grow older, or are older rabbis simply more right wing than younger rabbis when it comes to Israel?

A new study by the Conservative movement’s flagship institution presents some evidence of a generational gap among rabbis, finding that older ones tend to identify more closely with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, while younger ones also favorably view J Street, the more liberal “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobbying group.

The author of the Jewish Theological Seminary survey, sociologist Steven M. Cohen, suggests that it’s a function not of the rabbis’ ages but the era in which they came of age.

“It is a major shift in a Zionist worldview — a movement towards a more progressive Zionist position,” said Cohen, a professor of Jewish social policy research at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and a senior adviser to the seminary’s chancellor.

In an interview with JTA, Cohen surmised that younger rabbis identify as more liberal because “they grew up at a time when Israel’s relationship with its Arab neighbors was more complicated than the binary relationship that the older generation grew up with.” He suggested that because the rabbis are closer and more exposed to “real life” in Israel because their rabbinical programs require that they spend a year there, they are “more willing to adopt views critical of the Israeli government.”

The online survey of 317 JTS-ordained rabbis and 51 JTS rabbinical students, titled “JTS Rabbis and Israel, Then and Now: The 2011 Survey of JTS Ordained Rabbis and Current Students,” found that 58 percent of students and 54 percent of rabbis ordained since 1994 view J Street favorably, while 42 percent of students and 64 percent of rabbis view AIPAC favorably.

In the older cohort — rabbis ordained between 1980 and 1994 — 80 percent of the rabbis responding viewed AIPAC favorably, but only 32 percent had a favorable view of J Street. The survey also found that the students and younger rabbis were more concerned than their elders about social issues in Israel, such as the treatment of Arab citizens, women and Palestinians.

The survey was prompted by a controversial essay in the June issue of Commentary that argued that a growing proportion of non-Orthodox rabbis in training hold alarmingly hostile views toward Israel, and that rabbinical seminaries were refusing to address the issue. The author of the piece, Rabbi Daniel Gordis, vice president of the Shalem Center, a hawkish Israeli think tank, declined to comment for this story.

“We didn’t think it was true,” Cohen said of the Gordis essay, “but felt we needed to check it out.”

The new survey is the latest salvo in the intense debate over Israel among American Jews, and American Jewish groups concerned with Israel already are debating its findings. J Street officials told JTA that the study is indicative of a generational shift among American Jews toward more progressive Zionism.

“It’s very encouraging that rabbinical students are finding ways to bring their Jewish values with them when they talk about Israel,” said Rachel Lerner, vice president of the J Street Education Fund.

But a former AIPAC official dismissed the idea that the findings reflect a generational shift in the rabbinate.

“A lot of 22-year-olds say things they don’t believe when they’re 30,” said AIPAC’s former spokesman, Josh Block, who is now a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. “Thirty-year-olds change by the time when they’re 40. By the time they’re at a place where they’re joining positions of leadership, they will have matured, and know more about what these groups really do and work to achieve.”

Block also said the survey questions sounded biased, as they characterized AIPAC as “the Israel lobby” and J Street as “the ‘pro-Israel, pro-peace’ group.”

AIPAC declined to comment for this story.

Cohen said the survey’s results suggest that JTS rabbis across the generations have similarly high levels of attachment to Israel but expressed the attachments differently.

Asked how concerned they are about security threats toward Israel, 83 percent of the rabbis ordained between 1980 and 1994 said they were very concerned, compared to 80 percent of those ordained between 1995 and 2011, and 78 percent of current students.

Choosing among AIPAC, J Street, StandWithUs, Rabbis for Human Rights and the New Israel Fund, the rabbis said they viewed AIPAC most favorably, while the students were most favorable to the New Israel Fund.

Israel Political Brief September 27, 2011: US President Barack Obama’s Rosh Hashanah Message

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L’Shana Tovah

Source: WH, 9-27-11

At sundown tomorrow night, the Jewish community here in the United States and all over the world will gather to celebrate the start of the new year. Rosh Hashanah offers us an extraordinary sense of possibility because it provides us an opportunity to shape our world for the better.

In his video greeting for the High Holy Days, President Obama says:

As the High Holidays begin, we look back on all the moments during the past year that gave us reason to hope.  Around the world, a new generation is reaching for their universal rights.  Here in the United States, we’ve responded to our challenges by focusing on the things that really matter – friendship, family, and community. 

But this last year was also one of hardship for people around the world.  Too many of our friends and neighbors continue to struggle in the wake of a terrible economic recession.  And beyond our borders, many of our closest allies – including the State of Israel – face the uncertainties of an unpredictable age. 

That is why my Administration is doing everything we can to promote prosperity here at home and security and peace throughout the world – and that includes reaffirming our commitment to the State of Israel.  While we cannot know all that the New Year will bring, we do know this: the United States will continue to stand with Israel, because the bond between our two nations is unshakable.

Israel Political Brief September 27, 2011: PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s Greetings for Rosh Hashana 5772

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Israel Brief: Israelis mark Tisha b’Av

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Source: JTA, 8-9-11

Tens of thousands of Jews visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem to mark the solemn day of Tisha b’Av.

Worshipers who gathered Tuesday to commemorate the destruction of the First and Second Temples recited the Book of Lamentations while sitting on the ground in front of the Wall.

Two Jewish worshipers were removed from the Temple Mount Plaza, The Jerusalem Post reported, after asking for permission to pray at the site, which is prohibited for Jews.  Two Arabs also were removed from the area after attempting to incite other Arabs against the Jewish worshipers, according to the Post.

Worshipers had come to the Wall to pray and recite Lamentations on Monday night, when the commemoration began.

The party atmosphere at the protest tent city on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv was dampened for Tisha b’Av, with the reading of Lamentations and lectures.

On Sunday, the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel asked Mayor Ron Huldai in a letter to call on the tent city to respect the solemn day.

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