25 Facts about Religion and State in Israel

The "status quo" agreement reached at the founding of the state between the country’s founders and the mainstream Orthodox rabbinical councils, which has been upheld throughout the state's history, requires that the Government implement some policies based on Orthodox Jewish interpretations of religious law.

Haredi shadow and star Photo: Miriam Alistair Flash90Haredi shadow and star Photo: Miriam Alistair

1. Over 300,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union are children or grandchildren of Jews, but are not considered Jewish by the Orthodox Rabbinical authorities, and therefore cannot wed in Israel since there is no civil marriage in Israel, and neither are Reform or Conservative conversions and marriages recognized by the State.

2. 14% of eligible 18-year-old Jewish men evade military service by studying at an ultra-Orthodox yeshiva. More than double the rate 15 years ago. By 2020 the number of exemptions is expected to reach 25%.

3. 2/3 of Haredim think Israel should be a governed by halakha, Jewish religious law. Rabbi Eliezer Menachem Schach, the most important ultra-Orthodox leader of the late 20th century, claimed “democracy is a cancer.”

4. Despite the State of Israel’s numerous declarations that conversion of non-Jewish immigrants is a national priority, in practice only some 1,000 new immigrants are converted each year. This is due to the chief rabbinate’s policy making conversion conditional upon maintaining a strict Orthodox lifestyle and enrolling children in Orthodox schools.

5. The State of Israel funds the studies of some 90,000 adult yeshiva students; the vast majority of whom do not work at all. The number of men enrolled in yeshivas increases by some 3,000 each year, a fact which attests to Haredi resistance to state efforts to integrate them into the workforce.

6. Israel has a growing system of state-subsidized public transportation in which women are required to sit in the back rows, while men occupy the front of the bus. Women who try to violate the Haredi seating rules are subjected to verbal assaults and occasionally physical violence.

7. The state of Israel employs some 3,000 Orthodox rabbis in various public roles. Despite the existence of several streams of Judaism, only Orthodox rabbis serve in public positions and are supported by the government payroll.

8. Ultra-Orthodox girls high schools, called seminars, implement a blatant quota policy limiting the enrollment of girls of Sephardic background to no more than 30%, thereby ensuring an Ashkenazi majority.

9. There is no regular public transit on Shabbat throughout almost all of Israel’s territory. This situation is particularly detrimental to less privileged populations such as: the poor, the elderly, new immigrants, teenagers, and children, who are unable to travel by private vehicles.

10. Haredi schools receive full public funding despite their failure to implement the core curriculum of general studies required by the Ministry of Education. Haredi boys receive minimal instruction in math and language arts during elementary school. Ultra-Orthodox yeshivas for high school-age boys teach no general studies whatsoever. As a result, public funds are diverted to a school system that does not prepare students to participate in the work force.

11. No images of women appear in Haredi newspapers. The official photograph of the national government is published only after the female ministers have been edited out. The resulting gap is sometimes filled with a copy of the photo of one of the male ministers.

12. Women are not allowed to read from the Torah at the Western Wall plaza, even in the women’s section. Any attempt to do so meets with severe violence. Reform and Conservative worshipers cannot hold a mixed-gender prayer service at the Kotel plaza and are confined to a side plaza.

13. The rabbinate and rabbinical courts (dayanut) is the only state system in Israel that operates on an ethnic basis. Two chief rabbis, one Ashkenazi, one Sephardi, are chosen. Rabbinical judges (dayanim) are also selected according to an ethnic basis.

14. In the wake of suspicions of bribe taking against Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, he no longer serves as president of the Rabbinical Court of Appeals. Meir Amar,son of Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, abducted and beat his sister’s suitor, and also cut off his side locks. The suitor was violently held at the rabbi’s home, among other places, while the rabbi was sleeping in another room.

Women who try to violate the Haredi seating rules are subjected to verbal assaults and occasionally physical violence.

15. Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef claims that Holocaust victims were reincarnations of sinners who were born to be punished. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef is the undisputed leader of the political party from which hail the interior minister and the housing and construction minister. He has said of the Israeli Supreme Court that it is “a lower court…Slaves rule over us” (a reference to the Book of Lamentations 5:8).

16. An estimated 100,000 women in Israel have been denied divorces by their husbands, according to a survey by Bar-Ilan University. The study found that extortion and revenge were the main reasons for refusing to grant a divorce.

17. The state rabbinate has a monopoly on granting kashrut certificates in Israel. Cafes and restaurants that remain open on Shabbat cannot obtain kosher certification. This contradicts a High Court of Justice ruling that barred the rabbinate from taking into account such irrelevant considerations.

18. For fear of Haredi vandalism, the national Egged bus company, refuses to carry paid advertisements featuring images of women on its Jerusalem buses. In the last municipal election in Jerusalem it took a court order to get Egged to carry campaign photos of the Orthodox candidate Rachel Azaria. During the general election campaign, pictures of Knesset Member Shelly Yachimovich appeared on the sides of buses, but were painted over white.

19. Over 10 years after passage of a law regulating secular burial, there are still no such cemeteries in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa. Only those who can afford inhibitively expensive burial plots on kibbutzim have the right to be buried in a civil ceremony.

20. Only 7 percent of Israel’s population has signed an organ donor card, compared to 30 percent in Western countries, because of the prohibition on organ donation imposed by Haredi rulers on Jewish law. Of the families who were asked to donate the organs of their deceased loved ones in 2008, 54 percent refused. That same year, 74 people died while waiting for transplants.

21. 2/3 of ultra-Orthodox men do not participate in the workforce, compared to 1/3 of non-Haredi men. Underemployment of Haredi men drains the Israeli economy of NIS 5-15 billion ($1-4 billion) per year.

22.Young people from ultra-Orthodox backgrounds that chose to lead a non-Haredi lifestyle are faced with immense difficulties. Their lack of general education makes it difficult to find gainful employment. They are often ostracized by their families and friend , and may be targeted for harassment by the so-called modesty patrols.

23. Jewish converts who were converted overseas by non-Haredi rabbis are entitled to immigrate to Israel, but they cannot get married there. The Interior Ministry does everything in its power to make things difficult for them. Interior Minister Eli Yishai of the Shas party decided to erase the nationality clause from the Israeli identity card, so he would not have to write on the identity cards of Reform and Conservative converts that they are Jews.

24. The newspaper Yated Ne’eman, the mouthpiece of the Haredi party Degel Hatorah, published an apology to its readers for having mistakenly run an advertisement for an organization that advocates reconciliation between Orthodox and secular Jews, and promised it would never happen again. “It is incumbent upon us to make clear,” the paper stated, “that every Jew who believes in the 13 foundations of Judaism will never attain friendship and reconciliation with the deniers of faith in the Creator.”

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