Regev Responds

What does the new government bring?

The mixed bag of religion and state today

As hoped, some positive recent developments can be pointed out in advancing pluralism in Israel's political arena. These are direct results of the existence of a coalition, in which several member parties hold worldviews that support religious freedom and equality... Or, at least, the dissolution of ultra-Orthodox control over key elements of the relationship between religion and the state; as well as the absence of the ultra-Orthodox parties from the government.

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Among these developments is the approval given by the Knesset Committee for Religious Services for the second and third readings of the kashrut reform, which, if approved by the Knesset, will abolish the Chief Rabbinate's monopoly over kashrut certification and open the market to competition, which will lower food prices. Another important example is the Finance Committee's approval of the State Budget, which will be put to a Knesset vote in the coming days, which includes a pioneering budget of NIS 40 million for the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, led by Minister Dr. Nachman Shai (Labor), to promote Jewish renewal in Israel. This will help strengthen the connection between Israel and Diaspora Jewry and partially correct a long-standing discrimination against the non-Orthodox denominations. Also, a section has been inserted in the Ministry of Culture's budget, at the initiative of MK Prof. Alon Tal (Blue & White), adding millions of shekels to finance non-Orthodox rabbinical positions throughout Israel. Both Nachman Shai and Alon Tal discussed these initiatives in recent webinars, as part of Hiddush's webinar series, co-sponsored by the Jewish Pluralism Legal Action Network, Ruach Hiddush - Rabbis and Cantors for Religious Freedom in Israel, and the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists.

Although not directly in the field of religion and state relations, the important historical addition of billions of shekels to correct the long-standing discrimination against Israel's Arab population in the fields of education, culture, infrastructure, and more should also be noted.

As reported in recent newsletters, and far beyond what Hiddush has reported, these initiatives have been met with brutal and sharp attacks by the ultra-Orthodox parties and even a number of other opposition MKs (prominent figures in parties that partnered with the ultra-Orthodox parties in past coalitions).

This emerging direction is encouraging and positive, but it should be emphasized that the road to the required destination is still long. Behind the scenes, an ongoing effort was made by some of the coalition leaders to persuade the ultra-Orthodox parties to join them in order to expand the coalition. Alongside the positive developments described above, these consideration also increased the budget for yeshivas, despite the opposition of the majority of the public, and the enlistment law proposed by the coalition introduces some "cosmetics" of enlistment; but, in practice, it perpetuates the mass draft dodging of tens of thousands of yeshiva students from military or civilian service (and the sanctions therein are largely symbolic).

It should be emphasized that the road to the required destination is still long.

Nor are other core issues in religion-state relations close to real solutions; first and foremost among them, freedom of marriage and the issue of "Who is a Jew?" It is important to remember that the struggle for the promotion of religious freedom and equality does not only concern the non-Orthodox denominations. It encompasses many other issues and groups, such as Modern Orthodoxy and gender equality. The Rackman Center for the Advancement of Women's Status is battling in the Supreme Court, for example, for the right of women who are experts in halakhah and who are ordained as rabbis to serve as officiants at Jewish weddings.

Meanwhile, the phenomenon of segregation between women and men in academia is expanding, the battle over the right of women to serve in IDF combat roles continues to face counter-pressure (mainly from religious circles), and the serious phenomenon of defacing women's faces on public ads and billboards is growing, and women are being excluded from the advertisements and announcements of companies and health funds, out of a desire to placate the ultra-Orthodox sector. Unfortunately, the police and law enforcement agencies are not making a real effort to eradicate the phenomenon of vandalism of public advertisements, and the political and rabbinical leadership of ultra-Orthodox society does not condemn this.

The above highlights how much of a mixed bag today's reality remains, and it illustrates the importance of continuing the battle and upping the pressure from the liberal and progressive camps in Israel and the Diaspora to promote the full realization of the Declaration of Independence's promise of freedom of religion and equality. In this newsletter you can read a little about Hiddush's struggle to achieve this goal, but we need your support to move forward, including financial, moral, and organizational support. We are encouraged to know that the majority of the Jewish public in Israel supports this goal, but we hope to see a more significant mobilization of the Jewish leadership of Diaspora Jewry as active partners in this battle.

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