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Friday, March 08, 2013 

Religious freedoms could improve in coalition without Haredis

The Jewish Week says there could be some very positive achievements in the new government coalition forming:
What if Israel had a coalition government that was not beholden to the fervently Orthodox parties’ hold on matters of marriage, divorce, conversion, and army exemptions for yeshiva students?

That possibility is beginning to appear likely, generating enthusiasm among the leaders of the liberal streams as well as the Modern Orthodox.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been trying these last few weeks since the national election to form a coalition that would include the haredi (or, ultra-Orthodox) parties that have supported him in the past in return for funding for their schools and projects, and control of the Interior Ministry, which deals with issues of religious law in citizens’ personal lives.

But the two surprise successes of the election, Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid and Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home Party, have held firm to their post-election alliance, saying they would not join a government with the haredi parties. And it appears Netanyahu has little choice but to go along.

It would be the first government since 2003 formed without the haredi parties.

Rabbi Seth Farber, director of ITIM, an organization that promotes improved relations between religious and secular Jews in Israel, said Tuesday that he has met with many Knesset members and came away “cautiously optimistic.

“There is a lot of opportunity to move items on my group’s agenda forward,” he said. Shas, a haredi party, currently controls Israel’s Interior Ministry, which oversees immigration policy and rules on the contentious “Who is a Jew” issue.

In particular, he said, the new coalition might “widen the doors of conversion, particularly for immigrants from the former Soviet Union who face a high threshold to prove they are Jewish. We suggested in one of our meetings today that the new government enable couples to be recognized as Jews rather than being their adversary.”

Ammiel Hirsch, a Reform rabbi and spiritual leader of the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in Manhattan, said bluntly: “Anything that distances haredi [fervently Orthodox] leaders from defining the religious character of the State of Israel is a good thing because they are non-democratic in character — and Israel is democratic — and they are non-pluralistic in a pluralistic Jewish world.”

Rabbi Hirsch added: “It is absurd that a non-Zionist force [the fervently Orthodox haredi] has become so influential in governments of the Zionist state.”
Hirsch may be a ray of light in a sect that's not known for being particularly favorable to Zionism, any more than the Haredis themselves are, which is pretty amazing.

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