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State & Religion

JPW Knesset Update

Dear Friends,

On the Knesset agenda this week:

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation will discuss two bills:

  • A bill submitted by Yisrael Beitenu proposing the establishment of a Dialogue Center which will serve to bridge the divide between Israel and the Diaspora;
  • MK Eytan Broshi (Zionist Union) has submitted a bill seeking to exempt nurseries from the legal prohibition to work on Shabbat.

The Internal Affairs and Environment Committee will discuss cases of mohalim (who perform circumcisions) who continue to practice even after they have been found to be negligent; and on Monday the Minister of Immigration and Absorption MK Sofa Landver (Yisrael Beitenu) will submit a report of her ministry's activities, its projected work plan and its budget.

The Egalitarian Prayer Space at the Western Wall - In an about face, MK Miri Regev (Likud), Minister of Culture and Sport, announced on Wednesday: The demands of the Reform {and Conservative} movement to turn the Western Wall into a place where women and men pray together, is unacceptable to me and to Jewish tradition." In 2013 MK Miri Regev had said: "We have to prepare a place where there will be mixed prayer, where everyone can pray according to his custom." To briefly recap the sequence of events, at the end of January 2016 the government approved the Western Wall Agreement allowing for the expansion of the prayer space at the southern end of the Western Wall assigned for mixed-gender prayer. The egalitarian site would be part of the main Western Wall complex and share the same entrance as the central prayer plaza, and would be governed by a committee including representatives of the Reform and Conservative movements and representatives of Women of the Wall. Following public criticism from the ultra-Orthodox and religious public, the ultra-Orthodox parties, which initially had not expressed objections, threatened in March 2016 to resign from the coalition. Consequently a committee to review the agreement was set up and in June 2017 the agreement was frozen.

MK Regev who now heads the Knesset Committee for Holy Places which is charged with approving the government's plan to construct the site for egalitarian prayer, announced on Wednesday her decision not to approve the construction and her resignation from the committee on grounds of conscience: "I have been torn over the last few months. My conscience would not let me rest. I could not approve the Western Wall plan in a manner that would upset the status quo. The Reform Movement’s demand to turn the Wall into a place where men and women pray together is unacceptable to me and to Jewish tradition. I have decided to follow my conscience and I have therefore notified the Prime Minister that in my capacity as head of the Committee for Holy Places, I do not intend to approve the construction. Everyone can visit the Western Wall and pray to the Creator, on condition that he does so with respect for the place and for Jewish tradition. We have not returned to our holiest place in order to disgrace it. I fully hope and believe that we will continue to honor and preserve the sanctity of the Wall."

MK Yael Cohen Paran (Zionist Union) wrote in response: "Good morning Miri Regev, We are in 2018! There is nothing wrong with men and women praying together. The Conservative Movement rules according to the halacha {religious law}, where women pray alongside men, are counted in a minyan {quorum required for prayer}, are called up to the Torah and read from it. This does not contradict the halacha. I cannot believe that a Knesset minister can talk in in such a fashion."

MK Yehuda Glick, a fellow Likud member of MK Regev, wrote: "I am full of admiration for my friend Miri Regev who has decided to act according to her conscience and to pay the price for it. Nevertheless I do not agree with her. There is no problem in approving mixed prayer in a designated area. At the moment this area is an archaeological site. Conscience dictates that we honor the unity of the Jewish people and do everything possible to heal the widening rift with Jews of the Diaspora."

A statement issued by the Minister of Agriculture MK Uri Ariel's office said: "The Minister will oppose any change in the status quo and will not lend a hand to anything that will cause harm to the Western Wall plaza. The Chief Rabbinate has to remain the exclusive authority in determining the prayer arrangements at the Wall."

We at the JPW traced some of MK's Regev's previous statements on this issue. On a Friday in May 2013 the Women of the Wall arrived at the Western Wall to pray after a court order had granted them permission to hold their services there, and to wear tallitot (prayer shawls only worn by men in Orthodox practice). It was reported at the time that thousands of ultra-Orthodox had attempted to prevent the Women of the Wall from holding their prayer session and police intervention had been required.

Amongst the many MK's who responded to this event, MK Miri Regev who was then the Chair of the Internal Affairs and Environment Committee charged with dealing with this issue, wrote: “ I have come here to see up close what is happening. Our role is to find a solution and a compromise – as the ultra-Orthodox and the Conservatives want to pray here separately at the Wall, so do the Women of the Wall want to pray according to their customs. In order to avoid a recurrence at the next Rosh Chodesh prayers held at the beginning of each month of the Hebrew calendar] we have to prepare a space for mixed-gender prayer, where all can pray in accordance with their customs."

Follow this link for MK Regev's announcement in 2018 and for responses from the political arena.

Follow this link for MK Regev's statement as Chair of the Internal Affairs and Environment Committee in 2013 and more responses from the committee.

Follow this link for selected extracts from MK Regev's interview with Amit Segal and Yaron Dekel on Galei Zahal (the military radio channel), and for the full text and audio of the interview.

We invite you to come to the Knesset and participate in the discussion. Write us and we will assist you in coordinating your visit. Email us at: JPW@masorti.org.il

As always, you are welcome to follow the JPW’s Facebook page and twitter account in real time, and to invite English speakers to sign up to receive this newsletter by writing to us at: JPW@masorti.org.il

Shavua tov,


Nerya Raphael Knafo                               Emily Levy-Shochat

Director, Jewish Pluralism Watch           Chair, Jewish Pluralism Watch



The Ministerial Committee for Legislation

Diaspora Museum Law (Amendment – Establishing a Dialogue Center for Improving Relations with Jews of the Diaspora) – submitted by MK Robert Ilatov and other members of Yisrael Beitenu – 2018, seeks to establish a Dialogue Center in the Diaspora Museum which will promote the idea of the unity of the Jewish people, aspiring to heal the rift between the State of Israel and Diaspora Jewry and to stem any further deterioration of this relationship. The proposed center will further its aims through educational programs and projects, and international conferences | For further reading in Hebrew


The Hours of Work and Rest Law (Amendment – Exemption of Nurseries in Agriculturally-Designated Areas) – 2017 seeks to grant exemption from the legal prohibition to work on the weekly day of rest, to nurseries in agriculturally-designated areas, which provide free-of-charge professional advice to the public | For further reading in Hebrew


The Knesset Committees

Sunday July 1, 2018

At 10:00

The Internal Affairs and Environment Committee will discuss the case of

mohalim (who perform circumcisions) who have been found negligent and who continue to perform circumcisions putting the lives of babies at risk.

Monday, July 2, 2018

At 11:00

The Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs

The Minister of Immigration and Absorption MK Sofa Landver will submit to the committee her report on her ministry's activities, its work plan and its budget.


The Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs met on June 25, 2018, to discuss discrimination against Conservative converts on the basis of the color of their skin and their country of origin - Amongst the participants were Yosef Kibita whose request to immigrate to Israel was turned down by the Ministry of the Interior, Rabbi Steven Wernick, the CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism in North America, and representatives of the Population and Immigration Authority and of the Ministry of the Interior. MK Avraham Neguise (Likud) who chairs the committee: "A people who has been persecuted is today asked to accept others who want to join them and be a part of this nation. We must ask the question whether we want to continue to persecute them or to embrace them. We have to strengthen the Jewish people and the State of Israel. We should welcome with open arms anyone who wishes to join and not put difficulties in their way. How dare the Ministry of the Interior deport a man from a community that has been recognized by the Jewish Agency? Do black converts require more tests than others?" MK Yehuda Glick (Likud) said: "As long as we do not allow converts to join the Jewish people, the Rabbinate will continue to deepen the divisions {with Diaspora Jewry} which will cause irreparable damage to the future of the Jewish people. We have to guard against this. The head of the Jewish Agency's chief objective is to heal the rift, because that is incumbent upon us." MK Yael Cohen Paran (Zionist Union): "It is problematic when double standards are applied. What we understand from the Ministry of the Interior's decision is that the recognition granted to this community by the Jewish Agency in 2009 does not guarantee recognition by the State, and that is the root of the disparity. We have to send a message from the Knesset that we want all the streams of Judaism to be united, and therefore we have to recognize every community that the Jewish Agency has recognized."

Follow this link to a short video of the committee's discussion

Visit the JPW website for further reading in Hebrew


Barkan Winery removed several employees of Ethiopian origin from the winery production line for reasons of kashrut. The Speaker of the Knesset, MK Yuli Edelstein: "It is hard to believe that there is one Jew who would refuse to drink wine made by Jews of Ethiopian origin." - On Monday June 25, 2018, it was broadcast on Kan (the state-owned TV channel) that Badatz, the ultra-Orthodox organization which certifies the kashrut of Barkan and other wines, had questioned the Jewishness of the workers of Ethiopian origin on the production line, and because the halacha demands that non-Jews not be employed in the production of wine, these workers were transferred to other jobs in the winery. Reactions came from the whole range of the political spectrum. MK Merav Ben Ari (Kulanu): Every time I hear something like this I hold my head in disbelief. This racism is shameful. In the name of what sort of Judaism are these people acting when they discriminate against people because of the color of their skin." MK Penina Tamanu-Shata (Yesh Atid) "Jews are being ostracized. We must not remain silent when Jews are rejected because of the color of their skin. We as consumers have power; we can together lead a boycott of Barkan Wineries and of Badatz." MK Bezalel Smotrich (Jewish Home): "We have here what the halacha refers to as "zaken mamre" {an elder who defies the authoritative rabbinic interpretation of the Jewish law, an offence which in the days of the Sanhedrin was punishable by death}. Whoever goes against the ruling of the Chief Rabbinate and all the great scholars who have ruled that Ethiopian Jews are Jews in every respect is evil, and he is fortunate we do not have the Sanhedrin today that could sentence him as a ‘zaken mamre’."

MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid): "Disbarring dedicated workers, Jews of Ethiopian origin, from the production of wine because of their origin is contrary to any code of morality. This is a crime in the guise of kashrut and halacha, and is clearly inconsistent with the rulings of present-day scholars.” | Visit the JPW website for further reading in Hebrew


El Al Airlines moved women passengers from their seats when ultra-Orthodox male passengers refused to sit next to them. MK Merav Michaeli: If you haven't yet understood, we must not agree to gender separation in exchange for ‘integration’ (of the ultra-Orthodox). There is no integration when there is separation." - On Thursday June 21, 2018 it was reported that El Al had had moved women passengers from their seats after four ultra-Orthodox men had refused to sit next to them on Flight 002 from New York to Tel Aviv. Many MK's reacted strongly to this report. MK Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union): "Our national carrier El Al still permits itself to ask women to change their seats, just like that, because they are women. So NICE did well yesterday to announce that it would not cooperate with El Al until this has been changed. {The CEO of the major tech company NICE Systems announced that his company would be boycotting El Al.} This is a legitimate demand, I heartily endorse it." MK Mossi Raz (Meretz): "Every week I see ultra-Orthodox men sitting next to women, working with and alongside them. In committees, in the plenum, in discussions in the corridors of the Knesset. If they don't have a problem, then nor should there be a problem sitting next to a woman on a flight." MK Yehuda Glick (Likud): “There is no question that it is absolutely forbidden to coerce anyone, either in a private or a public company, to change his place. Nevertheless I remind you that we are a diversified society and we should respect the wishes of other sectors. One must not coerce but one can ask if a person is willing to move to another seat in order to respect the wishes of someone else. It is permissible. Nothing will happen if people learn to show respect for one another." The Minister of Transportation and Road Safety MK Yisrael Katz (Likud): "The passenger was not removed from her seat. An exchange of seats was agreed upon with other passengers preventing further delays in take-off which would have resulted if the ultra-Orthodox men had been removed from the flight." | Visit the JPW website for further reading in Hebrew


Wishing you a very good week from all at

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