The tragedy of agunot — women unable to obtain a Jewish divorce — remains a seemingly unsolvable problem within halacha [Jewish law] that has left too many women in an emotional, legal and financial black hole.
Adding to the problem is the absence of data. In Israel, estimates of 10,000 agunot have been reported by The Wall Street Journal and Jerusalem Post, in contrast to claims by Agudath Israel that there are 180 in the Jewish state, and remarkably, an equal number of men who are being refused divorces by their recalcitrant wives.
On the eve of the Jewish Federation of North America’s annual General Assembly this year, one might expect the release of a national Jewish population study, since it has been 10 years since the last one appeared.
But there will be no such detailed portrait of the demographics of American Jewry unveiled Nov. 6-8 at the GA in Denver, because in the wake of the controversy over the 2000-2001survey, none was commissioned this time around.
So far, “Occupy Judaism” is an embryonic offshoot of the nationwide economic protests sparked by the Occupy Wall Street camp in Lower Manhattan. Like any embryo, it has potential, and it is fragile. Unlike those who are alarmed by Occupy Judaism’s take on the economy and see its synthesis of religion and politics as some kind of cynical manipulation, we do not doubt the Occupy activists’ sincerity.
In Israel it is natural for everyone from political leaders to construction workers to elementary school students to become engrossed in the fate of a young soldier taken captive. His name and face are known by all, and he is the object of national prayer.
It is not so natural elsewhere. How many American third graders, or their parents, have ever talked about Bowe Bergdahl, an American soldier held captive by the Taliban since 2009?
Despite ongoing efforts by Israel’s enemies to delegitimize the state, and brand it as racist and apartheid, the fact is that one of the most effective tools for the pro-Israel community is to simply bring people to the Jewish state to let them see it for themselves. The great majority of visitors come back impressed with how a tiny democracy can thrive in a hostile region and how robust Israeli life is, from the sophisticated sidewalk cafés of Tel Aviv to the spiritual aura of Jerusalem’s ancient holy sites.
The college campus, in its ideal, is revered as a place where the free exchange of ideas is not only exalted but protected. In recent decades that ideal has been sorely tested, perhaps no more so than in the realm of discussions about Israel, both inside and outside the classroom.
Discussions? If only it were that. Disruptions are increasingly likely when pro-Palestinian activists seek to silence speakers who are supportive of Israel.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was quite right to observe this week that Israel is becoming increasingly isolated in the Mideast. What’s unnerving, though, is to suggest, as he did, that Jerusalem is at fault for this situation.
“Real security can only be achieved by both a strong diplomatic effort as well as a strong effort to project your military strength,” Panetta said en route to the region for the umpteenth U.S. effort to restart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
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Few things are as satisfying or as much fun as a passionate conversation full of disagreement and dispute, be it at a Shabbat table or on an inner-city stoop. This has been a great Jewish sport through the years. A game of chess in Washington Square Park, or tea in a Lower East Side cafeteria, were often accompanied by passionate debates about everything from the Hitler-Stalin pact to the Ladies Garment union, along with colorful and heated Yiddish insults, now sanitized by nostalgia. Cleverness was once valued more than civility.