With the once-a-decade election of Israel’s two chief rabbis scheduled for July 24, Rabbi David Stav, the 53-year-old Religious Zionist candidate for the Ashkenazi post who is attempting to end the two-decade-long reign of the fervently Orthodox, has already achieved a significant victory. Through his long and very public campaign this year he has shed light on a process that has long been kept in the shadows, understandably, because it is ugly, nasty and an embarrassment to Judaism.
Among our Lamentations this week was the news on Tisha b’Av that the European Union would cease all funding and cooperation with Israeli activity beyond the Green Line (1967 borders). This diplomatic and economic ostracism includes not only the entirety of the West Bank but even the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem — the place, of course, of the Temple Mount and Kotel, our holiest sites.
For the last two decades, at least, there has been a widespread perception in some circles that Jewish federations were on their way to becoming dinosaurs, the victims of declining attachment to Jewish organizational institutions in general and centralized giving in particular, and accelerated by the serious decline in the economy. That may all be true in some communities, but not in New York, where UJA-Federation continues to set the standard not only for dollars raised but for exemplifying the kind of reach and depth that only a communal charity of its size and savvy can command.
With her persistent and meticulous reporting, Hella Winston has shed light in these pages not only on a number of egregious examples of sexual abuse in certain segments of the Orthodox community in Brooklyn, but on the troublesome actions, or non-actions, on the part of Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, and his office, in dealing with the problem.
For many years advocates on behalf of agunot (observant Jewish women trapped in unwanted marriages) have sought to resolve the problem through their rabbis. And while many rabbinic authorities have expressed personal empathy and anguish for the plight of these women, the rabbis collectively have insisted that they are powerless in the face of halacha, or Jewish law, which says the husband has the absolute right to determine if and when to end a marriage.
The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, better known as the Claims Conference, has been responding to calls for more openness and transparency of late in exactly the wrong way. As the organization believed to be the wealthiest in the Jewish world, and with the sacred responsibility of using the billions of dollars at its disposal to care for survivors of the Holocaust, the Claims Conference should be operating in a manner beyond reproach. But the recent scandal related to more than $57 million stolen by a number of employees over a period of 16 years has gone from bad to worse in recent days.
Shimon Peres celebrated his birthday in grand style last week in Jerusalem with an estimated 5,000 of his closest friends, though he doesn’t turn 90 until August. (He clearly does not believe in “the evil eye,” or tempting fate.)
For pop singer Alicia Keys, who will soon visit Israel in defiance of a personal appeal to boycott from noted author Alice Walker, the decision to visit Israel, while worthy of our gratitude and applause, was made from a position of strength. After all, Keys is successful, confident and wealthy enough to do as she pleases. On the other end of the spectrum is a Syrian doctor and his patient, 28, in the throes of a civil war whose decision to go to Israel was made in the ultimate weakness, with a bullet in his gut and life slipping away.
The recent start of the busy season for Birthright Israel, the program that has brought hundreds of thousands of young Jews closer to the Jewish community by bringing them to Israel for 10 free days of tours and lectures, also marked the end of another cultural program that has attracted the same age group.