Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The world can't choose which terrorists it gets to support

The entire world has condemned the acts of terror committed in Paris. Is there a reason why nobody outside Israel has condemned the murder of Rabbi Litman and his son in the West Bank the same day? By Moshe Arens | Nov. 15, 2015 | 5:36 PM | 10 Tweet 0 StumbleUpon There are no good terrorists. The Hamas terrorists who killed Rabbi Ya’akov Litman and his son Natanel last Friday, near Otniel in the Hebron Hills, are bad terrorists. They’re just as bad as the Islamic State terrorists responsible for the carnage in Paris later the same day. The terrorists who killed dozens in a Hezbollah stronghold in southern Beirut last week are bad terrorists, as are the Hezbollah terrorists who blew up the Argentine-Israeli Community Center (AMIA) in Buenos Aires back in 1994. All terrorists are bad and must be fought, in order to stop the trail of blood of innocent victims which they leave behind. With all current attention focused on the terror acts committed by ISIS in Paris last Friday, one can tend to forget – or maybe even wish to forget – that not only is this not the first act of terrorism committed in recent years, and that ISIS is not the only terrorist organization engaged in killing innocent civilians. We have to remind ourselves that there are not good terrorists and bad terrorists – all terrorists are bad, there is no excuse for terrorism, and all terrorist organizations need to be fought tooth and nail if this bloodletting is to be stopped. All terrorists are venting a grudge they have against the society in which they live – against the West, against Israel, against Jews and Christians. It is important to understand what lies behind their grudges, but under no circumstances to excuse their murderous acts. Understanding must not mean forgiving. Israel knows this only too well. Israeli civilians have been the victims of terror committed by Sunni terrorists and Shia terrorists. By the Palestine Liberation Organization, Hamas and Hezbollah, and Israel is threatened by Islamic State. When acts of terror are committed against Israel, they are often glossed over in the world. Excuses are often sought for their cause, it being suggested that possibly Israeli policy toward the Palestinians may justify these acts. The entire world has condemned the acts of terror committed in Paris. Is there a reason why nobody outside Israel has condemned the murder of Rabbi Litman and his son? Does anyone really think they was murdered by “good” terrorists? The terrorist organizations, like Hamas and Hezbollah, who direct their activities primarily against Israelis or Jewish targets outside Israel seem to be granted a certain amount of license for their activities by many in the world. Although Hezbollah’s responsibility for the bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires and the AMIA bombing two years later is well known, no steps have been taken by countries other than Israel against this organization. The European Union has refused to outlaw Hezbollah, and the European parliament maintains contact with that terrorist organization. If terrorism is to be fought, all terrorist organizations must be fought. That may be difficult, but there is no other way. It is not an impossible task for nations who understand they are under attack from them. Neither ISIS, Hezbollah nor Hamas have significant military capabilities compared to the nations they attack. The idea that some terrorist organizations should be used as allies in the fight against other terrorist organizations is absurd and will lead nowhere. And yet the United States, the EU and Russia are presently attempting to build an anti-ISIS alliance that will include Iran – a terrorist state and the sponsor of Hezbollah. It is true that Hezbollah, which supports President Bashar Assad’s regime in Damascus, hates Islamic State – and that that sentiment is reciprocated by ISIS – but Hezbollah can contribute nothing to the war against ISIS. Giving it the stamp of approval by co-opting it into an antiterrorist alliance simply makes that alliance a laughingstock and can only encourage it to engage in further terrorist activity. That the EU’s approach to the danger of terrorism is totally unfocused was proven yet again by its recent decision to label products produced in Judea and Samaria and the Golan Heights that are exported to Europe. Is this part of the EU’s war against terrorism? How does it believe that Islamic State, Hamas and Hezbollah understand this senseless decision, which it claims is purely “technical?”


Thursday, November 12, 2015

Yitzhak Navon, fifth president of Israel, dies at 94

By Ofer Aderet and Jonathan Lis

Yitzhak Navon, who served as Israel's fifth president between 1978-1983, died on Saturday. He was 94.

Navon was born in 1921 into a distinguished Jerusalemite Sephardi family who has lived in the city for over 300 years. His paternal family descended from Spanish Jews who settled in Turkey following the Spanish Inquisition. His mother was born in Morocco and immigrated to Israel at the end of the 19th century.

Navon joined the pre-state Betar movement when he was 12, and later enlisted in the Irgun. However, he left the Irgun when he was 18 over ideological differences and joined the Haganah.

In his youth, he attended the "Doresh Tziyon" beit midrash, the "Takhemoni" school and Hebrew University Secondary School, where he studied education, Islamic culture, and Arabic language and literature. He was a teacher for several years until 1946, when he joined the Haganah's Arab intelligence unit until the end of the War of Independence.

Navon spoke to a local Jerusalem publication in 2009 about his experiences during the war. "It was a time of suffering and near starvation. But there was a feeling that this war was life-or-death, that we would finally win and have a state here or — God forbid — it would all end."

"We were surrounded by the Egyptians, the Jordanians and the Palestinians — they all besieged Jerusalem. But Ben-Gurion, both the prime minister and defense minister, understood the great importance of protecting Jerusalem. He said that the fall of Jerusalem would be heartbreaking and would endanger our existence," said Navon. "There were indeed many hard battles and many sacrificed themselves, and I'm pleased that our unit was able to contribute real-time intelligence information to combat units," he added.

In a 2001 interview with Ma'ariv, published on his 80th birthday, Navon discussed Israel's initial years. "6,000 people were killed, crippled and wounded during the War of Independence. The economy was devastated — there was no milk, just milk powder. No eggs, but egg powder. Meat was only once a week. Today, it's in such abundance, you go into shops and buy whatever you want."

Yitzhak Navon's first job in the public sector was second secretary at the Israeli legation in Uruguay and Argentina. Upon his return to Israel in 1951, he joined the Mapai political party (a precursor to the Rafi and Alignment parties) and was appointed David Ben-Gurion's political secretary. He was appointed Ben-Gurion's bureau chief the following year, a position he held until Ben-Gurion's resignation in 1963.

"Israel was very honored to have someone like Ben-Gurion at the wheel during such a critical time," Navon later said. "A person like that is born perhaps once every few thousand years. The State of Israel would not have been established without him. He was a rare individual, a unique combination of vision, realistic perspective, courage and leadership abilities."

"It was an experience seeing how a man with such a huge responsibility, acting under such pressure, maintained a balance — it's not easy," he continued. "Anyone who wants to be prime minister understands the heavy burden placed on his shoulders and surely has a sense of mission. There was much to learn from him and I miss him."

Between 1963-1965, Navon was a department head at the Education and Culture Ministry, leading a campaign against adult illiteracy. Navon recruited hundreds of soldiers and volunteers to work with adults who could not read or write in Israel's development towns and communities in the periphery.

According to data from this period, approximately 12% of Israel's Jewish population was illiterate. Education Minister Zalman Aran said at the beginning of Navon's operation: "It's a shame and disgrace that more than 200,000 adults in Israel do not know how to read or write in any language, and we must do everything possible to erase this stain from us."

In 1965, Navon was elected to the Knesset as a member of Ben-Gurion's Rafi party, a predecessor of the Labor Party. Navon served as deputy Knesset speaker and chaired the Knesset Committee on Foreign and Defense Affairs for seven years.

In 1970, he received a visiting delegation from Gaza at the Knesset. "One way or another, Gaza's residents must live in peace with Israel. Therefore, the key question is whether you want to live in peace with Israel," Navon said to the delegation. Mayor Ragheb al-Alami, the delegation's head answered that "intense hostility toward Israeli authorities will only improve once the rights taken from Gaza's residents are returned to them." Navon replied: "How can there be peaceful coexistence with Israel when you act like this... do you want to eat the grapes in the vineyard or kill the guard?"

Navon was elected Israel's fifth president in 1978. His inauguration ceremony was televised in color, creating a stir within the Israel Broadcasting Authority, as Haaretz reported at the time. "The IBA's executive committee decided to soon hold a fundamental debate regarding the introduction of television broadcasts in color. At yesterday's committee meeting, the IBA decided to recommend to the communications minister to allow President Yitzhak Navon's ceremony to be broadcast in color. The board of directors determined that yesterday's decision will not determine a principle or precedent regarding future color broadcasts."

He was a popular president who traveled throughout the country and worked for mediation between ethnic groups, religious and secular groups, Jews and Arabs and peripheral and central communities. In 1980, Navon visited Egypt as President Anwar Sadat's official guest after the Israel-Egypt peace treaty was signed. Navon received a warm welcome after speaking Arabic during his visit.

"Sadat's covenant with peace is an authentic covenant. Although the path we have decided to take is not without obstruction, Sadat and [Israeli Prime Minister Menachem] Begin have already come a long way," Navon said. Haaretz columnist Yoel Marcus wrote that "Navon visited Egypt once and received what Begin failed to achieve in five visits."

In 2009, Navon spoke to a local Jerusalem paper about his tenure as president. "I had a feeling of great responsibility, but also of great satisfaction. I knew all segments of the population. There are Jews who came from 102 countries and speak 81 languages — how do you consolidate them into one nation? This is where I saw my role."

"On the one hand, to find what everyone holds common, whether they come from Georgia or Morocco — usually this is through history or the Bible — while allowing each individual tribe of Israel and community to express what makes them special: their heritage, their folklore, their poetry. These are two things that seem to contradict, but actually complement each other," he said.

Navon is the only Israeli president to return to political life following his presidential term. In 1984, he was elected as deputy prime minister and served as education and culture minister from 1984-1990. Navon stressed the teaching of Arabic studies and Mizrahi Jewish studies, and oversaw the "culture basket" program that annually showcased students' contributions and performances. He left the Knesset and politics in 1992.

Outside of his political career, Navon was a successful author and playwright whose work was influenced by his Spanish heritage. "Bustan Sephardi," a work that deals with the life of a Spanish family in Jerusalem, achieved great success and critical acclaim at Tel Aviv's Habima theater.

In 2014 the play celebrated its 2,000th performance. Navon’s involvement in Sephardic Jewish culture also manifested itself in his work as chairman of the National Authority for Ladino Culture.

In 1963, his marriage to Ofira Navon was dubbed “wedding of the year.” “The best man was David Ben-Gurion and Jerusalem’s chief rabbi, Eliyahu Pardes, officiated. Blessings were recited by the Israel Defense Forces chief rabbi, Maj. Gen. Shlomo Goren. Ophira Navon, who was a psychologist, was active in public life and starred in beauty contests. Her own fight against breast cancer set an example for many women. She died of the disease in 1993. The Navons had two children. For the past 20 years Navon’s life partner has been Miri Shafir, whom he met when he was 75 years old, two years after Ofira died.

On Navon’s 80th birthday, he was asked in the Ma'ariv interview how he summarized his life so far. “All in all I can’t complain. I had — wait a minute, why am I speaking in the past tense — I have life with a great deal of honey and a great many stings.” This year, Navon’s autobiography, entitled “Yitzhak Navon, All the Way,” was published in Hebrew by Keter.

"Yitzhak Navon's legacy is his work for justice and peace among the nations," said Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Rabbi Sacks writes on the European refugee crisis

'Love the stranger because you were once strangers' calls on us now

The following article on the European refugee crisis by Rabbi Sacks was published today in The Observer (a UK national newspaper).

You would have to be less than human not to be moved by images we have seen of the refugee crisis threatening to overwhelm Europe: the desperate scenes at the station in Budapest, the seventy one bodies found in the abandoned lorry in Austria, the two hundred people drowned when their boat capsized off the coast in Libya, and most heartbreaking of all, the body of three year old Aylan Kurdi, lifeless on a Turkish shore: an image that will linger long in the mind as a symbol of a world gone mad.

This is the greatest humanitarian challenge faced by Europe in many decades. Angela Merkel was not wrong when she said, “If Europe fails on the question of refugees, its close connection with universal civil rights will be destroyed.”

The influx of refugees overwhelming parts of Europe is a massive crisis, but it is at just such times that it is worth remembering that the Chinese ideogram for ‘crisis’ also means ‘opportunity.’ Now is a unique opportunity to show that the ideals for which the European Union and other international bodies such as the United Nations were formed are still compelling, compassionate and humane.

Many of the conventions and protocols establishing legal rights for refugees emerged in the aftermath of the Second World War, as did the Universal Declaration of Human Rights itself. One of the dark moments in that history occurred in July 1938, when representatives of thirty two countries gathered in the French spa town of Evian to discuss the humanitarian disaster that everyone knew was about to overtake the Jews of Europe wherever Hitler’s Germany held sway. Jews were desperate to leave. They knew their lives were at risk and so did the politicians and aid agencies at the conference. Yet country after country shut its doors. Nation after nation in effect said, it wasn’t their problem.

At such times even small humanitarian gestures can pierce the darkness and light a flame of hope. That is what happened in Kindertransport, the initiative spearheaded, among others, by the late Sir Nicholas Winton that rescued ten thousand Jewish children from Nazi Germany. Half a century later I came to know many of those who had been rescued. They loved Britain and sought richly to contribute to it. I and many other Jews of my generation grew up with that love, knowing that without Britain’s willingness to provide our parents and grandparents with refuge, they would have died and we would not have been born. As long as human history is told, these acts of humanitarianism will stand as a triumph of the spirit over political expediency and moral indifference.

Sixty years after Kindertransport a gathering took place in London of more than a thousand of those who had been rescued. It was a highly emotional day as one after another told their stories. But the speech that had us all in tears was not from one of the rescued children but from the late Lord Attenborough, whose family were among the rescuers.

He spoke of how his parents summoned their three boys and told them they wanted to adopt two young Jewish girls from Germany, Helga and Irene. They explained the sacrifices they would all have to make. They would now be a family of seven rather than five, which meant that they would have to share more widely, and that, they said, included their love, because “You have us, but they have nobody.” The boys agreed, and the two girls became part of their family. As he told this story, Lord Attenborough wept, and said that was the most important day of his life. Suddenly we realized that it is the sacrifices we make for the sake of high ideals that make us great, and that applies to nations as well as individuals.

Even in the best-case scenario, Europe alone cannot solve the problems of which the refugees are the victims. The conflicts that have brought chaos to the Middle East continue to defy any obvious solution. Every option that has been tried has seemed to fail: military intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq, no-fly zones in Libya, and non-intervention in Syria. None has put out the smoldering fires of unrest, religious and ethnic discord and civil war. It is all too easy to say, this is not our problem, and besides, it is happening a long way away.

Yet nothing in our interconnected world is a long way away. Everything that could go global does go global, from terror to religious extremism to websites preaching paranoia and hate. Never before have John Donne’s words rung more true: “Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.” Therefore, “never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”

A strong humanitarian response on the part of Europe and the international community could achieve what military intervention and political negotiation have thus far failed to achieve. They would constitute the clearest possible evidence that the European experience of two World Wars and the Holocaust have taught that free societies, where people of all faiths and ethnicities make space for one another, are the only way to honour our shared humanity, whether we conceive that humanity in secular or religious terms. Fail this and we will have failed one of the fundamental tests of humanity.

I used to think that the most important line in the Bible was, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Then I realised that it is easy to love your neighbour because he or she is usually quite like yourself. What is hard is to love the stranger, one whose colour, culture or creed is different from yours. That is why the command, “Love the stranger because you were once strangers,” resonates so often throughout the Bible.

It is summoning us now. A bold act of collective generosity will show that the world, particularly Europe, really has learned the lesson of its own dark past and is willing to take a global lead in building a more hopeful future. Wars that cannot be won by weapons can sometimes be won by the sheer power of acts of humanitarian generosity to inspire the young to choose the way of peace instead of holy war.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

I saw Hamas' cruel and selfish game in Gaza

Polish reporter Wojciech Cegielski spent a month in Gaza during last summer's war. He has no doubt Hamas used people as human shields.
By Wojciech Cegielski Aug. 25, 2015 | 1:25 AM | 14

I spent a month in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge. It was one of the worst and deadliest months I have seen in my life. The reality there was much more complicated than was seen from a safe distance in Europe or the United States.

Yes, Israel bombed Palestinian houses in Gaza. But Hamas is also to blame for its cruel and selfish game against its own people. I do not have hard evidence, but for me, spending a month in the middle of this hell, it was obvious that they were breaking international rules of war and worst of all, were not afraid to use their own citizens as living shields.

The first incident happened late in the evening. I was in the bathroom when I’ve heard a loud rocket noise and my Spanish colleague, a journalist who was renting a flat with me near the Gaza beach, started to scream. He wanted to light a cigarette and came to one of the open windows. The moment he was using his lighter, he saw a fireball in front of his eyes and lost his hearing.

From what our neighbors told us later, a man drove up in a pickup to our tiny street. He placed a rocket launcher outside and fired. But the rocket failed to go upwards and flew along the street at ground level for a long time before destroying a building. It was a miracle that nobody was hurt or killed.

When we calmed down, we started to analyze the situation. It became obvious that the man or his supervisor wanted the Israel Defense Forces to destroy civilian houses, which our tiny street was full of. Whoever it was, Hamas, Iz al-Din al-Qassam or others, they knew that the IDF can strike back at the same place from which the rocket was fired. Fortunately for us, the rocket missed its target in Israel.

The second story happened in the middle of the day. I was sitting with other journalists in a cafe outside one of the hotels near the beach. During wartime, these hotels are occupied by foreign press and some NGOs. Every hotel is full and in its cafes many journalists spend their time discussing, writing, editing stories or just recharging the phones. Suddenly I saw a man firing a rocket from between the hotels. It was obvious that we journalists became a target. If the IDF would strike back, we all would be dead. What would Hamas do? It would not be surprising to hear about the “cruel Zionist regime killing innocent and free press.”

For me, provoking is also creating living shields.

While I was interviewing people on the streets of Gaza, I couldn’t meet anyone who spoke something other than official propaganda. But some Palestinians, when they were sure my microphone was turned off, told me they have had enough but they are afraid. No one would dare to say publicly that Hamas is creating a hell inside Gaza. But they were also asking “what if not Hamas?” The Palestinian Authority government would have no authority there. So if not Hamas, they say, there could be somebody much worse. “The choice is between evil and evil plus,” one of them said.

The reality is much more complicated than can be seen from a distance.

The writer is a foreign news correspondent for Polish Radio.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015



The ‘secular rabbi,’ who gained notoriety in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, skillfully negotiates the borders of ‘laïcité’ in a republic that remains on edge

By Scott Sayare
August 17, 2015

Elsa Cayat had little patience for God. In that respect, she fit well at Charlie Hebdo, for whom she wrote a weekly column as resident psychoanalyst. Still, she had been known for an extravagance of intellect, a contrarian flair that was, in the view of some, her inheritance as a Jew, and her siblings felt her funeral should acknowledge this. Their aged parents, mistrustful of religion in the manner of many on the French Left, were reticent, but said all right.

The ceremony was held on a blustery January morning, just days after the terror killings in and around Paris that left Cayat and 16 others dead. Her siblings introduced their parents to the woman who would be eulogizing their daughter. “This is the secular rabbi,” they said, and presented a 
kind-spoken, youthful woman in circular glasses named Delphine Horvilleur. This designation was a paradox, but not altogether misleading; Horvilleur, who is indeed a rabbi but is also religious, did not contest it.

She is not what most French expect, in either image or substance, when they think of a rabbi. To begin, she is a Liberal, and thus a member of an all-but-unknown minority among French Jews, nearly all of whom are Orthodox. Horvilleur, who is 40, is also a woman, one of only three to serve as rabbis in France. (Her secular admirers in the French press have been known to marvel, a bit backwardly, that so charming a female should choose a life of the cloth.) The Judaism she practices, far from the worship of ritual that is the French norm, is a doctrine of inquiry, of unraveling dogmas and interrogating traditions, a celebration of the profane thrill of interpreting and reinterpreting the sacred.

Before the hundreds who huddled in the grayness, crowding beneath a tent in the Jewish section of the Cimetière du Montparnasse, Horvilleur, who had fretted over finding a tone of appropriate humility, irreverence and pain, describedCayat’s work as a psychoanalyst. “She was neither Freudian nor Lacanian,” she said. “She was ‘Cayatian,’ a school apart, the school of someone who cherishes freedom to the point of forever teaching it to others, the school of someone who knows how to see into your depths and tell you exactly where it hurts, who knows where to place her words, who knows how to play with them so that the language heals you.”

It would not have escaped the attention of a careful listener that the rabbi was attempting precisely such a feat herself. For all the two women’s differences—which extended even to the realm of the sartorial, with Horvilleur favoring pants and dark turtlenecks, where Cayat was known to pair her jogging outfit with stilettos and fur—their talents and ideals appear to have been quite similar. “This wordplay,” Horvilleur went on, “this passion for language and debate, as you know, is very dear to Judaism and its sages. I think she perhaps could have made a very good rabbi—I hope she won’t be angry with me for telling her this, her, the secular Jew, the practicing atheist.”

Horvilleur then recounted an episode from the Talmud, the story of a Yeshiva debate that she likened, in a moment of playful subversion, to “an editorial meeting at Charlie Hebdo.” God has intervened in a theological argument to declare Rabbi Eliezer the winner; Rabbi Yoshoua rises to his feet, Horvilleur told the mourners, to challenge God, “This discussion is none of your business! You entrusted us with a law, a responsibility, now it’s in our hands. Keep out of our debates.” God laughed and remarked tenderly, “My children have defeated me!” she said.

Horvilleur had chosen the story because it seemed to her “Cayatian,” she said, “the story of a deity who laughs and delights in cheeky humanity,” a “God of freedom” who has delegated to his charges the responsibility of their world and the agency to do with it as they please.

Afterward, the surviving members of Charlie Hebdo wept and took her in their arms, and Elsa Cayat’s reticent parents asked that the eulogy be published.


It is tempting to see in Horvilleur a symbol of some détente between religion and a French lay society that, in the presence of a large, post-colonial Muslim minority, has stiffened in its anti-religiousness. For the time being, though, her ease in the idioms of both the sacred and the profane, and her vision of the two realms as gently interwoven, make her more a curiosity than the herald of any trend. “I understand why they come talk to me,” she said of the reporters who have sought her out in recent years, and especially since the January killings. “I know full well that I represent the friendly face of ‘what religions could be,’ ” she said, but “I am not at all representative.” Horvilleur’s relations with the country’s conservative official Jewish instances, led by men who maintain that women cannot be rabbis, are cordial but strained. (She was ordained at Hebrew Union College, in New York.) “Like all religions,” Horvilleur said, Judaism “has problems with women.”

In the French media, where stories about her inevitably run under the headline “Madame Le Rabbin”—an expression that rings a bit odd, as intended, as there is no female word for “rabbi” in French—her existence is often posited as thrilling proof that the country’s intransigent secularism can indeed help cure religion of the backwardness that is understood to define it. Horvilleur “has a cheerful face and bright eyes … the precise speech and the modern look of an active young woman of today,” wrote Anne Fulda, a prominent political and society columnist at Le Figaro, in a lengthy 2013 profile. “On the outside, aside from her curly hair that calls to mind the ringlets of Orthodox Jewish men (‘But mine are natural,’ she laughs), nothing could suggest that Delphine Horvilleur is a rabbi.”

The French tend to view religion not only as inherently other but also as a “destabilizing factor” and a “threat,” Horvilleur said. She is, then, reassuring: “neither aggressive nor subversive,” Fulda wrote, without explanation, in Le Figaro. “Just contemporary.” (However radically vulgar Charlie Hebdo’s caricatures may be, the mix of apprehension and disdain they express toward religion is common in France, where there is a long tradition, especially on the left, of hard, “bouffe-curé” anticlericalism. As a left-leaning Frenchwoman, Horvilleur said, she finds the newspaper’s humor irreverent and “fairly wholesome,” if sometimes unduly stigmatizing or misguided. She is not a regular reader.)

Less than a month after the killings, at a Tu B’Shevat ceremony for about 80 members of the congregation to which she belongs, the Jewish Liberal Movement of France, she led a singing of “Sheleg Al Iri,” a song by the Israeli musician Naomi Shemer; only she and an Israeli Hebrew school teacher seemed to know the words or melody, though the other congregants hummed and mumbled gamely. Shortly afterward, she led the group in the singing of “Auprès de mon arbre,” a minor song by the beloved French outcast-poet and musician Georges Brassens, which she presented jokingly as a “traditional Jewish chant.” Here her congregants participated with far more self-assurance. If, on the dark street four stories down, the two young soldiers assigned to guard the synagogue were able to hear Brassens emanating from this house of worship, they were surely surprised.

While her progressivism has made her a darling of secular society, she is not tender with the French model, in its current form at any rate. The stringent secularism that has spread in the past two decades has sown the very community divisions it allegedly seeks to head off, she says, creating a class of 
so-called “communitarian” offenders out of what were, previously, innocuously, individual Muslims or Jews. Muslims and Jews have, in turn, come to think of themselves increasingly as communities, with collective interests that may conflict with those of society at large.
In France, Muslims and Jews have come to think of themselves increasingly as communities, with collective interests that may conflict with those of society at large.

The murders in January, perpetrated by men claiming ties to al-Qaida and the Islamic State, of course did little to convince many French of the virtues of religious belief or identification. The French government swiftly announced that the teaching and application of laïcité, the country’s official secularism, would be reinforced in schools. This suggested a conviction that any accommodation of religion might invite religious violence—that in order to prevent any further tragedies, state schools would have to be even more unflinching in their refusal to allow Muslim girls or Jewish boys to enter with their respective head-coverings, for instance, or in their refusal to offer halal or kosher meals.

The current moment is one of intransigence, of “juvenile regression” into intolerance and the “negation of our complexities,” Horvilleur said. Thirty years ago, in her public grade school in Nancy, in eastern France, when tests were scheduled for Saturdays, Jewish students were granted alternate test times to allow them to practice their Sabbath rituals; this seemed to bother no one. There was “a certain flexibility” in the country then, she said.

“I grew up in a France where, when I was a child or even a teenager, at no time did anyone tell me that I belonged to the ‘Jewish community,’ ” she said. She regarded herself “as a Jewish French girl, or as a French Jewish girl, in one order or the other.” Only in the 1990s—as social tensions rose over Muslim girls wearing headscarves, and as religious practice in general was increasingly viewed as incompatible with a full life in society—did the notion of a “Jewish community” enter the public discourse. “This was a term that didn’t exist,” she said. Whether it was first used by French Jews or non-Jews she does not know, but in any case it is not an expression she endorses. “As if all that identified me were my Jewishness, as if this were the only component of my identity,” she said.

Still, despite herself, her Jewishness has lately come to the fore. After the January attack at a kosher market, she no longer brings her children grocery shopping; she has caught herself remarking to friends that men with peyos are “courageous” to ride the Métro in Paris. As much as she detests the “competition for victim-status” in which the French tend to engage, jockeying for recognition from the entitlement state—this is “the great French malady,” she said—she finds herself reassured by the soldiers who have been assigned since the killings to guard synagogues and other Jewish sites throughout the country. And yet she worries that protection will be viewed by some non-Jews as yet another symbol of Jewish privilege, reinforcing notions of a “Jewish community.” “It’s normal that the state protect us,” Horvilleur said, using the first-person-plural in what seemed an unconscious confirmation of her fears. “But at the same time, the more they protect us, the more they weaken us.”


Horvilleur was raised by the children of Holocaust survivors, and her grandparents’ sense of terror and gratitude were the poles of her childhood. Her maternal grandparents, deportees from Munkács, in the Carpathian mountains of Czechoslovakia, were “phantoms,” she said, “shut away in their pain,” all but incapable of speech and deeply mistrustful of non-Jews, whom they understood as their killers. Her father’s parents, Jews from French families predating the Revolution, survived in France, hidden and protected by non-Jews.

Her paternal grandfather, a rabbi, was also the principal of a local public school; he removed his kipa every day upon entering. “The school is the temple of the French Republic,” Horvilleur explained, and her grandfather believed “you don’t enter with religious objects.” He treated the Republic, to which he felt he owed his life, “practically as a religion,” she said. Shortly before his death in 1992, when he was 75 and she 15, she fought with him over the Muslim veil, which he felt should be banned from schools so as to help Muslim girls “think beyond their origins.” (France’s law banning the veil and other religious accessories was passed in 2004.) “For me, it was a violation of liberté,” she said, even if she did not care for “what the veil represents.” “And for him, it was a violation of égalité.”

At the time, she believed that her grandfather’s vision of laïcité, in which equality is guaranteed not by the impartial treatment of difference but rather by the imposition of conformity, belonged to a less complex, less diverse era, she said. It has since become the norm. “I think there is, in this pure, secular ideal, something a bit naive,” she said. “In reality, religion can never be a purely private matter, and it can’t be a coat one takes off at the school entrance, either. Religion is not a coat.”

As a child, she was sent to the only local synagogue, an Orthodox congregation whose rhetoric regarding women and Jewish otherness, including the suggestion of “a certain Jewish superiority,” did not sit well with her. Scripture was being manipulated or misinterpreted, she felt; from a young age, she felt “the official reading of the texts was hiding something else, that it was sheltering something else,” she said. “And I think that if I hadn’t believed this, I would have quite simply left the synagogue. But I always thought the text could say, or in fact meant, something other than what they were making it say.”

Scripture offered, too, some knowledge of her impenetrable maternal grandparents. “Their silence really fed my search, my will to find something between the lines,” Horvilleur said. “That is, I realize that my attachment to exegesis, to interpretation, to searching between the lines for all that’s missing in the text, all that’s not said—I think it’s akin to a conversation with a world that’s disappeared, a conversation that I couldn’t have with them.”

After a period in Israel after high school—“All of sudden, Israel seemed to me a response to my identity issues,” she said, a natural reconciliation of her “Jewish particularism” with her “quest for the universal,” but her sense of internal contradiction endured—she returned to France to study with Jewish scholars in Paris. Her interest was purely academic at the start, she said; she was intrigued by Jewish rites and drawn to the “intellectual exercise” of exegesis but did not consider herself a practicing Jew. Wanting to undertake Talmudic studies that, as a woman in France, she could not, she moved to New York. It was only at the suggestion of a Long Island rabbi, her instructor in a course in psychoanalysis and rabbinic thought at the Skirball Center in Manhattan, that she first considered the possibility of the rabbinate. “All of a sudden, it seemed obvious to me,” she said. “But I never could have put it into words myself.”


In February, about three weeks after the killings, Horvilleur was told she had been named “Manager of the Year” by Le Nouvel Economiste, an elite independent newspaper. She had “no idea at all” why they had named her, she said. Gérard Biard, the top editor of Charlie Hebdo, would also be receiving a prize, as would an imam from Marseille. The theme of the awards ceremony was to be “free speech.”

“It’s a bit surprising, on the face of it, to name a rabbi, even if she is a woman, manager of the year,” said the woman who introduced Horvilleur, a columnist and political commentator named Michèle Cotta. Cotta, speaking from a lectern to a concrete amphitheater filled with silent men dressed in suits of blue and gray, spoke of “the modernization of religion” and of her surprise in discovering that a woman—and “one who is young and pretty, no less”—should be a rabbi. Horvilleur had been chosen, however, for her conviction that “if one stops at the literal text, be it sacred, be it revealed, one risks locking oneself away in dogmatism and, especially, in a worldview that cannot tolerate an opposing perspective,” Cotta said. “In the times we’re living in, an affirmation such as yours is more than necessary, it is vital for our tolerant and secular society.” Horvilleur’s role, as Cotta understood it, is “to produce confidence, to reassure with confidence.”

Horvilleur silently mounted the steps to the raised lectern and unfolded a short sermon on Jewish humor.

“Recent events suggest that the God of monotheism doesn’t have much humor,” she said. “So, it falls upon the attentive reader of religious texts to reestablish a forgotten truth: In the Bible, God is capable of making very good jokes.” She cited the preposterous pregnancy of 89-year-old Sarah, Moses’ stutter, and God’s choice to “make the Hebrews walk in circles in the desert for 40 years, even though their destination is just a few kilometers away.” Laughter murmured, briefly. Religious texts are to be understood only with a certain “interpretative distance,” she said, and the rabbis of the Talmud, “faithful to this humor” of God, “distance themselves from literal meaning in order to, quite often, make the text say what it doesn’t say at all.” (The theme of the spring issue of Tenou’a, a review of Jewish thought that Horvilleur directs, was, “Does God have a sense of humor?”)
Horvilleur: ‘In the Bible, God is capable of making very good jokes.’

She concluded by suggesting that this interpretative “Jewish humor” and “distanced reading” ought to be taught in schools. They are, she said with a pleasing bit of wordplay, “at once the guarantee of our freedom of expression, and the very expression of our freedom.” The dour audience applauded, and the editor of Le Nouvel Economiste, an exceptionally kempt man of cold, buffed features, thanked her for a “very fine address.”

Next was the imam, Haroun Derbal, who arrived at the lectern smiling, in an open collar and a dark suit coat that was slightly rumpled and slightly too large. He seemed to have assigned himself the impossibly grave task, made all the more difficult by a heavy Algerian accent and his sometimes approximate French, of proving the basic compatibility of Islam and French notions of liberty, though he declined to say a word about the caricatures of Muhammad that had so angered the Charlie Hebdo killers. He cited the preamble to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as three Quranic passages that demonstrate, he said, that “all points of view are possible and audible” within Islam. He ended his address with the third of these, a story of Noah, who declines to force his belief in God upon his people. “Should we compel you to accept it, when you are repulsed by it?” Derbal recited. This was a cryptic conclusion; Derbal offered neither an answer to Noah’s question nor an exegesis of the story, and unfortunately mispronounced the final word of the passage such that the meaning of the whole was impossible to know. “Thank you, Mr. Derbal,” the editor said.

Now Biard, the slight, balding Charlie Hebdo editor, spoke. “This last while, I’ve often said—and I’ll say it again until it becomes obvious to everyone—freedom of speech, freedom of satire, the freedom to laugh, including about the worst things, the freedom to blaspheme, the freedom to contest, to oppose—everything that Charlieembodies, can’t exist without laïcité,” Biard said. “Because only laïcité allows for the exercise of democracy.”

Afterward, as the laureates stood in a line at the base of the amphitheater to pose for a photograph, Biard extended his hand to Horvilleur and they shook hands and laughed as the imam stood silently between the two of them. “That was really great,” Biard told her. He did not offer his hand to the imam.

“She’s an admirable and invaluable woman,” Biard said later, praising Horvilleur’s taste for questioning and interpretation, “this approach of challenging dogmas.” “The function of a religion is to discuss the texts,” and not only to cite and obey them, he said. “Too often we forget this.” He sees this practice honored “only in Judaism,” he said, though he acknowledged that he was familiar with all faiths only “in a pretty distant way.”

At the cocktail reception, a pale and abstemious-looking man in a gray suit approached Horvilleur to shake her hand, which presently held a flute of champagne. She tucked an award diploma, which she had been holding in her left hand, under her arm, transferred the champagne to her left hand and extended her right hand to the man, who did not identify himself but remarked that he had not realized that women could be rabbis. Horvilleur explained that she was a member of a liberal Jewish movement. The man announced that he was a Protestant, and then discreetly retired from the conversation. Horvilleur appeared accustomed.


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Hebrew state is disappearing, the Jewish state is taking over

We are witnessing a mutation of Judaism, a new Judaism – fanatic, violent and now murderous as well. It is liable to bury the state, just as it buried the Second Temple.

Settlers clash with police in West Bank settlement of Beit El, July 29, 2015. / Photo by Emil Salman
By Uri Avnery
Published 02:37 11.08.15

After World War II, I participated in many demonstrations against the British, who were ruling this area at the time. All those demonstrations used the slogan, “Free immigration! A Hebrew state!” I can’t remember a single demonstration at which people shouted, “Free immigration! A Jewish state!”

Back then, “Jewish state” sounded like a paradox to us. Everything pertaining to the Jewish community in the Land of Israel was “Hebrew.” Everything pertaining to Jewish communities in the Diaspora was “Jewish.” There was Hebrew agriculture, a Hebrew underground, the first Hebrew city. There was Jewish religion, a Jewish Diaspora, Jewish immigration.

One can leaf through any newspaper published here before the state’s establishment: The term “Jewish” as applied to things created in this land was virtually nonexistent. The spoken language had adopted this distinction long before the small group of writers and artists who took it to extremes had arisen. This group, which Avraham Shlonsky derogatorily termed “the Canaanites,” claimed we had no connection with the Jews at all; rather, we were an old-new “Hebrew” nation that had leapfrogged over 2,000 years in the history of the Jewish Diaspora.

If so, how did it happen that the declaration of the state’s establishment in 1948 spoke of a “Jewish state”? To understand this, it’s necessary to go back to the reality of those days. In the eyes of the British, there were two peoples in this land: Arab and Jewish. Thus the UN resolution on partition decreed the establishment of an Arab state and a Jewish state. The Declaration of Independence was based on this resolution, and therefore declared the establishment of “a Jewish state ... the State of Israel.”

At that time, the Jewish religion in this land was at a nadir. As a boy, I lived for some time on the moshav of Nahalal. Its founders lived for many years in miserable wooden huts. When they were able to build stone buildings, they built cowsheds, and only afterward did they build modest houses for themselves. Then they built a milk processing plant, and then a community center, Beit Ha’am. There was also a synagogue – a small, out-of-the way hut where the old people prayed.

The general feeling was that the Jewish religion in this land was dying, and would die for good when the old men and women who still clung to it passed away. Zionism, we believed, had come in place of religion.

David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, thought the same. Otherwise, it would never have entered his head to exempt yeshiva students from army service, which he viewed as sacred. The exemption of a few hundred students was, for him, a good way to solve his coalition problems.

For the same reason, he allowed the establishment of the state religious school system. “The old man” liquidated the school system affiliated with the left-wing workers’ movement because he saw it as a danger to the state’s sovereignty. But he permitted the state religious system because he was convinced religion was dying and didn’t constitute a threat.

The religious kibbutz movement was also a withered limb, the stepchild of the secular agricultural settlement movements. And the ultra-Orthodox, somewhere out on the fringes, merited at most a tolerant smile; they aroused nothing but pity.

Toward the end of the 1950s, the wheel began to turn. This was due to several developments that had no relation to each other but had a cumulative impact.

First, as the horrific details of the Holocaust were gradually revealed, the Israeli community began experiencing remorse. After all, we were living here in (relative) happiness and plenty while Jews were being slaughtered over there en masse. Later, the Eichmann trial caused a revolution in Israelis’ consciousness.

Another development was the mass immigration from Islamic countries. The new arrivals were moderate religious traditionalists, just as the Muslims in those countries were back then. The Bulgarian rabbi in Jaffa would ride his bike on Shabbat to watch the Bulgarian team’s soccer games. But the Mizrahi rabbis, who hailed from the Middle East and North Africa, fell captive to the fanatic Ashkenazi rabbis of the non-Hasidic “Lithuanian” sect. They adopted the Lithuanians’ clothing and became more extreme in their turn.

High fertility rates in the religious and ultra-Orthodox communities gradually changed the demographic picture. And instead of shrinking, as Ben-Gurion had hoped, the religious and ultra-Orthodox school systems grew by leaps and bounds.

The dramatic turning point, however, was the Six-Day War of 1967. The stunning victory by the secular Israel Defense Forces turned into a religious celebration; “The Western Wall is in our hands” became the battle cry of the religious fanatics.

The religious Jewish public, which until then had been humble and demeaned, suddenly became aggressive and demanding. The National Religious Party, which until then had been the most moderate party in the government, changed its spots and switched to the side of radical nationalism. Its youth, products of the state religious school system and the Bnei Akiva youth movement, gave birth to the extremist settlements.

Recently, we have witnessed a new phenomenon. In the past, a yawning chasm of hatred divided the national religious youth from their ultra-Orthodox counterparts. Now they have begun hooking up. The national religious are becoming more religiously ultra-Orthodox, while the ultra-Orthodox are becoming more nationalistically fanatic.

The recent atrocities perpetrated by national religious “hilltop youth” and ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students are the writing on the wall (literally). The settlement youth, together with disturbed people who have returned to religion, are imbued with incomparably greater zeal than the youth of the “Tel Aviv bubble” and the rest of the secular public.

History has many examples of countries in which hardy people from the periphery took over a center that had gone soft. The frontier folk are used to war, while the centrists create culture.

Prussia, a remote peripheral region that perpetrated an ongoing genocide, took over Germany. The remote Piedmont region united modern Italy. Two millennia ago, Jews from the Galilee took over Jerusalem and brought about its destruction. The Manchus took over China, while the Japanese took over East Asia during World War II.

This danger is now hovering over Israel. The settlers are neither “wild weeds” nor youth from the margins. They constitute an extreme and immediate threat to everything that has been built in this country in recent generations. The Hebrew state is disappearing, and in its place, the Jewish state is taking over.

And this isn’t the Judaism that arose during 2,000 years in exile – the Judaism of Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai, the Judaism of a dispersed community that loathed violence. We are now witnessing a mutation of Judaism, a new Judaism – fanatic, violent and now murderous as well. It is liable to bury the state, just as it buried the Second Temple.

The state can still be saved. But to do so, the real Israel – the secular, national Israel – must wake up. We need the courage to change before disaster strikes.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

One Syrian killed in Druze attack on IDF ambulance carrying wounded rebels

Protesters extract two wounded Syrians from military vehicle in northern Israel and beat them; two soldiers wounded, too.

The Israeli ambulance carrying Syrian rebels attacked by Druze, June 22, 2015. / Photo by Courtesy
By Jack Khoury and Gili Cohen

One Syrian militant was beaten to death and one was wounded in very serious-to-critical condition after Druze protesters attacked Monday night an Israel Defense Forces ambulance in northern Israel carrying Syrian members of armed militias wounded in the civil war there. Two Israeli soldiers were lightly wounded.

According to the IDF, the ambulance was accompanied by a military police escort following the Druze attack on an IDF ambulance earlier Monday. Upon entering Majdal Shams en route to Kiryat Shmona, approximately 150 furious protesters from Golan Heights villages in the Neve Ativ region, who attacked the vehicle.

According to one eyewitness, the protesters extracted two wounded Syrians from the ambulance and beat them. The IDF said it sent a military helicopter to evacuate the wounded Syrians, who are now in serious condition. The emergency rescue vehicle was also damaged.

A large deployment of Israeli police and military forces were called to the site, where they confronted the protesters.

The head of the Israeli Druze community, Sheikh Mowafak Tariq, strongly condemned the attack, saying "this is not our way, and we're in pain over what happened. This is a criminal act, carries out by lawless people and the authorities must act."

This is the second time in 24 hours that protesters have struck an ambulance carrying wounded Syrians. Early Monday, Druze residents from the village of Horfish in northern Israel attacked a military ambulance carrying wounded Syrians, demanding to check whether the passengers on board belonged to a rebel organization that has been targeting Druze in the civil war across the border.

Most of the Druze in the Golan Heights do not enlist in the army, though their brethren in the Galilee and the Carmel do serve, and the situation of the Druze community in Syria often raises questions of loyalty among the community in Israel.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Israeli report highlights IDF casualty prevention, Hamas abuses during Gaza conflict

Ariel Schalit/AP/Press Association Images

Israel’s government yesterday released an extensive report into last summer’s Operation Protective Edge, highlighting the IDF’s extensive efforts to avoid military casualties, while at the same time documenting Hamas’ exploitation of Gaza’s civilians during the conflict.

The 277-page document is an inter-ministerial report published by the Foreign Ministry. Among its key findings, the report found that the IDF engaged in a lengthy legal process before attacks were approved, in accordance with the Law of Armed Conflict and that the IDF also made extensive efforts to facilitate humanitarian aid to Gaza’s civilians during the fighting.

By contrast, the report said that Hamas deliberately attempted to draw fighting into urban terrain for political gain and often physically coerced Gazans to remain in areas Israel warned would be attacked. 550 rockets and mortars were identified as having been fired from civilian sites including mosques, schools and hospitals. Meanwhile, of the 2,125 Palestinians killed during the conflict, the report said 36 per cent were civilians and 44 per cent combatants. Had Hamas accepted an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire a week into the conflict, the report said 90 per cent of casualties would have been avoided.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commented that the report “presents the true fact that the actions carried out by the IDF were done in accordance to international law.” It comes soon before the expected publication of a United Nations’ Human Rights Council (UNHRC) commission report into the conflict. Israel declined to cooperate with the UNHRC investigation as the commission’s mandate appeared to target Israel, while the UNHRC itself has a track record of hostility towards Israel.

Meanwhile, a multi-national group of former-chiefs of staff, generals and politicians on Friday submitted a report to the United Nations summarising their own investigation into the IDF’s conduct during Operation Protective Edge. It concluded, “Israel not only met a reasonable international standard of observance of the laws of armed conflict, but in many cases significantly exceeded that standard.”

Monday, June 8, 2015

Rivlin urges “wake up” to challenge of Israeli society’s changing face


Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin used a major address yesterday evening to highlight the demographic changes facing Israeli society and their potential economic and sociological impact.

Speaking at the opening of the Herzliya Conference, a major policy gathering, Rivlin said that, “Israeli society is in need of a wake-up call.” Outlining the country’s changing demographic reality, he said, “Whether we like it or not, the makeup of the ‘stakeholders’ of Israeli society and of the State of Israel is changing before our eyes.”

In essence, said Rivlin, Israeli society is becoming increasingly fragmented and compartmentalised. He explained that in the mind-set of many Israelis, the country remains dominated by a large secular Zionist majority. In reality though, Rivlin noted that, “First-grade classes are composed of about 38 per cent secular Jews, about 15 per cent national-religious, about one-quarter Arabs, and close to a quarter ultra-Orthodox.” He described it as “a ‘new Israeli’ order… there is no longer a clear majority nor clear minority groups.” It is a configuration which Rivlin predicted “will have a profound impact on the way we understand ourselves and our national home.”

Giving two practical consequences of these changes, Rivlin said, “The mathematics is simple … If we do not reduce the current gaps in the rate of participation in the work force and in the salary levels of the Arab and ultra-Orthodox populations … Israel will not be able to continue to be a developed economy.” He added that “in the emerging Israeli order, more than half of the population does not serve in the military. So the different Israelis will meet for the first time, if at all, only in the work place.”

In addition, explained Rivlin, each sector is “educated toward a totally different outlook regarding the basic values and desired character of the State of Israel.” As a result, Israeli society will need to answer difficult questions to “balance the secular-liberal character of the State of Israel and the Zionist enterprise.”

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Netanyahu calls on PA to return to peace talks, drop delegitimisation.

Speaking at a press conference alongside Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Netanyahu reiterated “the only way we can achieve a lasting peace is through the concept of two states for two peoples – a demilitarised Palestinian state that recognises the Jewish nation state of Israel.” It is a position Netanyahu publicly declared last month in a similar setting with European Union foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini. Also last month, Netanyahu’s new government announced that it would “strive to reach a peace agreement” as part of its agreed policy guidelines and Interior Minister Silvan Shalom has since been appointed to head any future talks. The last round of peace talks, spearheaded by the United States, broke down in April 2014 after the PA agreed a unity government with Hamas.

Netanyahu said yesterday that he had discussed with Steinmeier, the “common quest to move forward on peace with the Palestinians” and to that end “I think the only way to move that is through direct negotiations … Unfortunately, the Palestinian Authority has moved away from these negotiations.” He urged Steinmeier to, “Tell the Palestinians to stop their campaign to delegitimise Israel … Tell them to get back to the negotiating table. Tell them that we should negotiate without preconditions.”

Speaking to his cabinet yesterday, Netanyahu elaborated on Palestinian efforts to exclude or attack Israel in international forums. On Friday, the Palestinian Football Association (FA) eventually dropped a motion to suspend Israel from FIFA, football’s world governing body. However, Netanyahu warned that the Palestinian FA initiative formed just part of “a great struggle being waged against the state of Israel, an international campaign to blacken its name.” At its core, said Netanyahu, “this campaign to delegitimise Israel … seeks to deny our very right to live here.”

Source: BICOM

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Religious group excludes non-Orthodox rabbis from Shavuot event The Tzavta Tel Aviv theater allows the snub for the second straight year.

Haaretz Newspaper, By Or Kashti | May 17, 2015

Tzohar, a group of moderate Zionist rabbis, has vetoed the participation of Reform and Conservative rabbis in this year’s all-night Shavuot study session next Saturdayat the Tzavta Tel Aviv theater.
A raft of political and religious leaders have thus criticized Tzavta for agreeing to cooperate with what some called the exclusion of non-Orthodox streams of Judaism. A similar dispute erupted at Shavuot last year, when Tzavta officials accepted the ban on the need “to build cooperation” with Tzohar. They said the policy was likely to change.

Leaders of Israel’s Conservative, or Masorti, movement, say they were told by Tzavta that such a change was a “long process” and that they should settle for the invitation sent to an official of the movement who is not a rabbi. “The secular community that plans to attend should know that it is not a pluralistic event that genuinely welcomes all streams of Judaism,” MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) said.

This year’s Tzohar-organized tikkun leyl will be the fifth all-night Shavuot study session at Tzavta. Tzohar describes itself on its website as “a powerful national movement of 1,000 Zionist rabbis and women volunteers who are leading the revolution for an ethical, inclusive & inspiring Jewish Israel.”

In promotional materials for the event, it says the annual affair “is considered one of the main tikkun leyl Shavuot events” and that is was “born out of curiosity and a desire to touch the various worlds and text comprising the mosaic of Jewish-Israeli identity.” The event’s leading organizers include MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid), Tzavta’s Gavri Bargil and Tzohar chairman Rabbi David Stav. Last year around 1,500 people of various levels of religious observance attended the event.

“After explicit, unequivocal promises last year that the refusal to have us would not be repeated, this year too it was decided to exclude non-Orthodox streams,” said the head of the Masorti Movement, Izhar Hess, who was invited to take part. “I’m not a rabbi and I don’t teach Judaism. That’s exactly what Tzohar seeks: the delegitimization of rabbis” who are not Orthodox, he said.

“Tzohar is a private organization that has the right to invite whomever it wants to its events,” says Tomer Persico, a fellow at the Elyachar Center for Studies in Sephardi Heritage at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. “The problem is that although the tikkun is defined as studying “the mosaic of identity,” in practice Tzohar is indicating who stays outside — non-Orthodox movements.

According to Tzohar, there is just one way to be Jewish, the Orthodox way. Secular Jews are invited to attend not because the Tzohar rabbis see secularism as a legitimate Jewish option, but because they see secular Jews as ‘babies who were captured,’” a Talmudic term for Jews who sin inadvertently because they were raised without the benefit of a proper Jewish education. Persico says that by cooperating with Tzohar’s exclusionary tactics, Tzavta helps to perpetuate the Orthodox stranglehold on Judaism in Israel.

Bargil rejects this criticism, saying that Tzavta “created the partnership with Tzohar in order to bring the various denominations closer together. That means all the speakers must be acceptable to all sides. After the participation of the non-Orthodox streams wasn’t supported last year,” Tzohar and Tzavta agreed that Reform and Conservative representatives, but not rabbis, would be invited to take part this year. Bargil said he hoped that next year rabbis from the non-Orthodox movements would be invited to lead sessions.

“Introducing social change requires great intelligence and patience. There are many tikkun layl Shavuot events for the general public, but the wisdom lies in bringing both religious and nonreligious people to the same place,” said Tzohar’s executive director, Rabbi Moshe Be’eri. “For that to succeed, there are boundaries that must be respected. That’s why we tried to be creative and invited the head of the Masorti Movement. The message can be the same; why insist that rabbis must be invited? I understand that it bothers them, but you have to take the long view.”