Forward Thinking

Blaming the Messenger on E. Jerusalem Settlements

By Ron Kampeas

(JTA) — That Jerusalem building approval blow-up between the Netanyahu and Obama governments? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and pro-Israel media watchdogs like Honest Reporting are pressing the storyline that Peace Now is at fault. Which is kind of like blaming routers for the bad news you posted on the Internet.

Let’s review: On Sept. 24 the Interior Ministry published in Kol Ha’Ir, a free Jerusalem weekly, an “Announcement of a project approval.” It refers to plans to allow the building of 2,355 to 2,561 units in Givat HaMatos, in the area of Jerusalem that Palestinians claim as a future capital. Its key phrase is high up: “Building approvals and permits: A project that is authorized to issue approvals and permits.”

The language is important because, although the plan was approved in 2012, the ad signals the go-ahead for building; its publication makes it harder to reverse the proposal. Sept. 24, as it happens, was also the eve of Rosh Hashanah.

On Oct. 1 — yesterday, and the day Netanyahu met with Obama — Peace Now and Terrestrial Jerusalem noted the announcement’s publication. The building permit became an issue in the talks between Obama and Netanyahu and resulted an an unusually sharp rebuke from the White House.

Read more


How Israelis and Palestinians Cope — With Two Different Wars

By Naomi Zeveloff

Getty Images

The first thing I noticed when my shared taxi dropped me off in Jerusalem earlier this month were the flags. In the Beit Hakerem neighborhood where I was staying — a mostly secular Jewish area in southwest Jerusalem — balconies were strung with large Israeli flags and rows of miniature ones. Car antennas were adorned with pennants and ribbons. Even the neighborhood light rail station was donning blue and white, with flags flapping from the lampposts. This latter show of patriotism on public property was new, my host told me, since Operation Protective Edge began.

Jewish Israelis have supported the war with Gaza in overwhelming numbers. A much-cited Israeli Democracy Institute poll from late July said that more than 90% of them believed that the war is “just.” (Since the poll, truce talks have begun, and there was a major pro-peace rally in Tel Aviv a few days ago.)

The wall-to-wall blue and white stood in sharp contrast to colorful New York City, from which I had just arrived. There, the Gaza war was hotly disputed in the streets and in the press. The American Jewish community had largely rallied around Israel, saying the country has a right to defend itself against rocket fire from Hamas. But a small and vocal minority of Jews staged high-profile events to protest Israel’s campaign and the large civilian death toll. My Facebook and Twitter feeds were roiling with the debate. The images of death and wreckage from Gaza were inescapable.

Read more


I Remember Shock of First 'Price Tag' Attack

By Nathan Jeffay

The indictment today of three suspects for the revenge killing of the Palestinian teenager Muhammad Abu Khdeir has put this crime, knocked off the news agenda by the Hamas-Israel violence, back in people’s minds.

As I have watched the reaction over the last 12 days to the news that Khdeir does appear to have lost his life because of Jewish extremism, I am reminded again and again of the day I spent in the West Bank Palestinian village of Yasuf back in 2009.

I remember the charred smell inside the mosque, the signs if damage, the bewilderment of villagers. This was the first “price tag” attack on a place of worship. It shocked and mobilized Jewish Israelis, and the expressions of outrage - while nobody died of sustained injuries - have echoes in the expressions heard after the announcement last Sunday that the suspects in Khdeir ’s murder are Jewish.

There was never another Yasuf. There were attacks on places of worship, but the reaction the first time if happened was never replicated.

Perhaps the shock was a one-off feeling, and while the sadness each time is the same we are more ready to deal with it. But I can’t help thinking that we have become, to a degree, desensitised to attacks on places of worship.

The challenges facing Israelis at this difficult time are many. My hope is that, in the unfortunate but not unlikely event that a similar crime to the abduction-murder takes place, it will be met with the same straight of feeling that this one evoked.

Read more


Our Hope Is Not Yet Lost

By Eli Valley

The revenge killing of Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khudair has shaken up even those who normally have little reason to question their preconceived notions about the Israel-Palestinian dispute.

Eli Valley takes an insightful graphic look at one (fictional) American Jew’s crisis of confidence.

SCROLL DOWN TO ENLARGE.


Eli Valley is finishing his first novel. His website is www.evcomics.com, and he tweets @elivalley

Eli Valley
CLICK TO SEE FULL CARTOON

Read more


When 'Death to Arabs' Rings Out in Holy City

By Elisheva Goldberg

Israel is consumed with calls for revenge for the murders of three kidnapped students. But some are pushing back against the cycle of hate./Getty Images

The headlines in Israel this week have been overwhelming. First the bodies of the three kidnapped Israeli teenagers — Naftali Frenkel, Gil-ad Shaer and Eyal Yifrach — were found, buried, eulogized, and mourned by Jews in Israel and around the world. There were calls on both the digital and actual street for vengeance, and for settlement construction in the Knesset, and soon somebody took matters (one could nary say “justice”) into their own hands: The body of an Arab teenager named Mohammad Abu Khdair was found lifeless in the Jerusalem Forest yesterday morning.

The 16-year-old’s death has led to what is arguably the worst violence in East Jerusalem in the last decade, exacerbated tensions in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and has palpably darkened the Jerusalem summer sky.

A glimmer of sun, perhaps, through this week’s haze, came yesterday at an event put together by Tag Meir and its partners, an anti-racism organization that has been the loudest Jewish vocal response to price-tag (“tag mechir”) attacks perpetrated most often by radical settlers who attack Palestinians or their property. The event gathered some 1,000 Israelis in Jerusalem’s Cat Square, not one block away from Zion Square where, the night before, some 47 anti-Arab rioters were arrested by Israeli police before they could turn into a full-blown lynch mob, or worse.

Tamar, an art and theater student in yellow earrings and short bangs, told me that she had come to the Tag Meir event because “Yesterday, I experienced something awful.” She had been sitting on her balcony in the center of town when she heard the shouts “death to the Arabs!”

She went down to the street, only to quickly find herself a human shield, situated between the police, a few Arabs, and the mob. “It opened my eyes,” she said. “They had murder in their eyes… In that moment, I didn’t want to be Jewish.” And so, despite being less than politically engaged by her own admission, Tamar came to the event yesterday. She was looking for a way to express her fear and frustration at the violence that is threatening to sweep this city off its feet. She — and many others — weren’t looking for politics. She was looking for light in the darkness.

Read more


Why Israeli Thirst for Revenge Is Profoundly Un-Jewish

By Hody Nemes

Palestinians clash with Israeli police in East Jerusalem after an Arab teen was killed / Getty Images

The Torah sternly commands us to pursue justice (“Justice, justice, shall you pursue”) — but it leaves revenge to God.

That thought should resonate in our ears like a thunderclap after the discovery of a body in the Jerusalem forest. Israeli authorities fear that a Palestinian teenager, Mohammed Abu Khudair, was kidnapped and murdered in a suspected revenge killing for the murders of three Israeli boys, Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Fraenkel, and Gilad Shaar. If their fears are confirmed, this horrifying murder should provide a wake-up call to Israeli society and to all of us feeling anger over the murders of the Jewish teens.

As soon as the boys’ deaths were announced, calls for vengeance rang out in Israel. In just 24 hours, a new Israeli Facebook page, “The Nation of Israel Wants Revenge,” gained over 35,000 likes.

Read more


Israel Gets Gender-Segregated Elevator — Finally!

By Sigal Samuel

Gender-segregated elevator in Jerusalem / Walla

Apparently, gender-segregated classrooms, playgrounds, buses, sidewalks and healthcare centers aren’t enough. Now Israel has gender-segregated elevators.

Yosef Cohen, the owner of Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox event venue Armonot Chen, has started divvying up elevator space using a nylon mechitza, with stickers inside and outside the elevator directing men to one side and women to the other.

“There are people who want to guard their eyes on the wedding day,” Cohen explained in an interview with Walla news. “If four men and four women enter the elevator, how will they behave? This way there is a mechitza and this solves the problem.”

Phew! Finally, we can rest easy knowing that Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox couples aren’t going to be canoodling — in groups of eight, no less — on their way up to their friends’ wedding ceremonies! I was really worried about that one for a while, you guys.

Read more


‘Go to Hell, Leftist’ and Other Jerusalem Day Slogans

By Leanne Gale

The crowd enters Jerusalem’s Old City singing racist chants / A. Daniel Roth Photography

As I made my way out of the Muslim Quarter, the dark alleyways suddenly seemed too quiet. Just moments before, crowds of ultranationalist Jewish celebrants had marched through this same space shouting “Death to Arabs.” Children had banged against shuttered Palestinian homes with wooden sticks and Israeli police had stood by as teenagers chanted “Muhammad is dead.” Now, all that remained were eerie remnants of their presence: “Kahane Tzadak” (Kahane was right) stickers plastered over closed Palestinian shops and the ground littered with anti-Muslim flyers. As Israeli police and soldiers began to unblock closures, Palestinian residents of the Muslim Quarter cautiously ventured outside. This is the only time I cried.

Jerusalem Day marks the anniversary of the Israeli conquest of East Jerusalem in 1967. The March of Flags has become an annual tradition in which thousands of ultranationalist Jewish celebrants parade through the city waving Israeli flags. It culminates in a dramatic march through the Muslim Quarter, generally accompanied by racist slogans and incitement to violence. Israeli police arrive in the area earlier in the day, sealing off entry to Palestinian residents “for their own safety.” Those Palestinians who live in the Muslim Quarter are encouraged to close their shops and stay indoors, while any Palestinian counter-protest is quickly dispersed.

Growing up at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Long Island, I have fond memories of Jerusalem Day. We celebrated every year with school-wide assemblies and dances, singing “Sisu et Yerushalayim” (Rejoice in Jerusalem) and “Jerusalem of Gold” with pride. Even in high school, I never knew the political significance of the day or imagined that my joy might be at someone else’s expense. Today, I know better.

Read more


Why Jerusalem Day Is One Big Lie

By Emily L. Hauser

(Haaretz) — Jerusalem Day, we’re told, celebrates the reunification of Israel’s eternal capital, symbolizing “the continued historical connection of the Jewish people to Jerusalem.” It’s a moment to remember that, as Prime Minister Netanyahu once said, “Israel without Jerusalem is like a body without a heart.”

So we’re told, and so the vast majority of Jews in Israel and abroad believe. Jerusalem is our heart, our soul – a small, holy spot on the map around which everything else revolves. So we’re told.

Except that it’s a lie. “Jerusalem” – as currently constituted, featured on maps, and represented by Israel’s government – is not eternal. It is not undivided. And it is certainly not holy.

The geographic location to which Jewish hearts have turned for millennia is small, corresponding roughly to today’s Old City; the holy part – the area on which the Israelites were commanded to establish a resting place for the Divine Presence – is more modest still, consisting of the Temple Mount. When we stand before the Western Wall, or orient ourselves toward it in worship, we’re weaving our prayers and longings with those of all Jews, reaching across miles and years and touching the core of that which holds us in community.

Zionism stems from that faith experience, but is not identical to it. Zionism is a modern idea, a nationalist movement which, like all nationalist movements, centers on a shared language, culture, and land. That’s why Uganda was nixed as an alternative – because the Jewish people’s shared land is anchored by our holy city.

Read more


Should I Die for Passover?

By Nathan Jeffay

Photo credit: Getty Images

This week is prime time for Passover shopping and cleaning. But in Jerusalem, hundreds of people will be engaged in a very different type of preparation for the festival — witnessing the slaughter of a lamb, just like in the olden days.

The Seder has its origins in ancient times, when the Israelites slaughtered, roasted and ate lambs — Paschal lambs.

According to the Torah, the Children of Israel were commanded “in perpetuity” to sacrifice a young lamb or goat on the anniversary of the Exodus. But this sacrifice was to be conducted in the Temple, and was therefore suspended after the Temple’s destruction nearly two millennia ago. With some innovation from rabbis the Seder morphed in to the more domestic affair we know today.

Contemporary Seders, with their many commemorations of the sacrifice, such as the shank bone on the Seder plate, are largely a tribute to the offering. But some Israelis want to go a step further.

In a few hours, in a yeshiva in the neighborhood of Kiryat Moshe, a religious non-profit will give a demonstration of the original Paschal service. Their slaughterer will kill a lamb as a choir sings of praise, and as a state veterinary inspector looks on. He will then sprinkle the blood as-per Biblical instruction. The lamb will be roasted and, as-per the Biblical procedure, everyone in attendance — men and women — will get a portion. The diners will include rabbis from a broad ideological spectrum within Orthodoxy.

“Passover is not about matzo ball soup; it’s about the Passover offering,” Chaim Richman, International Director of the Temple Institute which is running the event, commented to Forward Thinking.

Referring to the reams of rabbinic texts written on the Paschal sacrifice he said that is important, educationally, to give a more vivid insight in to what it looked like. “The logistics is a Jewish art discussed and clarified throughout the generations,” he said.

He said that the slaughter is poignant, as lambs were considered sacred in the ancient world when the sacrifice was instituted. The ceremony is “literally to slaughter all of the idolatry in the entire world and stand up for what we believe in, namely one God,” said Richman.

While the Temple Institute has been known to stray from religious education to politics, in its quest to increase Jewish rights on Temple Mount, it didn’t attempt to hold this even on or near Temple Mount, where it may have increased Jewish-Arab tensions. However, as the Forward has reported,, in previous years right-wing activist has tried to organize a sacrifice there, but was stopped by Israeli authorities.

Read more


Netanyahu's Fake Jerusalem Stalls Peace

By Emily L. Hauser

Benjamin Netanyahu / Getty Images

Last week we learned that Israel’s government is advancing plans for another 2,269 settler homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem; 144 are planned for the Jerusalem settlement neighborhood of Har Homa.

Discussion surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict tends to focus on minutiae, or the broad sweep of an entire century; our frames of reference rarely allow us to discern patterns within the broader picture. In geopolitics, however, the patterns found in any nation’s behavior are often determinative – such as, for instance, the pattern we find expressed in Har Homa.

Har Homa is located in what is inaccurately called (by everyone, including me) “East Jerusalem.” The inaccuracy becomes clear as soon as you look at a map: Har Homa is actually south of the Green Line that demarcates internationally recognized Israel from the West Bank; it’s southwest of the Old City. Much of the Palestinian land that Israel has annexed in its decades-long push to turn what was once tiny Jewish Jerusalem into a behemoth of land and resources is east of the historically Jewish part of the city, but much of it is not. Another well-known settlement neighborhood, Pisgat Ze’ev, is to the north, as is French Hill. A more accurate term would be “Palestinian Jerusalem” or, in the case of Har Homa (which was never any part of anyone’s Jerusalem) “the West Bank.”

Every settlement is a political statement – “here we sit, we will not be moved” – but Har Homa’s is particularly blunt: Established in 1997, four years after the Oslo Accords were signed, Israel’s then-Prime Minister was very clear about Har Homa’s purpose: “The battle for Jerusalem has begun. We are now in the thick of it, and I do not intend to lose.” Who was that Prime Minister? Benjamin Netanyahu.

Read more


Handing the Western Wall to the Judaizers

By Emily L. Hauser

Wikipedia

Quick, if you’re a settler-dominated government uninterested in sharing Jerusalem with the Palestinian people, what’s a good way to telegraph your position without raising a ruckus?

Well, one good way would be to turn over a sizable portion of Judaism’s holiest site to the management of a maximalist settler group — which is precisely what Israel’s government is about to do.

Haaretz reported on Monday that settlement organization Elad—City of David Foundation stands to be granted the management of the Western Wall’s southern section — not the section most people visit, but the part to the south of the rampart up to the Temple Mount itself, where the Jerusalem Archaeological Park/Davidson Center are located.

Elad is best known, perhaps, for its management of the City of David (Ir David) archeological excavations, which it has turned into a right-wing propaganda center, eliding Palestinian history in the city, ignoring findings that don’t support a Jewish-only narrative, and in the process of expanding its work, damaging (or simply claiming) the property of Palestinians living in the surrounding neighborhood, Silwan.

Read more


The Jewish Bloodbath We Caused — and Forgot

By Daniel Roth

“Do you kids have a permit to hang up all of these posters around the city?” the policeman asked. “Permit?” my friend and I questioned in response. “We are trying to raise public awareness about baseless hatred, and destructive conflict, and you’re asking us for a permit?” Yet, after several hours in the sweltering heat of a downtown Jerusalem police station, we reconsidered the idea of advertising the 9th of Av as a day warning against baseless hatred along religious and political divides.

Twenty years later, Jews and Jewish communities are still very much conflicted and divided. Now, with a few more friends, and as the director of the Pardes Center for Judaism and Conflict Resolution, I find myself once again attempting to promote a Jewish day of constructive conflict — only this time it’s not on the 9th of Av, but on the 9th of Adar.

You may be wondering, “The 9th of Adar? What exactly happened on that day?” If so, you’re not alone. I had never heard about the 9th of Adar until a year and half ago,when I came upon it by chance one Friday night at shul. What I would later discover was that on the 9th of Adar, approximately 2,000 years ago, the initially peaceful and constructive conflict or machloket l’shem shamayim (dispute for the sake of Heaven) between the two great Jewish schools of thought, Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai, erupted into a violent and destructive conflict over 18 legal matters — many of which had to do with how open or closed to be towards non-Jews.

Read more


Jerusalem Protest Breeds Color War, Not Civil War

By Elisheva Goldberg

Settler youth bear signs reading “Girls of Israel for the nation of Israel,” “A king’s daughter doesn’t date a non-Jew,” and “No more assimilation!” / Elisheva Goldberg

Last night in Jerusalem, Arabs and Jews (well, mostly Jews) got together at an event called “Pashut Sharim” or “Just Singing,” a four-year-old initiative funded primarily by Hillel and the Pratt Foundation that brings Arabs and Jews together in song. In practice, given that the event took place in the heart of West Jerusalem’s hippie-cum-hipster Nachlaot neighborhood, there were very few Arabs present. But that didn’t seem to matter to the settler youth who came out to protest the Arab-Jewish mingling. Nor did it stop the liberal-lefty students from counter-protesting. Sure, last night’s protest bears witness to the intense power of political ideology that can cleave a nation in two. But the fight is also…really fun.

The subject of the protest was Jewish assimilation, the supposition being that Arab men, if allowed to inhabit the same space as Jewish women, would either tempt them into intermarriage or simply seize them without a second thought. It was organized by the ultra-right organization LEAVA, whose acronym stands for “Preventing Assimilation in the Holy Land.” It’s a group run by Benzi Gopstein, an outspoken Kahanist and elder statesmen of the Hilltop Youth. He founded the organization with the explicit belief that the purpose of Israel — indeed, Zionism itself — is to keep Jewish people Jewish. His activities to ensure such a state of affairs are as intrusive as they are varied.

Last year, he wrote a letter to Mark Zuckerberg beseeching him not marry to his long-time non-Jewish girlfriend. One of LEAVA’s fantastical promotional videos shows a Jewish girl being wooed by an Arab man only to find herself caged, beaten, and wearing a naqab (face-veil), though she is eventually emancipated by a smiling Gopstein who leads her back the Kotel. Most recently, he made an appearance on Israeli talk shows where he advised Netanyahu on how to convince his son to break up with the Norwegian woman he’s dating.

Read more


How Long Is the Road From Jerusalem to Damascus?

By Michael Kaplan

Have you ever tried Google Mapping the directions from Jerusalem to Damascus? I have, and the site’s recommendations came as a bit of a shock.

I decided to look up the travel route after reading Mairav Zonszein’s blog post about how the recent snowstorm in Israel reminded her of that country’s geographical connectedness to the wider Middle East. Specifically, she writes, “there were once open roads and railways that connected Damascus to Jerusalem.” She’s right — though you’d never know it from Googling.

Once upon a time, life was pretty calm along Israel’s northern borders. Until the late 1970s, Israeli farmers from the town of Metula would toil their agricultural lands in the Ayoun Valley inside Lebanon.

And going even further back, open roads used to connect the now war-engulfed city of Damascus to cities that are today in Israel.

Things, however, have changed. Today, Israel’s northern borders with Lebanon and Syria are highly fortified and overseen by United Nations peacekeeping forces. The Good Fence (as it was called until 2000) separated Israel from Lebanon. It’s now legally referred to as the Blue Line and demarcates the highly secured, U.N.-mandated border.

Read more


One Man's Jewish Temple Mount Crusade

By Renee Ghert-Zand

There is no single place in Jerusalem as politically sensitive as the site that Jews call the Temple Mount, and Muslims call the Haram al-Sharif, or noble sanctuary.

In the past couple of decades, there have been riots and violent confrontations there. The Second Intifada erupted in 2000 after Ariel Sharon, then leader of Israel’s right-wing opposition, visited the Temple Mount.

While Israel annexed the Temple Mount and all of East Jerusalem after their capture in the 1967 Six Day War, the Muslim group known as the Waqf manages the site. Freedom of access to the area is enshrined in Israeli law. However, for security reasons, Israeli police enforces a ban on Jewish and other non-Muslim prayer there.

Recently, right-wing religious Zionists have been pushing to change the status quo on the Temple Mount. They want the Israeli government to assert its sovereignty over what Jews revere as the site of the first and second holy temples. These activists have gained support from elements within the current government, especially members of the Jewish nationalist Habayit Hayehudi party.

While the Waqf is in favor of tourists of all kinds visiting the area, it is wary of Jewish religious fanatics who might want to damage or destroy the Dome of the Rock and other Muslim sites. Some ultra-religious Jews believe it’s their responsibility to do so in order to clear the path for construction of a third temple.

Yehudah Glick, an American immigrant to Israel, professional tour guide and Temple Mount activist, was arrested on October 10 and barred by the Israeli police from the site. He began a hunger strike in protest, ending last Thursday after 12 days, when his permission to ascend to the Temple Mount was reinstated.

The Forward asked Glick about his being barred from the Temple Mount, his hunger strike, and why he believes Jews should have full access to the site.

Read more


Debate Occupation? No Thanks, We're Jewish.

By Larry Cohler-Esses

getty images

During a recent visit to the Forward’s newsroom, Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, was brimming with enthusiasm for the upcoming annual gathering of local Jewish charity federations nationwide, known as the General Assembly, which will take place this year not in the United States, but in Jerusalem.

The GA’s 2013 program, he stressed, will emphasize the group’s openness to “dialogue” and “questions,” particularly from young Jews, with no holds barred.

“We need new thinking, new minds around the table,” emphasized Silverman, a former senior executive with the Stride Rite Corp. and Levi Strauss & Co.

But asked if the confab — one of the most important on the Jewish calendar — would include any discussion of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Silverman vigorously shook his head. His body language told a story of its own as he held his hands out in front of him as if pushing something away.

“I don’t use the word ‘occupation,’” he said. “We as an organization don’t get into the political arena.”

Yet on its website devoted exclusively to the GA, JFNA boasts that the gathering “tackles the most critical issues of the day” and brings together Jews “from North America and Israelis from across the political spectrum to discuss issues facing Israel.”

One such session advertised on the GA website promises to address one of Israel’s most sensitive political issues: the question, as JFNA puts it, of the Israeli rabbinate’s “absolute control over marriage and divorce in Israel.”

The JFNA summary of the session asks: “Should the Orthodox establishment continue to have exclusive authority over marriage and divorce in the Jewish State?” and details a panel consisting of feminists, civil libertarians, business people and a representative of the Reform Judaism movement — but no representative of Israel’s Orthodox establishment.

Read more


Nir Barkat Win Boosts Secular Jerusalem

By Nathan Jeffay

getty images

Jerusalem’s mayor Nir Barkat, widely credited with shoring up Jerusalem’s secular credentials, has won another five-year term in the local election.

Like other cities across Israel, Jerusalem held local elections yesterday. But while in most other locales the races were mostly about schooling and clean streets, in Jerusalem the race became about deeper issues of identity and religion.

In the last elections, five years ago, the ultra-Orthodox mayor Uri Lupolianski lost power. Haredim felt that they had lost their ability to shape the public space in Jerusalem. In this race, Barkat’s main challenger Moshe Lion was expected to return some of this influence to Haredim if elected.

For example, it was predicted that he would to give the all-important planning portfolio on the council to the Haredi Shas party, which would have meant a spike in provision for synagogues, yeshivot and housing for the Haredi sector.

Barkat won with 51.1% of the vote, while Lion got 45.3%. The Jerusalem result, in part, points to a process of secular and other non-Haredi Jerusalemites reclaiming their city. They see changes that Barkat has made, such as the establishment of a recreation venue that is open on Shabbat, and like his approach. However, there is also another factor that contributed to Barkat’s win.

Read more


Rav Ovadia Yosef Was Provocative Bigot

By Aaron Magid

News of the death of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, a towering religious and political figure in Israel, plunged millions into mourning.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Yosef “was imbued with love for Torah and his people.” President Shimon Peres cut short a meeting with Czech Prime Minister upon hearing of Rav Ovadia’s death. Ordinary people fainted with emotion and grief.

Even amid this outpouring, we should not forget Yosef’s true colors: He was a racist and inflammatory bigot.

It is true that Yosef was an instrumental and often lenient religious arbitrator throughout his decades-long career. He famously ruled that widows of Isreali soldiers who went missing in the 1973 Yom Kippur War should be allowed to remarry. When large number of Soviet Jews arrived in Israel in the 1970’s and it was unclear if they were really Jewish by traditional, rabbinic standards, Yosef found a way to ensure that they would be accepted as legitimate members of the Jewish community.

At the same time, we should not be blinded by his political or religious importance to his shameful discriminatory language. When Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, Yosef said black Americans brought the disaster on themselves.

“There are terrible natural disasters because there isn’t enough Torah study,” he said. “Black people reside there (in New Orleans) Blacks will study the Torah? (God said), ‘let’s bring a tsunami and drown them.”

The rabbi’s offensive talk was not limited to the African American community. In 2007, Yosef explained that some Israeli soldiers are killed in battle because they are not observant enough.

Read more


No Need for Directions to Rav Ovadia's Funeral

By Ben Sales

getty images

(JTA) — I didn’t need to ask directions.

Stepping out of the Central Bus Station, I saw them, men in hats and coats walking together slowly, a steady stream moving east along one of Jerusalem’s central thoroughfares to the funeral of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. At 5 p.m., an hour before the funeral, the streets were already closed to cars – the capital’s rush-hour rigmarole giving way to foot traffic that was softer but no less intense.

From a distance it looked homogenous –aerial photographs would later show a sea of black choking the broad avenues of haredi Orthodox northern Jerusalem. But as the group coalesced, men in polo shirts mixed with boys in sweatshirts and soldiers in full uniform – some still holding their guns. Knit kippot bobbed in the crowd with black hats, Sephardi haredim in wide fedoras walked with Ashkenazi hasids in bowlers. A man in a black coat made conversation with another in short sleeves. Women, almost all with modest dress and vastly outnumbered, mostly stood to the side.

The men talked, they shook hands. A few took out their cellphones, perhaps not ready to begin the public mourning of a public leader who, to many, still felt so close. Everyone in Israel knew Ovadia Yosef’s name, but in public his followers would hardly use it, opting instead to call him Maran, our master.

On the sidewalk, a half-dozen men stood at a long table offering a sugary orange drink. Behind them, a speaker blared a recording on loop, quoting a common blessing:

“’To give life to every living soul!’ Come say a blessing over a cold drink to benefit the soul of Maran, may his holy righteous memory be blessed!”

The faithful heeded the call, crowding around a spigot, holding cheap plastic cups that formed a growing pile on the ground once the commandment was fulfilled.

Behind them, on the street, men and boys stood with oversize tins collecting charity. Paper printouts taped to the cans promised that Maran approved of the collection.

Read more



Would you like to receive updates about new stories?






















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.