Israel News for August 11, 2015

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Conversion Controversy
A group of prominent religious zionist rabbis have established a Bet Din (religious court) to perform conversions. They performed their first conversion on a group of minors on Monday. The Chief Rabbinate along with almost all charedi rabbis are vehemently against this court.

The Chief Rabbinate has always had sole jurisdiction for all matters pertaining to marriage, divorce, death and conversions in the State of Israel. That means that only the courts established or sanctioned by the Chief Rabbinate can perform conversions. This wasn’t much of a problem until the 1990’s, when the Soviet Union collapsed and over a million Jews from behind the iron curtain immigrated to Israel. While they were considered eligible for the Right of Return by Israeli law simply by having a single Jewish grandparent, according to the Jewish religious law (halacha) that states that only the child of a Jewish mother is considered to be Jewish, at least a third of the immigrants weren’t technically Jewish.

Many of these “non Jewish“ Jews formally converted in the army via special army sanctioned religious courts or through the regular rabbinate court system. But when some leading rabbis noticed that these converts weren’t following Jewish law after their conversions, they sounded the alarm and pressured the charedi controlled Chief Rabbinate to prevent or even retract what they considered to be invalid conversions.

Most rabbis associated with the religious zionist camp disagreed with the Chief Rabbinate and felt that the Rabbinate had an obligation to allow these Israelis with Jewish fathers (but not mothers), many of whom were serving in the IDF and fully integrated into Israeli society, to convert and become officially recognized by the religious courts.

Conversion supporters attempted to pass a conversion reform bill in the Knesset which would have allowed the chief rabbis of every city and town to set up their own conversion courts. This would allow potential converts to use religious courts in cities with pro conversion chief rabbis. The bill passed initially, but was subsequently canceled just last month under pressure from the new government’s charedi coalition partners.

Fed up with the opposition of the Chief Rabbinate to easing their restrictions on conversion, the religious zionist rabbis, lead by many prominent rabbinic figures, have finally said enough is enough and have formed their own conversion court. The court is focusing primarily on converting minors who are already attending religious schools, which is permissible according to a great many prominent rabbinic experts (poskim).

Even though they seem to have a solid basis in Jewish law, the new conversion court is vehemently opposed by the Chief Rabbinate, which is basically run by the charedi establishment. There doesn’t seem to be any way that the Chief Rabbinate and charedi rabbinic authorities will ever accept the new court and the conversions that they perform. On the other hand, there’s no way that the religious zionist rabbis can accept the stringent ruling of the Chief Rabbinate that they believe to be incorrect and harmful to Jewish continuity in Israel.

Since the Chief Rabbinate controls all marriage registration in the country, it is unlikely that these converts will be allowed to marry in the future, unless they change their position. The alternative would be for the religious zionist rabbis to overturn the Rabbinate’s authority and perform the marriages, which would likely spell the end of the Chief Rabbinate. This battle is just beginning to heat up and the religious status of thousands hang in the balance.

Force Feeding
Palestinian prisoner Mohammed Allaan, a member of Islamic Jihad who has been on a hunger strike for 54 days, was transferred yesterday under heavy security from Be’er Sheva’s Soroka Medical Center to Ashkelon’s Barzilai Medical Center. Apparently, doctors at Soroka, backed by the Israel Medical Association (IMA), have indicated that they will refuse to force-feed him against his will if ordered to do so. The IMA claims that force-feeding constitutes torture and treating a patient against his will violates medical ethics. It is known to be a highly invasive and painful process that can be life threatening if executed on a struggling patient.

A hunger strike law was passed in the Knesset last week whereby the state can force-feed hunger strikers whose lives are in danger, even against their will. Although Allaan is currently in intensive care he is not thought to be in mortal danger, so doctors can still not force him to accept food or medical treatment. He would be the first prisoner to be force fed under the new law.

The US has force fed prisoners in Guantanamo Bay and the practice is legal in certain states.

Last year there were 724 prisoners that went on hunger strikes in Israel. This year there have been 30. Last month Israel freed another Islamic Jihad member after 56 days of hunger strike that nearly killed him.

Doctors at Barzilai have also indicated that they will refuse an order to force- feed Allaan against his will, saying their ethical considerations are no different from those at Soroka and they will not force feed him as long as he is conscious. Looks like finding a hospital to carry out the law won’t be that easy.

Dog Walkers Attacked
A husband and wife from a settlement in Samaria took their dog out for a morning run. When they took a shortcut near a neighboring Arab village they were noticed by a few Arabs who quickly sounded the alarm. Suddenly, the couple found themselves confronted by about 20 men from the village accompanied by European activists with cameras. The Arabs started throwing rocks at the couple and shouted death threats.

The couple tried to explain that they were just out for a run and had no intentions of entering their village. It didn’t work. Luckily they were able to run away and alert the security forces, who then entered the village to search for the attackers. The couple weren’t harmed and will most likely be changing their jogging route. [source]

Violent Charedi Protests
There were violent demonstrations by charedim in the Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem yesterday protesting the arrest of a yeshiva student who hadn’t properly arranged his draft deferment and the attempt to forcibly draft a young woman from Elad who hadn’t bothered applying for a religious exemption. Demonstrators threw stones at police and at firefighters who arrived to extinguish burning garbage bins set on fire by the demonstrators. Three suspects were arrested for attacking policemen. It’s unclear what happened to the draft dodging yeshiva student, but there seem to be plenty of battle ready men among the demonstrators.