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Saturday, 18 June 2011

Israeli Women Get Politicised On Separation of Religion and State

Article first published as Israeli Women Get Politicised On Separation of Religion and State on Technorati.

WST - JERUSALEM 008Israel’s best-known feminist educator has called for women to join any political party to fight the monopoly of the Orthodox rabbinate on matters of personal status.

Professor Alice Shalvi, giving the opening address at Friday’s National Masorti Women’s Day Conference in Jerusalem, said:

“… because in Israel religion and politics are not separated as they are – and should be – in a true democracy, we must also be involved politically. The best way to do this is not just by voting in elections, but by joining a political party. No matter what your views on, for example, the Israel-Palestine conflict or the economy, we – YOU – can influence the party’s stance on the separation of religion and state.”

Israel Prize holder Professor Shalvi, aged almost 85 and the first woman rector of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, insisted:

“Only if we are politically involved can our Alice.Shalvivoices be heard … every one of us over the age of 18 can help ensure that the party whose policies we support on other matters also has religious freedom  - freedom of or from religion – as one of its goals.”

Professor Shalvi made her appeal to a packed audience of largely middle-aged women who had just been handed details of The Pluralism Forum which crosses the Israeli religious divide as an independent non-profit organisation.

The Forum was established last year by the often controversial New Israel Fund first to oppose special benefits for married Talmudic Academy (‘Yeshiva’) students while secular college students are ineligible for such payments.

Now the Forum has “initiated a campaign encouraging Israelis to act to strengthen pluralism in Israeli society” by promoting equal rights both for all branches of religious Judaism and also secular Jews.

While the Forum’s campaign literature urges readers to join a political party it states that “change can result from a strategic effort to assure that members in the next Knesset (Israel Parliament) will promote legislation to protect the democratic, Jewish and pluralistic nature of the State of Israel. Our goal is to achieve a more even balance between religion and state and to ensure that different sectors of Israeli society participate more evenly in the responsibilities and privileges of Israeli citizenship.”

  • Most of the pictures for this piece were taken at last year’s national conference by Simcha Hoffman, an ‘olah’ (immigrant) from Mexico  to Karmiel, Northern Israel.
  • The two women shown leading prayers by signing are Rabbi Judith Edelman-Green and Cantor Shulamit Resnick. Rabbi Edelman-Green is based at Kfar Saba while Cantor Resnick is soon to leave Karmiel for Modi’in.

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