One of the greatest challenges in Israel is that of religion and state. As a Jewish State founded on democratic principles, personal status, and life events such as marriage, divorce, conversion, burial etc., often become ensnared between the two ideals.When the State was founded, religious affairs were ceded to the Ultra-Orthodox. As most of the population is not Ultra Orthodox, the strict interpretation of Jewish law that governs religious affairs here has played a part in the growing distance of many Israelis have from their traditional heritage.  Demographic differences have increased dramatically as immigrants from all over the world, including North Africa, Ethiopia, and the former Soviet Union have become an important part of Israeli society.  The arrival of Russian speaking grandchildren of people who had to give up their Judaism in order to survive, has introduced new challenges that the religious institutions were not designed to address.

Solutions to these challenges must be found and they must be found in the face of resistance from the leaders of the ultra-orthodox establishment. The liberties of a significant number of Israeli citizens are affected, and our failure to meet these challenges detracts from the democratic nature of the State and the strength of the relationship of Israelis to Jewish tradition.

The IZS sees the balance between Israel’s Jewish character and the liberty of the individual as the Golden Mean.  It is from this perspective that we have conducted our research and advise Knesset and other committees and panels that address these issues. Staff members research position papers and draft proposals for new laws to ensure effective delivery of religious services to all citizens who seek them. Our influence contributes to the strengthening of respect and preservation of Jewish law and tradition while at the same time providing citizens with solutions to modern challenges and empowering them to express their individual orientations.

Position Papers on Religion & State:

Official Days of rest Around the World

Another Saturday of Football?

Taxation of Kabbalists in Israel

Mikvas in Israel Part II

Mikvas in Israel Part I

Summary of 19th Knesset Activities Concerning State and Religion

Burial of Non-Jewish Soldiers

Analysis of the Proposed Conversion Law

The Kashrut Structure

The Israeli Shabbath

The Race for Jurisdiction

The Conversion Crisis in Israel

Sabbath and Jewish Holiday law

Rabbinical Appointments in Israeli Cities

Ethnic-Based Duplication in the Israeli Rabbinate

New Comparative Study: National Symbols in Democratic Countries

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In advance of this year’s Yom Ha’atzamaut (Independence Day), we released another publication in the series of comparative studies conducted within the framework of the ‘Israel and the Nations’ project in which we demonstrate thatthat Israel maintains a discriminatory policy vis-à-vis its minorities, are groundless.

The study, conducted in conjunction with the ‘National Vision’ movement, surveys a large number of democratic nation states, shows the connection between their national anthem, flag and emblem, and the nationality of their founding community, and proves that the attempts to present Israel as an apartheid state, are wholly unfounded.

We thank the team that conducted the study: Noa Lazimi (you can listen to Noa’s interview with Michael Miro here – [Hebrew]), Almog Turgeman, Omer Arica and Adi Arbel. An article about the study can be read here (Hebrew).

For the full study

Israeli Hamshoosh

By | In the News, Religion and State | No Comments

Written by Yair Berlin, Eitan Yarden,

Aviad Houminer and Ariel Finkelstain

The idea of fixing another official day of rest in the State of Israeli has come up on numerous occasions in the course of public debate, as well as in the Knesset, since the year 2000. Traditionally speaking, those advocating an additional official day of rest for the Israeli economy propose Sunday. The most serious proposal to be submitted thus far suggested that most of Sunday’s work hours be made up on Friday, which would, in turn, become a part-time work day, while the remaining hours would be made up by adding half an hour to each work day, Monday through Thursday. Those in favor of the move made the following claims: Such a move would strengthen the Israeli economy by making it compatible with Western economies around the world in terms of rest and work days; it would also strengthen the various fields of culture, sports and tourism and render numerous solutions – aimed at settling the religious status of the Sabbath – feasible.
The writers of this position paper believe that the claims made in favor of the new national work schedule and its ability to promote new regulation with regards to the status of the Sabbath are exaggerated. It is possible, though, that as part of an overall arrangement regarding the status of the Sabbath, such a proposal might take the edge off some of the more heated points of dispute; however, a broader view of the Sabbath issue suggests that the subject proposal should be considered as no more than a minor tool in this regard. It is not an essential component. The central focal point in any arrangement settling the official status of the Sabbath must be one that offers solutions from within the current Sabbath framework with adjustments to make it more amenable to all levant parties.
As to the claims of economic benefit from such a step, an inter-ministerial committee which examined the proposed change, headed by Israel’s National Economic Council, pointed to numerous negative economic consequences. It was the committee’s opinion that the main disadvantage of the proposal lies in the fact that by turning Friday into a short work day, and extending work hours on other weekdays, productivity will be reduced, resulting in a lower GDP and ultimately in less money for every citizen. For this reason, all the central economic bodies in Israel have objected to the proposal, claiming that it would harm Israel’s economy. Some other significant objections were made claiming the move was unfeasible due to the heavy traffic congestion that would result from the partial work day on Fridays, and also because significant entities like the IDF and parts of the education system would not fit in with the new work schedule, thus making it even less feasible. The Moslem and Druze communities, comprising about 20% of Israel’s population, have also voiced their objection to the move, which would turn Friday – regarded by them as a sacred day – into a an official, albeit part-time, work day. Although the committee agreed that the move would be advantageous to sports and cultural activities in light of the numerous disadvantages. It decided to reject the proposal.
Two different public opinion polls concerning this matter show that about 50% of the public supports the proposal, while 43-44% oppose it, even if it entailed a reduction in work hours. Among the supporters, many said that if the move would harm their personal finances in any way, they would oppose it.
In light of the above, this position paper proposes a change of course in the public debate. We advocate making Friday a full day of rest, thus creating a long weekend, beginning Thursday night and ending Sunday morning. We believe that most of the advantages to sports and culture resulting from a day off on Sunday, can also be achieved by means of this proposal, with a special focus on integrating religiously observant athletes in sports competitions.
Our proposal also fits in nicely with the recommendation of the Dovrat Committee to cancel school studies on Friday, resulting in a 5 day school week which is common in most Western countries. This would also save large sums of money. The proposition to cancel school studies on Friday has also received the support of parents’ unions, which have long advocated contiguity brtween the school and work weeks. An additional advantage, is that Friday, a sacred day for Moslems and Druze, also becomes a national day of rest. The very fact that the State will recognize Friday as an official day of rest will serve to strengthen ties between these groups and the State, and might even strengthen the integration of these groups into the labor market. In contrast to the proposal promoting Sunday as the official day of rest which would be very costly, declaring Friday as an official day of rest involves minor costs so that the change is more feasible.
Furthermore, in the appendix to this position paper there is a proposition for employers and employees to reduce the work hours on Thursday by two, while extending the other work days by a half hour, thus enhancing the quality of the Israeli Hamshoosh – an extended weekend beginning Thursday afternoon, including Friday and Saturday as official days of rest.

to the full research…

Official Days of rest Around the World

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Written by Ariel Finkelstien and Tomer Yahud


This study examines the laws of commerce and employment on the official day of rest in most of the developed countries around the world :

1. Rest Days: In the overwhelming majority of developed countries, most of the citizens work Monday-Friday while Saturday and Sunday serve as rest days. In general however, countries do not set Saturday as an official day of rest, and only some countries declare Sunday as a rest day.

2. The Scope of Restrictions: While most Western European countries have various restrictions on commercial activity on the rest day, in the majority of countries in North America, Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, East Asia and Oceania there are no such significant restrictions.

The most distinctive finding arising from the study is a global trend of decline in restrictions on commercial activity on rest days. This trend began in the 1970’s, intensified during the 1990’s, and reached its peak in recent years in Europe with the reduction of restrictions on commerce on the day of rest in Italy, Spain, France, Greece, Portugal, Finland, the Netherlands and Denmark although some of these countries still maintain significant restrictions. In practice, South Korea is the only country in which restrictions were increased in recent years. Nonetheless, even today there are still a considerable number of countries – such as Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany and Norway – in which almost no commercial activity is permitted on the rest day.

3. Types of Restrictions: There are a number of different types of restrictions on trade activity on rest days: Total restriction on commerce with vut s few exceptions; the designation of a number of Sundays on which commercial activity is permitted; the granting of decision-making powers to local government; the restriction of the activity of businesses of a certain size (measured by area); the imposition of restrictions or the granting of exceptions to certain sectors.

4. The Public Discussion: The central groups supporting restrictions on commercial activity on rest days are generally trade unions and small business owners interested in instituting Sunday as an official rest day. In addition, religious groups such as the Catholic and other Churches have an interest in devoting Sunday to church attendance and other religious activity. On the other hand, the support for removing restrictions on commercial activity on the rest day is usually provided by consumer groups interested in utilizing it for shopping and other consumer activity. In addition, they argue that denying them this possibility constitutes an infringement of their individual liberty. Other supporters of lifting restrictions claim that doing so will serve to strengthen the economy.

5. Labor Laws: Many countries have legislated laws that determine that an employee may be employed on the official rest day only with his/her freely given consent, and that refusal to so work cannot be grounds for non-employment or for termination of employment. In most countries, the employer is obligated to allow a substitute day of rest and 53% of the countries examined in the study (23 out of 43) have instituted a salary increment of between 50%-100% to be added to the regular salary for working (voluntarily) on Sundays.

To the Full Report

Taxation of Kabbalists in Israel

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Dozens of Rabbis in Israel, who are known as Kabbalists (mekubalim), function in Israel. They are involved in giving blessings for success, providing personal or business advice, and mediating between businessmen. Remuneration given for these services is generally considered as a donation to the Kabbalist, for which they are not required to pay any taxes.

In the public debate about the appropriateness of this tax exemption, much of the blame is directed at the Kabbalists. This position paper discloses how the Israel Tax Authority has discussed this issue for more than a decade, and has still not succeeded in formulating a uniform policy which is enforced.

From 2004, the Israel Tax Authority and the Ministry of Justice have repeatedly advocated that Kabbalists’ income should be taxed. Two formal opinions to this effect have been promulgated, one by Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein in June 2004 and the other by his successor, Meni Mazuz, in March 2005. Neither was implemented. Only in August 2008 did the Israel Tax Authority start moving in this matter, but in 2014 the State Comptroller held that this effort was highly inadequate, nd that the system was not mobilized to effectively tax the Kabbalists.” In addition, various statements by the State Attorney General in court, claiming that the matter was close to fruition have not proven accurate.

The need to tax the Kabbalists was once again raised in the State Comptroller’s report of October 2014. The State Comptroller also pointed out that hundreds of millions of Shekels are paid to these Kabbalists without any taxation and that there are well-founded concerns that some of these payments are being used to launder the funds. The Comptroller also found that the Taxation Authority not consistent in its enforcement efforts regarding certain Kabbalists.

Based on the State Attorney’s report, we assert in this position paper that the main reason for not taxing the Kabbalists lies in the fact that the Taxation Authority has not been able to formulate a clear-cut policy regarding this unique type of income. This position paper shows that, despite the State Comptroller’s recommendation to set a specific policy for this issue, the memorandum draft issued by the Taxation Authority in June 2015 did not achieve this goal, and it persists in applying the current blurred and hazy policy, which will most probably lead to a situation where no consistent and effective taxation of the Kabbalists will be implemented.

We conclude, therefore, that this tax irregularity can be corrected only by legislation in the Knesset; that reform by regulation simply will not happen. Accordingly, the policy proposed in this position paper, supported by representatives of the State Comptroller’s Office and of the Taxation Authority, is to define by law that gifts received by a person from a non-family member shall be deemed income and must therefore, be taxed in the same manner as all income.

The full position paper (Hebrew)

“Ethnic-Based Duplication in the Israeli Rabbinate”

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By Ariel Finkelstein

The ingathering of the Jewish people during the 20th century has led to a significant change in the role of the rabbinate. Up until that period the custom had been for one rabbi, called the Mara D’Atra(lord of the place), to be appointed for each community or city. The 1911 appointment of two rabbis – one Ashkenazi and one Sephardi – for the city of Jaffa and the 1921 appointment of two chief rabbis created the ethnic-based duplication customary to this day in the chief rabbinate and in many cities, townships, and regions.

This position paper surveys the historical development of the laws, regulations and legal rulings dealing with ethnic-based duplication in the chief and local rabbinates and raises three main problems caused by the duplication:

  1. Maintenance of the ethnic-based split: The basis for the duplication rests in the need of different ethnicities for a rabbi identified with their own group, but from the very foundation of the chief rabbinate it was hoped that the need for ethnic-based duplication would rapidly disappear. It is difficult to find any indication of whether the need still exists, but from claims made by committees which have discussed the issue, by members of Knesset from all parts of the political spectrum, and by important rabbis, it seems clear that in the year 2014 there is no longer any real need for two rabbis from different ethnic groups. The increased number of inter-ethnic marriages creates a situation in which the Supreme Court will be forced, in the not-too-distant future, to decide who is to be considered Ashkenazi and who Sephardi. At the same time, the ethnic-based duplication ignores some ethnicities, such as the Yemenites who see themselves as neither Ashkenazi nor Sephardi. From the very founding of the country representatives of the Yemenite community argued that the duplication should be eliminated and that a single rabbi be appointed without consideration of his ethnic background.
  2. Reduced functionality:  In both the Jewish and the democratic traditions it is accepted that there cannot be two kings sharing the same crown, and therefore each role which includes a decision-making component is filled by only one person. Experience shows that in many cities – and often even within the chief rabbinate – having two rabbis serve at the same time leads to disputes and even to discord between the rabbis, a situation which negatively impacts the religious services given to residents (for example, in kashrut divisions).
  3. Financial burden on religious councils: Religious council budgets are set with no thought to the number of rabbis serving in the city. In 2001 the State comptroller noted that religious councils in local authorities and in the smaller cities are finding it hard to shoulder the financial burden of two rabbis’ salaries. Statistics show that rabbinical salaries in jurisdictions with two rabbis run more than a million NIS on average. For more than 60% of such jurisdictions this represents more than 30% of the religious council budget.

The State comptroller, a number of professional committees over the past two decades, former chief rabbis, and many Knesset members have called for a substantial reduction and even the complete elimination of ethnic-based duplication of rabbinical positions. In 2003 the government issued a decision on the matter, but nothing practical came of it. An analysis of the issue shows that as far as local rabbinates are concerned, the central force for leaving the matter as it stands is sectarian calculations of political parties, who have an interest in appointing as many partisan rabbis as they can. Therefore the situation persists despite the relative consensus amongst the various professional bodies.

to the full position paper (in Hebrew)

Rabbinical Appointments in Israeli Cities

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 Eitan Yarden and Ariel Finkelstein

The process of choosing a city rabbi in Israel is difficult, complicated and subject to a host of political scuffles. In recent years, the situation has worsened and nearly every appointment of city rabbi has faced challenges in court, where they get held up for years. Therefore, several recent Supreme Court rulings have mentioned the need to change the appointment procedure. This position paper will present ideas to fix some of the problems which have been discovered in the current process.

The first part of the position paper discusses the appointment process.

The halachik, historic and legal background to the appointment process is brought, leading to the following conclusions:

  • Appointment of a local rabbi must be based on the will of the public he is meant to serve.
  • The choice can be made directly by the local public, by a committee appointed by the local public, or by the local authorities chosen by the local public. The method of appointment should reduce irrelevant criteria and should be chosen in order to minimize unnecessary public disputes.
  • A rabbi should not be chosen by the local authorities against the will of the local public.
  • Rabbinical leaders must be involved in the creation of a short-list of candidates, but they have no authority to appoint a rabbi against the will of the local public.

The paper then reviews the history of city rabbi appointments from the founding of the State until today. It can be seen that over the course of recent years the involvement of the Minister of Religion in the appointment process has increased. The law advises the minister to issue procedures for the process of choosing a city rabbi, but does not grant him direct authority to make such appointments. The increased involvement of ministers of religion violates the provisions of the law.

Problems caused by the procedures for choosing rabbis are discussed. According to the currently applied procedures, the body responsible for choosing a city rabbi is composed of representatives from the local religious council (25%), the local governing council (25%), and the local synagogues (50%). Amongst the problems the process creates are:

  • The non-religious and female population is poorly represented on the appointment committee.
  • The various ministers of religion were often involved in the process of choosing an appointments committee and in choosing the representatives from the local synagogues, though this involvement was in violation of the law. Such involvement swayed the appointment process in favor of the minister’s preferred candidate.
  • The procedures do not clearly define who should be the appointments committee representatives from the local religious council nor from the local governing council. This leads to power grabs when it comes to appointing representatives.
  • There is a problem with allowing representatives of the local religious council on the committee, both because the council is appointed [mainly by the Minister of Religion and not chosen] and because the council is bound to the halachik rulings of the very city rabbi who they are helping to appoint.
  • Procedures do not require that the Minister of Religion appoint a rabbi for a city which does not currently have one. Some ministers used this loophole to delay the appointment of a rabbi when they feared their preferred candidate would lose.

The second part of the position paper discusses a question which arises as a consequence of the appointment process: how long is the term of a city rabbi?

Historically, most Israeli communities appointed their rabbi for short terms of between three and five years. Most halachik rulings do not find a fault in appointing a rabbi for a specified term and there are even rulings which permit removing a serving rabbi mid-term if the public is unhappy with the rabbi’s functioning.

Looking at Israeli history prior to statehood we see that the first procedures called for rabbis to serve a term of five years. In 1974, it was decided that rabbinical terms are not to be limited to a specific number of years but should instead be limited to the rabbi’s age: at age 75 (or 80 with the permission of the chief rabbinical council) he must retire. In 2007, the retirement age was lowered to 70 (75 with permission of the chief rabbinical council). In practice, the chief rabbinical council automatically extends the service term of every rabbi.

There are two main problems with this procedure:

  • There are rabbis who were appointed many years before and are no longer accepted by the public, either because of changes in the community or dissatisfaction with the rabbi’s functioning. In both cases, the community does not have a way to change rabbis.
  • Many rabbis continue to serve though they’ve passed retirement age.

The third part of the position paper focuses on operative suggestions for change. It is suggested that the procedure for appointing city rabbis be changed in the following ways:

  • The Minister of Religion should not be allowed to delay the local council’s appointment of the city’s first rabbi.
  • The composition of the appointment committee should be in keeping with the following principles:

o       Appointments must reflect the will of the community.

o       Community members who will use the rabbi’s services in the future should have more input than those who will not use his services.

o       The appointment process should be simple and well-defined so that public and legal battles over implementation can be prevented.

  • A proposal which balances the above principles calls for the appointment committee to be composed thus:
  • 50% of the members will be from the local governing council, reflecting the will of the local community.
  • The remaining 50% will be a group chosen by the entire local governing council and will be composed of rabbis (certified by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate) and religious court advocates of both genders who reside in the city.

The following suggestions apply to rabbinical term limits:

  • The term of city rabbis will be limited to a ten-year term. At the end of this term the rabbi may seek a second term of office and then a third, etc., until reaching retirement age.
  • A grace period shall be set after which these limits will also apply to rabbis currently serving.

The revised procedures should be anchored in law and not merely in decisions by the Minister of Religion. This will give them added weight and stability and will prevent frequent changes stemming from changes in the makeup of the government.

to the full position paper (In Hebrew)

Sabbath and Jewish Holiday law

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Nadav Eliash

In recent years the Knesset has seen a number of proposed laws, based on the Gavison-Medan Covenant, meant to regulate the status of the Sabbath in Israel. To date, no such law has been passed.

The covenant seeks to regulate matters of state and religion on the basis of consensus among religious and secular and includes a long section devoted to the Sabbath, concluding with an agreement based on limitation of trade and industry alongside the opening of entertainment, cultural, and leisure venues. The Covenant also calls for a limited amount of public transportation on the Sabbath.

This position paper presents the theoretical background behind the need for a law to regulate the status of the Sabbath in Israel.

The first section surveys the current legal and practical state of the Sabbath. It shows a problematic reality which allows divergence from the law-makers’ intentions and creates confusion and a lack of consensus between the religious and the secular.

Next, the urgency and import of regulating the matter will be presented.

The second section discusses with the social aspect of the Sabbath.

The third section focuses on the national-cultural aspect of the Sabbath.

The fourth section deals with legal issues which arise from restrictive laws about the Sabbath.

The fifth section expands the discussion while comparing the way other Western countries have dealt with legislating restrictive laws about days of rest.

Finally, the conclusion will once again stress the importance of the Sabbath in the context of Israeli cultural heritage.

to the full position paper (in Hebrew)

The Conversion Crisis in Israel

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Ariel Finkelstein

As a result of the opening of the immigration floodgates over the past two decades, there are currently some 318,000 citizens of Israel classified as without religion or as Christians who identify with the Jewish majority. Within 15 years that number will reach approximately 400,000. This situation creates problems and challenges for the State of Israel, both in terms of the specific citizens’ personal statuses and in national terms.

Even though following the 2008 recommendations of the Halfon Committee on conversion Israel has invested great resources in the official conversion mechanism and despite the natural increase in candidates for conversion, there has been a decrease in the number of converts over the past few years. Even before this, the number of converts had been below expectations.

Surveys show that most immigrants who are potential converts do not even consider the option, for two main reasons: a lack of basic motivation to convert and the policies and administration of the conversion courts. One-third of immigrants who do start the conversion process never finish it.

The State Comptroller’s latest report points to a series of problems in the courts: on the administrative level the report speaks of many failures such as a shortage of mohels and of mikvahs, delays in issuing conversion certificates, illegally charging converts for the process, not staffing the position of conversion system supervisor, and the tardiness with which judges arrive at hearings. More significant problems were found on the strategic level: the State Comptroller has claimed that the conversion division operated without defined work plans and without consistent oversight. Another significant problem raised by the report is that much of the division’s budget went to funding Jewish identity projects though fewer than half the program graduates went on to convert. The report also showed that the government decisions to create a ministerial committee about conversion and the call for distance learning courses for converts were never implemented.

Beyond the technical and strategic problems existing in the conversion courts, the main obstacle to those seeking conversion is the halachic demand that converts fully accept the obligation to fulfill all the commandments. This ruling is upheld by a majority of religious judges, but rabbis who have been involved in conversions have presented more lenient approaches. Former MK Rabbi Chaim Amsalem has stated that if there is a reasonable chance the candidate will fulfill the commandments he should be allowed to convert and Rabbi Yosef Avior has stated that converts should not be required to scrupulously fulfill all 613 commandments; a minimum of Sabbath and kashrut observance, a commitment to giving their children a religious education, and commemoration of Jewish holidays ought to suffice. Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun has gone so far as to suggest that mass ritual conversion ceremonies be held, based on a process of basic Jewish education.

Two significant proposals about conversion were raised during the term of the last Knesset but never got to the stage of becoming laws. One, called the “Conversion Law,” was proposed by MK David Rotem and would have allowed city and local council rabbis to conduct conversions. It was opposed both by the Charedi parties, who feared that an increased number of rabbis authorized to conduct conversions would lead to a more lenient conversion policy, and by the Reform and Conservative movements, who argued that the law would give the Chief Rabbinate and Orthodoxy an absolute monopoly on conversion.

Another law would have normalized the status of army conversions. MK Rotem along with MK Robert Ilatov proposed the law after rabbinical court judges had questioned the conversions, but once Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef authorized army conversions, the law was no longer on the agenda. MK Rotem continued unsuccessfully to push for his law; he felt that the Chief Rabbinate could change its decision in the future and that the matter ought to be set in law.

There are other important issues in the area of conversion. Some are on the public agenda and some are currently the subjects of appeals to the High Court of Justice. These issues include the status of people converted in private rabbinical courts, the status of people converted by Orthodox practice abroad, and the authority of the Conversions Exceptions Committee, which deals with requests by foreigners to convert in Israel.

The Gavison-Medan Covenant offers a different view of conversions. According to the covenant, a new category of “joined the Jewish nation” ought to be established, with conversion to halachic standards being only one of the possibilities for membership. Gavison and Medan argue that this allows circumvention of the halachic minefield and bypasses the internal discussion of conversion in religious circles while allowing the government to see the person who is halachically non-Jewish as having a substantial connection to the Jewish people. Taken as part of the wider picture presented in the Gavison-Medan Covenant (including civil interment and civil marriages with some restrictions) we find a significant change: this process will free the Gordian knot created when the government tried to dictate its religious outlook to the rabbinical world and charges the government with the responsibility of finding answers to the problems of citizens’ personal status during life events such as burial and marriage.

to the full position paper (in Hebrew)

The Race for Jurisdiction

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By: Ariel finkelstain, Arieh Ulman

Assisted: Roy yellinek, Daniel Wildlansky

The first chapter of this position paper will present the legal background, the current situation, and the implications of the issue commonly known as the “race for jurisdiction.” The existing legal situation in Israel has the rabbinical courts as the only system authorized to settle divorce cases and the giving of a get. The attendant issues in the divorce (property division, custody, and alimony) can be decided in either the rabbinical or the family courts. The crucial element in deciding which legal system will resolve disputes on these matters is a chronological test: the system in which the first claim was made is the system which will hear the case.

The second chapter of the position paper presents the different ideas which have been proposed to untangle this complicated situation, testing the advantages and disadvantages of each.

The main section of the position paper is the third chapter, which presents a new idea for ending the race for jurisdiction based on the points raised in the first two chapters. The main idea in the proposal is that when registering for marriage the couple would jointly decide their preferred legal system in case of future divorce proceedings. In case of a divorce, the attendant issues would be decided in the chosen system unless the couple jointly prefers the other system. This would preclude a race between the partners and would prevent unnecessary conflict and complications.

In addition, in line with the Shenhav Commission conclusions the proposal suggests that hearings on matters of family law only be scheduled after a request for settlement of conflicts. After the request, the conflicting sides will be summoned to a meeting and will have to decide if they agree to continue with conflict resolution or if they would prefer a legal court hearing.

Similarly, two sections of the proposal refer to a specific change in the process of rabbinical court hearings
First, in keeping with the conclusions of the Dikovsky Commission and the Gavison-Medan Covenant, it is suggested that when, in the course of a divorce, the couple agrees that the rabbinical court will conduct the hearing based on the laws of the Torah – the rabbinical court will have the authority to hear the case. It is also suggested that if a couple agreed, when registering for marriage, that the rabbinical court will hear any future divorce case, they will be asked again at the start of divorce proceedings to refine their choice: the rabbinical courts using the Torah’s system of laws with a further obligation to civil law and precedent (the current situation) or the rabbinical courts based solely on the laws of the Torah (as arbitrator).

This proposal has five main advantages:

1. The main advantage: The end of the sad state of an race for jurisdiction. The proposal suggests a way for divorce cases to be handled properly and not based in suspicion and distrust between the couple. The proposal recognizes that during divorce proceedings the couple finds it difficult to agree, since each would prefer the legal system which gives them a current advantage. When the choice is taken at the stage of marriage, the couple can reach an agreement based on their true life style and values. The proposal would also halt the lengthy legal discussions about which system is qualified to discuss which cases; the legal system will save a great deal of money and the process of divorce will be quicker and easier.

2. Competition and efficiency: The proposal would create competition between the two systems and thus force efficiency measures upon them both. If the family court or the rabbinical court creates complications or uses irrelevant criteria for its discussions, it will find its reputation damaged and couples getting married will choose the other system.

3. The end of religious coercion: According to the proposal, there will be an end to the widespread phenomenon of a person who does not see himself as obligated by religious law being forced to go to the religious courts because the other side “dragged” him there, thinking that legal system would be to their advantage. Similarly, a person who does see himself obligated to religious law will no longer find himself required to conduct divorce proceedings in the secular courts.

4. Limitation of the coercion of the religious courts: The proposal would partially free the religious courts from the Bavli ruling (1992) which mandated the rabbinical courts act in accord with the principles of egalitarianism and civil law even when that would contradict religious law. The religious public who so wished could have their case heard according to the Torah’s laws without anyone being under coercion.

5. Halachic preference: One of the reasons why the race for jurisdiction is heating up is the rabbinical court opinion that proceedings in the family court are forbidden under the religious rule against going to secular/civil courts. According to some religious opinions, making the decision about a preferred legal system at the stage of marriage solves this problem, as those opinions see no halachic prohibition against stating an advance preference for a civil court.

This proposal solves the race for jurisdiction problem for couples yet to marry but not for couple who have already married. However, as the Central Bureau of Statistics reports that about 50% of couples who divorce do so within the first ten years of marriage, within a few years this proposal will have provided a solution for most divorcing couples.

The proposal also suggests an intermediate step appropriate for those already married. Because of political expediency, this proposal is a compromise which does not fully satisfy either side. In this proposal rabbinical courts will be granted the power to decide monetary issues (without connection to divorce proceedings) which private courts were granted under the authority of the Arbitration Law. This was the policy in place until 2006, when the High Court of Justice ruled that until the rabbinical courts’ legal authority to do so was explicit in law, they had no right to settle monetary disputes as arbitrators. On the other hand, as a way of solving the race for jurisdiction it is proposed that when a claim is made to the rabbinical courts the other side will be allowed thirty days to transfer the case to the family courts, in whole or in any part.

to the full position paper (in Hebrew)

The Israeli shabbath

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By Nadav Eliash, Aviad Hominer, Eyal Berger, Ariel Finkelstain

The Israeli Sabbath – a proposal for normalizing the status of the Sabbath in Israel in keeping with the Gavison-Medan Covenant.

The debate over the status of the Sabbath has been raging in Israel since the advent of Zionism. The first Zionist settlements in Israel debated the nature of public observance of the Sabbath. Central to the debate was a vision of the public space in the renewed Jewish community and the Sabbath served as an important and concrete symbol. The battle over the Sabbath atmosphere has continued until today, and no proposed formula for respecting the Sabbath in the public domain has gained general acceptance.

In recent years many attempts have been made to reach such an agreement and to word a law which will structure and formulate the status of the Sabbath as a day of rest. Such a formulation would benefit the public and would protect the unique character of the State of Israel as a Jewish state. The attempt which achieved the widest acceptance was that of Prof. Ruth Gavison and Rabbi Yaakov Medan, whose Gavison-Medan Covenant was published in 2003.

This position paper will provide an overview of the status of the Sabbath in Israel, 2014.With this status in focus, we will propose a law to normalize the public character of the Sabbath consistent with the terms of the Gavison-Medan Covenant.

The first section of the position paper surveys the history of the Sabbath in Israel, concentrating on the erosion in its status over time. Since the 80s the status of the Sabbath has slowly been reduced within the cities, and in the 90s many urban shopping centers and malls started opening their doors on the Sabbath despite active protests by observant circles. Similarly, in violation of the status-quo, traffic through religious neighborhoods on the Sabbath was ruled by the Supreme Court (in a decision on the Bar Ilan Street controversy) to be a necessary condition for the secular minority’s freedom of movement.

This section also shows the legal and judicial status of the Sabbath and the trend towards weakening and narrowing the Sabbath’s sphere of influence, as reflected in legal rulings. The various laws about the status of the Sabbath are divided into those with a social aspect (such as the law regulating work and rest hours) and those focusing on the religious aspect (municipal laws). An analysis of the various rulings on the matter of the Sabbath shows that the courts tend to favor the social aspect of the Sabbath and work to suppress the religious aspects which have found expression in existing laws. In general, one can point to a trend toward reducing the influence of the Sabbath and strengthening individual rights at the Sabbath’s expense.

This section explains the need for a clear and uniform law which will regulate the status of the Sabbath in Israel.

The second section deals with the issue of work on the Sabbath and shows that Israelis are employed to work on the Sabbath in major shopping centers outside urban areas (such as Shefayim-Ga’ash), both in industry, and in commerce.

This situation leads to a host of social problems: 15% of all workers in Israel are employed on the Sabbath and most of them are Jewish. Most of those who work on the Sabbath do not get an alternate day off, and at least two-thirds of them would prefer not to work on the Sabbath. Most of the workers have families and come from the weaker socio-economic groups.

The solution proposed in this section would establish in law that industry and commerce, including factories, banking, stores, distributors, and malls, should not open on the Sabbath. However, we recommend allowing entertainment, leisure, and cultural venues such as restaurants, theaters, museums and the like, to open in neighborhoods and towns without a significant majority of Sabbath observers so long as they follow existing rules of location and noise limitation.

We find that there are a number of justifications for the division between commerce and entertainment. First, by its nature the entertainment and leisure industry employs a great number of young people in temporary jobs. In contrast, industry and commerce tend to employ older people who have spouses and children and who stay at their places of employment for many years. Second, entertainment is meant to fill free time and so is of limited appeal during the workweek and of greater appeal on the Sabbath, when people have free time. Commerce, on the other hand, was not meant to fill free time but to allow for the purchase and acquisition of goods. These functions can be filled during family time over the course of the week and need not take place on the Sabbath. Third, opening places of business on the Sabbath creates a different atmosphere of competition and balance of incentives than does opening places of entertainment and leisure. The opposing considerations in commerce are different than those in the realm of entertainment. In commerce the forces are more competitive and market forces will wreck havoc on anyone who wishes to remain Sabbath-observant.

In any case, the conceptual distinction between entertainment and commerce does not have to be absolute. The proposal seeks appropriate compromise which allows a sufficient “normal” lifestyle without mortally injuring either freedom of employment or the special nature of the Sabbath.

The third section deals with the operation of public transportation on the Sabbath and the implications of the status-quo for those wholly dependent on public transit, those people who cannot move about without public transportation. This group is mainly composed of people from the weaker socio-economic groups, including young people and students. A complete cessation of public transit on the Sabbath would severely impair their ability to travel on the Sabbath and would create inequity of access to places of entertainment, dividing those with licenses and cars from those without licenses or cars.

Therefore this section proposes a limited form of public transportation on the Sabbath based on shared taxis run by interested municipalities. It would run on a Sabbath schedule and would strive to preserve the Sabbath character to the greatest degree possible. Suggesting that transit take the form of shared taxi services and not buses is based on two attempts to lessen the impact on the character of the Sabbath:

First, the use of shared taxis causes less harm to the character of the Sabbath in the public sphere than does the use of buses, for they are smaller and less conspicuous vehicles. Second, unlike buses, shared taxis are regulated by the Ministry of Transportation but not subsidized by the state. Keeping the state from subsidizing public transportation on the Sabbath has great symbolic and halachic value and allows those so interested to draw a parallel between shared taxis and private cabs, which have never been seen as a form of public transportation to be prohibited on the Sabbath.

Similarly, it is suggested that there be no affirmative provision for operation of public transiton the Sabbath; rather, the law should state what transportation is prohibited, thus, in effect, allowing that which is not expressly forbidden. It is suggested that the same sort of wording apply to entertainment, leisure, and cultural activities as well. Wording any law in the affirmative (“Public transportation will operate on the Sabbath”) will make it unnecessarily difficult for many of the religious elements to support the proposal, for it would entail direct approval of an act expressly forbidden by halacha. We therefore recommend that any law be worded only in the negative. This distinction was first made by Rabbi Yisrael Rozen of the Zomet Institute and was used in a law proposed by former MK Zvulum Orlev (Mafdal), endorsed by a number of prominent Religious Zionist rabbis.

The fourth and final section presents the general proposal we seek together with explanations and support based on the findings in the previous three sections.

to the full position paper (in Hebrew)

The Kashrut Structure – An overview, obstacles, and the proposed “State Privatization” solution

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Written by Assaf Greenwald, Noam Benaiah, and Ester Brown-Ben David

With the Assistance and Guidance of Ariel Finkelstain

Israeli lawmakers have granted the Chief Rabbinate and the local rabbinates exclusive privileges on matters of kashrut certification and importation of kosher food. This legal situation (in common with most monopolies) leads to bureaucratic and professional problems and complications. These problems have created difficulties for owners of food industry businesses who wish to obtain kashrut certification so as to expand their clientele. Consumers of kosher products are also affected by the not-uncommonly sub-par level of local rabbinate supervision of food manufacture, preparation, and presentation.

Ever since the chief rabbinate was given authority over kashrut as part of the Chief Rabbinate legislation many committees have been convened, many recommendations have been written, and many words have been spoken about the kashrut situation in Israel. Discussions focused on the deficiencies of the system and possible ways to fix it. None of the suggestions has led to significant improvements and lately it seems as though the Israeli public — certainly segments of the public — has given up and has reluctantly begun the search for alternatives, some of which are illegal. One example can be seen in the “social kashrut certification” which is gaining traction in Jerusalem and its environs.

This position paper first surveys the kashrut structure as it now is and details the main problems when compared to the American kashrut system. Following this, the position paper surveys the various proposals for reform of the Israeli kashrut structure and analyses the advantages and disadvantages of each. The main goal of this position paper is to present and explain in detail a different, unique solution which would serve as a suitable compromise between the different approaches to questions of state and religion and which might lead to the desired change. This solution, first proposed as a way to deal with problems in the marriage registration system, champions the creation of kashrut regions, thereby breaking the monopoly of the local rabbinates by allowing business owners who seek kashrut supervision and certification to turn to any local rabbi they choose. This could be called “governmental privatization,” despite the oxymoron.

To deal with the fear that a local rabbi would lower to a bare minimum the halachic and administrative demands on a business seeking or holding certification, we suggest the establishment of a kashrut administration in the chief rabbinate which would serve as the highest halachic and administrative authority in the field. This halachic unit would set minimum halachic standards for granting kashrut certification and would adjudicate complaints against local rabbis. To prevent a business which had lost its local kashrut certification from turning to another rabbinate for a new certificate, a computerized system will coordinate the data regarding each business which holds a kashrut certificate, has held such a certificate in the past, or has requested a certificate and been rejected.

In addition, to prevent a supervisor being too far away from the business he supervises and to prevent a situation in which a flood of businesses turn to a local rabbi who is extremely lenient in his halachic and administrative requirements for kashrut certification, we suggest the following two refinements:

The country will be divided into 15 regions. A business can obtain supervision and kashrut certification only from local rabbis in its own region.
The only local rabbis authorized to provide kashrut services to business not in the area of their responsibility will be the chief rabbis of cities with populations of at least 100,000. Local rabbis of smaller areas who wish to provide kashrut services outside the area of their responsibility will have to band together so that the collective number of residents in the area of responsibility is no less than 100,000.
Creating regions of kashrut registration has a number of advantages:

Encourages competition and efficiency: Experience abroad shows that competition in the area of kashrut does not necessarily lead to reduced halachic compliance quite the opposite: it leads to system-wide efficiency measures which work to the benefit of both kosher consumers and the businesses which wish to hold kashrut certification.

Equality: Creating regions will lead to an equal playing ground for businesses. There will be no situations in which two neighboring businesses are similarly managed but only one is granted kashrut certification.

Reducing the power of Badatz and politically-appointed local rabbis: There are fears (as noted in the first chapter of this position paper) that local rabbis tie the granting of government issued kashrut certification to the procurement of kashrut services from a Badatz. The proposal would prevent such situations by allowing business owners to turn to a local rabbi who does not tie such services together.

Reducing coercion of businesses seeking kashrut certification: A business can approach kashrut supervision agencies other than the local rabbi to whom they are subject. The absolute dependence on the local rabbinate will end.

Political viability: Against a background of increasingly strong calls for the privatization of the kashrut mechanism along with all other religious services, creating regions for kashrut will allow the creation of meaningful change in the field without privatization Thus, for groups who find maintenance of the state’s authority in religious matters to be important, the move will not be seen as harmful, and in fact will be seen as quite the opposite.

Increasing the number of kosher establishments: The creation of regions is expected to make the process of obtain kashrut certification and the activities of the chief rabbinate more efficient. If this does happen, it is likely that it will create an increased demand for kashrut certification, which will serve the interests of the religious and traditional sectors, who will be able to enjoy a larger number of kosher establishments.

“Set yourself a rabbi”: Creating regions allows a business to obtain kashrut services from a rabbi whose halachic outlook matches the beliefs and preferred practices of the owner.

Lowering the price of kosher products: It is possible that raising consumer faith in government kashrut certification will lead to a lower demand for Badatz supervision. This will allow businesses to lower costs and thereby lower food prices. Similarly, one would not necessarily need to pay double, to the local rabbinate and to a Badatz, to be able to sell food under more stringent supervision.

to the full position paper (in Hebrew)

Analysis of the Proposed Conversion Law

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By Ariel Finkelstain

Following the proposed law sponsored by MK Elazar Stern regarding conversion by the local Rabbis, there is a deep and alert public discourse about the conversions issue. Throughout the public discussion, many arguments were heard, which were often imprecise and based on a misunderstanding of the proposed law. The goal of this analysis is to fill in this void and briefly explain the proposed law to the public, including the previous forms it took and its goals, and to discuss several of the points made against it.

The analysis focuses on two arguments which were brought up against the proposed law:

The first argument is that the goal of the proposed law is to promote reform and conservative conversions. Analysis of the proposed law shows that this argument has no substance and the proposed law does not at all promote that type of conversion.

The second argument is that halachically there’s a problem with conversions performed by city Rabbis and not by one central halachic authority. The analysis shows that in the halachic world, the argument that there’s one central halachic authority for conversions isn’t accepted. Also, in the past, the city Rabbis were allowed to convert and this was supported even by many of the chief Rabbis. In fact, it’s difficult to understand the opposition for granting the city Rabbis jurisdiction over conversions simultaneously to the broad jurisdiction they are given by the state and chief Rabbinate in the fields of Kashrut and marriage registration.

Therefore, it seems like the main point of disagreement over the proposed law is a halachic dispute between the chief Rabbis and several city Rabbis over the proper policy for conversions. This analysis doesn’t engage in the halachic discussion, but shows that at least regarding the issue of the conversion of young children, over which there is currently a dispute, the former chief Rabbis adopted much more lenient positions than the position currently adopted by the Chief Rabbinate.

For the full analysis piece (in Hebrew)

Burial of Non-Jewish Soldiers

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Eliad Avruch and Lilach Ben-Zvi

One of the most obvious manifestations of being Israeli is army service. Another factor positioning a person within Israeli society, is his religious affiliation. This presents a dilemma for the many people currently serving in the armed forces who are categorised as being without religion or questionably Jewish, and this dilemma is particularly poignant during times of bereavement, when the army must decide whether to bury both Jews and non-Jews, side-by-side (considered by most to be against the dictates of Halacha). This situation creates a clash between the values of Israel as a Jewish state and as a state which appreciates and even sanctifies all its fallen.

According to Jewish law it is forbidden to bury a member of another religion in a Jewish cemetery. But since burial of combat soldiers has taken on such symbolic importance, setting aside separate sections for members of other religions or burying the bodies outside the cemetery fence may lead to unwanted personal, familial, and sectorial complications. Insensitive treatment of a soldier who was persecuted in his native country for being a Jew and in Israel is treated, even after his death, as a non-Jew (leaving aside for now any determination of his true religious affiliation) may lead to alienation and isolation on the part of both the soldier’s family and entire groups within Israeli society. At the same time, ignoring Jewish law may have a negative impact on the Jewish character of the state of Israel and on soldiers and their families who wish to be buried according to the dictates of Jewish law.

The purpose of this position paper is to determine the most appropriate approach to the burial of these members of Israeli society in order to maintain a balance among the needs of the different sectors which serve in the armed forces.

The position paper is composed of the following sections:

· The first two sections present a general survey of the issues and the specific case discussed.

· The third section presents army and the Ministry of Defense guidelines. These institutions are responsible for military burials and the maintenance of military cemeteries.

· The fourth section presents the halachic background as developed over the course of generations in Judaic literature.

· The fifth section summarizes the discussion. It also presents a policy recommendation based on statements by the former chief army rabbi, Rabbi Yisrael Weiss, and the current chief army rabbi, Rabbi Rafi Peretz: the burial of non-Jewish soldiers in special sections which are neither isolated nor in the same section as the rest of the fallen members of the military. The separation between graves would be accomplished by means of a tree, a bench, or any other item which is a normal part of the cemetery. This solution combines compliance with Jewish law and the proper respect for those who have sacrificed their lives to protect those living in this country.

To the full position paper (Hebrew)

Summary of 19th Knesset Activities Concerning State and Religion

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Though the 19th Knesset served for one of the shortest periods in our history (less than two years), it was very active concerning matters of state and religion. The governing coalition did not include any of the Ultra-Orthodox parties, and, although there were those who criticized this fact, others saw this as a chance to enact reforms on issues of state and religion.

This survey examines the activity of the 19th Knesset in this area, focusing on proposed legislation (both private and governmental) which was actively advanced or which generated significant public discussion. The survey does not discuss other proposed laws which may have been formally filed. The survey also encompasses a number of formal government regulations and certain public initiatives outside the regulatory framework. The survey does not include proposed legislation relating to the state relationship to religious populations such as proposals to draft Ultra-Orthodox men into the IDF or to modify the autonomy of the religious and Ultra-Orthodox educational systems.

The survey shows that 32 proposals and initiatives on the subject of state and religion were actively promoted during the 19th Knesset. Deputy Minister of Religious Services Eli Ben Dahan (HaBayit HaYehudi) and MK Elazar Stern (HaTenuah) are the leading members of Knesset in this area: each promoted eight different initiatives. MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) promoted six initiatives in the field, and Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni (HaTenuah) promoted five. (At the end of the survey there is a table summarizing all proposals and their current status.)

A majority of all these proposals did not make it into law, but those that did are:

1. Opening areas for marriage registration: Proposed by MK Eitan Cabel (Labor) and promoted with the support of Minister of Religious Services Naftali Bennett and his deputy Eli Ben Dahan. Ben Dahan added a rider providing a two year prison sentence for those who conduct marriage ceremonies outside the framework of the Rabbinate.

2. Prohibition against civil service rabbis taking payment for conducting marriage ceremonies: Proposed by MK Shuli Mualem-Refaeli (HaBayit HaYehudi).

3. Establishing female representation (4 of 11) on committees to appoint city rabbis: Proposed by MK Aliza Lavie and MK Shuli Mualem-Refaeli.

4. Establishment of conversion courts by city rabbis: Proposed by MK Elazar Stern. This proposed law did not pass its second and third reading in the Knesset, but it promoted a similarly worded proposal being accepted as a government decision.

In addition, there were two significant ministerial regulations promulgated during the incumbency of the 19th Knesset:

1. A change in the guidelines for appointing city rabbis in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling from 2012. The new guidelines set by Minister of Religious Services Naftali Bennett and his deputy Eli Ben Dahan increase the power of the Minister of Religious Services and of local authority representatives on the appointments committee while reducing the power of members of the local religious council and of the local synagogues. In addition, 30% was set as the minimum level of representation by women on the committee.

2. A decision by Minister of the Interior Gideon Saar (Likud) to overturn a new Tel-Aviv municipal by-law which would have allowed for the widespread opening of neighborhood grocery stores on the Sabbath.

In addition, as part of the activities of the 19th Knesset Naftali Bennett, Minister of Religious Services, and his deputy Eli Ben Dahan held two separate press conferences about a number of initiatives they wished to advance. Bennett and Ben Dahan called these initiatives a “revolution in religious services.” These initiatives included reforms in a variety of areas: marriage, religious councils, and kashrut. The table shows the various initiatives announced and their current status.

It can be seen that most of the initiatives declared as an integral part of what was called the “revolution in religious service” went nowhere.

To the Full Position Paper (In Hebrew)

Mikvas in Israel Part II

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The Business Licensing Order states that a ritual bath (mikveh) is a business requiring a license, and this, to “insure public health, including appropriate sanitary conditions”. The Business Licensing directives of 1999 (dealing with appropriate sanitary conditions for ritual baths), as set by the Ministry of Health include directives relating to the ritual bath building, it’s facilities, maintenance and operation, and are aimed at preventing safety and sanitary hazards in ritual baths. The Ministry of Health’s website states clearly that “only in licensed ritual baths can the sanitary conditions and other conditions be deemed appropriate.”
In 2004, the State Comptroller carried out an audit with respect to the business licenses of ritual baths in eight different local authorities in Israel, and pointed out numerous flaws and defects, which the authorities promised to rectify as soon as possible. A follow-up check, which we conducted more than a decade later in those very same local authorities, disclosed to the fact that despite the severely negative report submitted by the State Comptroller, with respect to most of the local authorities in question, the business licenses have not been improved, and, indeed, in some places (e.g., Tel Aviv) the situation has even worsened.
In an extensive examination conducted as part of this study, we contacted various local authorities in order to obtain information regarding the business licenses of the ritual baths operated by the different Religious Councils and Departments of Religious Services. Of the 761 ritual baths currently in operation in Israel and operated by these bodies, we received 481 responses (63.2%). Of these, 359 ritual baths (about 75%) currently operate without a license. For the sake of comparison, only 29% of business running regular bathing facilities in the Jewish sector operate without a required license.
The survey reveals that the problem is even more acute in regional councils. From our survey, it was evident that about 85% of the ritual baths in regional councils operate without a license, compared to 65% of those operating in the cities. Furthermore, of all the regions examined, the situation is most severe in the Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem regions: of the 115 ritual baths examined in Judea & Samaria, 113 (98.7%) did not have a business license. In the Tel Aviv region, 88.4% were found to be operating without a business license. In the southern regions, in Haifa and in the center of Israel, a similar trend was observed i.e. about 65% of ritual baths were operating without a business license. The region boasting the best results proved to be the northern region, with 49.5% of ritual baths operating without a business license.
Local authorities rarely close down ritual baths operating without a license, despite their authority and responsibility in this matter. The reason for this may be that they are wary of hurting the women using the baths and leaving them without the ability to immerse. Another possibility is the inherent conflict of interests. The very same authorities are responsible both for issuing business licenses and for enforcing the requirements of the licenses issued. Where they fail to issue licenses because they never got to it (or for some other reason), it might be awkward to close down the business which applied for the license on the grounds that it is operating without one. In his report of 2004, the State Comptroller’s criticized the Ministry of Health for not utilizing the regional doctors’ authority to issue administrative injunctions to ritual baths operating under deficient sanitary conditions. From an inspection carried out in December 2014, we conclude that despite the fact that numerous ritual baths operate under impaired sanitary conditions, the regional doctors do not exercise their authority to prevent this.
A most serious problem with respect to the ritual baths is the fact that the users are not even aware of the existing deficient health and sanitary conditions. The local authorities have not made any information regarding sanitary conditions in ritual baths available to the general public. The claim made by the Ministry of Health is that the data has not yet been computerized, and that individuals can check on specific locations by contacting the Department. This, of course, is easier said than done. Local authorities do not make such information readily available to the public, and even a direct demand to the local authority requesting information concerning business licenses does not yield information. Many authorities did not even bother answering our repeated requests for this information, while others, demanded a Freedom of Information fee in exchange for this very basic and fundamental information.
An additional finding revealed that the Ministry of Health conducts annual audits on only a small number of ritual baths. According to ministry officials, this results from lack of funds budgeted for this purpose. But the State Comptroller pointed out in 2004 that the Ministry of Health was not even aware that some of these ritual baths exist (this is usually the case with private ritual baths).
Matters have not improved in the decade since the State Comptroller’s investigation. From an examination we conducted in Jerusalem, it appears that there is still a big discrepancy between the number of reports pertaining to ritual baths submitted by the local authorities and the number of such reports submitted by the Ministry of Health. Similarly, the inadequate training regarding proper sanitation and proper sanitation inspections given to the religious immersion supervisors has not improved. The Ministry of Health admitted in December 2014, that “the whole issue of national training and guidance for ritual bath workers has not improved in any way.”

Another Saturday of Football? Suggestion for Regulating Football and Other Sports Games on Saturday

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A court ruling given by the Labor Court last August raised the issue of holding football games on Saturdays (Shabbat = the Jewish Sabbath], stating that holding league games on Shabbat is a violation of the law, as football teams were never given a permit to hire workers on Shabbat.
This ruling opened a wide public debate on the matter, and touched not only on the legality of employing religious players on this day, but actually holding public games while violating the Sabbath, and the ability of religious players to participate in these games, as players and as spectators.
One must note that football in Israel includes two separate issues: professional football (top leagues) and popular football (lower leagues and leagues for children and youth). Even though the Labor Court referred only to professional football, the public debate currently being held deals also with popular football and, therefore, must also address this issue with utmost seriousness. In fact, the public debate on popular football is relevant to all sports fields in Israel, and even to several fields in professional sports.
When dealing with professional football, the position paper examines top league games in the 2014-2015 season and points out that only 57 games – constituting 23.57% of the games during this season – were held at hours considered by Jewish Law to be Shabbat, while 29 games were held led than one hour after the end of Shabbat. Thus, in many weeks all that is needed is for the games to start a little bit later in order to prevent them being held on Shabbat.
Also, this position paper shows that most games that are held hours before the end of Shabbat are those in the final stages of the season (play-offs), and this is not necessarily connected to summer time, but to a deliberate decision to hold these games much earlier in the day than those held during other times of the season, sometimes even at noon. Therefore, it seems that some effort could be made to postpone some games to later in the day.
In addition, the position paper states that in most weeks, five games were held every Saturday (most of them, as stated, after Shabbat ended) and two games were held on Sundays or Mondays. Even so, in eight weeks (about one quarter of them) four games were held on Shabbat and three on Sundays and Mondays. As such, it seems that there is nothing preventing moving several more games to Sundays and Mondays, so that these will not be played on Shabbat. Also, games in summer can be played at 17:00 on Fridays, and this has been done in the not so long ago past. Even so, we must add that if one of the suggestions to add another day of rest to the Israeli market, such as Sundays or Fridays, is accepted, this will make it much easier to hold these games on those days, possibly even on Thursdays.
Regarding the issue of popular sports, the position paper raised several suggestions for increasing the number of days of rest in Israel, from an approach that we must try and ensure that all popular sports training, games and competitions are not held on Shabbat, to enable as many sectors of the population to participate in these events. We believe that the ideal solution to this issue is cancelling schools on Fridays. This is a solution that requires the least reforms, on the one hand, and significantly upgrades popular sports in Israel, on the other. This is in addition to other advantages that are not sports-related.
Even so, at the first stage, and with the understanding that such a reform will take time to implement, we recommend holding the youth sports competitions, which are held periodically, to Fridays and, if possible, even to weekdays or to condensed work vacations, such as Chanuka. In this regard, we recommend that the Ministry of Education – together with the Ministry of Culture and Sport – instruct schools to allow children participating in these events, to leave school accordingly (with their parents’ consent, of course).
In conclusion, it deems fit to note that, despite the supposed tension that such issues cause in the religious-secular rift, it seems that this issue is not so complicated, and with a bit of good will and effort on behalf of the relevant authorities, we can find solutions that will benefit the entire Israeli society.
To the full position paper (Hebrew)

Mikvas in Israel Part I

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The Ministry of Religious Services and the local authorities in Israel operate 757 mikves (ritual baths) for women through the religious councils and religious departments in the various authorities. This study discusses various administrative and economic aspects of the mikve setup in Israel and points out several main findings:


According to the regulations of the Minister for Religious Services of November 2013, the cost of a standard immersion in a mikve is NIS 15. The CEO memorandum of the Ministry of Religious Services determines that “it is compulsory to ensure that the abovementioned fees are charged,” but, in fact, each religious council, and occasionally each mikve attendant, does as they see fit and the Ministry’s regulations are not enforced.

NormalGolan 002During October-November 2014 we contacted all mikves in Israel by telephone and asked their price for a standard dipping; 482 of the 757 mikves responded to our question. Of those 482 mikves, in 231 (48%) a different amount was charged, in most cases this amount was higher than the required NIS 15. In fact, 35% of the tested mikves (168 out of 462) charged more than NIS 15 and 31% of the mikves charged more than NIS 20, with some charging even NIS 30 and NIS 35.

Findings show that in regard to certain authorities there is no uniform price even within the religious council, and each mikve charges a different price. In addition, findings show that in some absurd manner, it is actually the authorities in lower socioeconomic areas where residents are required to pay much higher prices that those set by the Ministry of Religious Services.

An additional survey was held on mikve services for brides. According to the regulations of the Minister of Religious Services, which became valid in November 2013, “brides in their first year of marriage are exempt from paying for immersing in a mikve.” A follow up held with the spokesperson of the Ministry we found that the Minister’s exemption refers to mikves throughout Israel, without limitations, but we found that 57% of the mikves do not uphold this regulations: some do not give brides a discount at all, while others give them a discount with limitations that contradict regulations: a discount only to brides who registered within the specific religious authority, only to local residents, etc.

Efficiency and Economic Management:

Due to a significant lack of a standardized database it is extremely difficult to present organized findings in this regard. The lack of data derives from the fact that many religious authorities do not maintain an organized system of collecting information on the number of women using the mikve services and from the fact that the Ministry of Religious Services does not demand these details from the authorities. Despite this, the study presents several initial findings that are based on the religious authorities’ accounting reports.

According to these findings, the economic cost of running a mikve system in regional authorities with the lowest percentage of religious residents is understandably the highest per usage, because the requirement to open mivkes in a certain area is not conditioned on the the number of religious residents in that area. This is probably also the reason that the cost of running a mikve in regional authorities – which are often required to operate mikves even in small communities, is higher than in the (larger) cities.

Based on a comparison between religious councils with similar characteristics, the study found probable inefficient management in the mikve departments or, alternatively, efficient religious councils with insufficient mikve services. Thus, for example, the percentage of income compared to overall cost from mikves reaches 6%-8%, while in other large cities, it reaches 20%-30%.

Several reports of the Haifa city auditor do, in fact, point to numerous problems in the management of the mikves in the city. In addition, there are seven mikves for women in Rehovot,

Safed and Ashkelon, and while the percentage of income from mikves in Ashkelon and Safed reaches 15%-20%, the percentage of income in Rehovot reaches 50%-55%. Thus, the findings show that many more women in Rehovot use the mikve services than in Ashkeon, even though expenses on maintenance and salaries for mikves in Rehovot are significantly lower. Similarly, the cost of maintenance and salaries for mikves in Be’er Yaakov and Ma’alot is several times higher than in religious councils with a similar number of women using mikve services, such as Bnei Ayish, Meitar and Mazkeret Batya.

The study also shows significant and unexplainable fluctuations in the income and expenses of the mikves in several religious councils – Ganei Tikva, Eilat and Kdumim – during 2010-2013. Such fluctuations generally show ineffective management of the mikve system.


The availability of data on mikves around the country is extremely important, due to the intimate and discreet nature of immersing in a mikve. One can assume that women know the mikves in their local area, but many times, when they are in other places in Israel they must find a mikve in an area unknown to them. As many women regard the mikve as a private event, they prefer not to share this information with others or ask for information on the closest mikve; making it even more important for the authorities to make known exact and clear details.

The study findings show that the information systems run by the Ministry of Religious Services and those on its website and the WAZE application lack much information. The Ministry’s website does not have information on many mikves run by the religious councils, and WAZE is missing 288 mikves (about 38%).

It was found that the information system on the Ministry’s website has almost no information on the mikve system, such as the prices for standard (and other) services provided at the mikve. Only in a few cases do opening hours appear on the site. Also, in many cases the telephone number of the mikve attendant, or the mikve itself, did not appear and, if it did, in 25% of the cases it was not updated or was of a former attendant who was no longer employed at the mikve. Similarly, in about 33% of mikves WAZE did not have a telephone number at all, or had a non-updated number.


To the full research (Hebrew)

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