A Yosef who wants not to know a new generation

It would appear that the apple has fallen far from the tree.

SEPHARDI CHIEF Rabbi of Israel Yitzhak Yosef (L) and FORMER SEPHARDI Chief Rabbi of Israel Ovadia Yosef (R) (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS/YA’ACOV SA’AR/GPO)
SEPHARDI CHIEF Rabbi of Israel Yitzhak Yosef (L) and FORMER SEPHARDI Chief Rabbi of Israel Ovadia Yosef (R)
It would appear that the apple has fallen far from the tree.
The late Sephardi Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, widely recognized as a distinguished Talmudic scholar, determined in 1973 that Ethiopian Jews were acceptable into the bosom of the Jewish people according to Halacha, Jewish law. But his son, current Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, has a far less amenable attitude toward immigrants from the former Soviet Union who were not born to Jewish mothers, but who can nonetheless prove that they are genetically if not halachically Jewish. Instead of trying to find a humane solution to this problem, Yosef, together with Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau, wants to change the Law of Return. Neither is prepared to recognize the factor of zera Yisrael – “a Jewish seed” – which is Talmudically recognized and today supported by a number of Orthodox rabbis who want to bring such Jews back into the fold.
For those who are half- or quarter-Jews according to Jewish law who came from Russia, the Jewish identity problem is little short of traumatic. In Russia, their religious identity was based on that of their father not their mother. Antisemites mocked them as Zhid. Then they came to Israel and were mocked as Russians. The fact that they came to Israel to live a semblance of a Jewish lifestyle, sometimes even a religiously observant Jewish lifestyle, serve in the army, want to marry and raise families in Israel, appears to be of no consequence to Yosef, despite the fact that immigrants from Russia have in most cases better DNA proof of their Jewish heritage than do immigrants from Ethiopia.
Yitzhak Yosef would probably not accept Tziporah the Midianite wife of Moses, or Ruth, the Moabite great grandmother of King David, or for that matter several other women whose names appear in the Bible. In any future debate on the Law of Return, the subject matter should also include the foundations of the Halacha. Were the rules man-made or handed down at Sinai?
If they were man-made, they can be amended to dovetail with the changes in Jewish society. After all, there is very little in the practice of Judaism that is uniform, even in ultra-Orthodox circles where one group recites certain prayers on Shabbat and another doesn’t. Not so many years ago, women were denied the right to study Torah, and look at the flourishing seminaries for women today. Many women can hold their own with yeshiva students, and some can even surpass them. It would be much more beneficial for the chief rabbis to focus on uniting Jewish people (halachic or otherwise) rather than dividing them and continuing to cause grief for those who cannot be married according to the law of Moses and of Israel.
■ DELEGATIONS FROM some 40 countries will be coming to Israel at much the same time as those that will heading to Yad Vashem later this month. WIZO, the Women’s International Zionist Organization, is kicking off its centenary year with an enlarged general meeting in Israel to be followed by celebrations around the world. As has been the case throughout the years, the main discussions will be held at the Tel Aviv Hilton, which has long served as the headquarters for WIZO’s annual general meetings. However, the opening event this year will not be held in the Hilton ballroom, but in Jerusalem at the Mexico Independence Hall on the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus campus, where delegations will be welcomed on January 20 by World WIZO chairperson Prof. Rivka Lazovsky.
Also attending the opening will be leaders of other Zionist institutions, politicians, mayors, diplomats, philanthropists, media personalities and women prominent in the fields of economy, social welfare and security.
The actual conference which is headquartered at the Tel Aviv Hilton will take place from January 19-23. All in all, more than 1,000 delegates are expected to attend. WIZO’s membership around the world is in excess of 250,000. WIZO was founded in London in 1920 to provide for the urgent needs of women and children in the Land of Israel. Since then, it has expanded its activities in many directions, and works not only to provide education, shelter and empowerment for women and children but also in many other spheres.
All these will be discussed at the conference where scholarships will be distributed in memory of Michal, Yitzhak and Harela Modai. Michal Modai, who was the fourth world president of WIZO, set up a scholarship fund in memory of her husband, an influential Israeli politician who held several ministerial portfolios including justice and finance, and in memory of their daughter Harela who was killed in a traffic accident.
Yitzhak Modai was born in Tel Aviv and Michal Modai, a seventh-generation Israeli who died in 2012, was born in Jerusalem and was Israel’s second beauty queen. Her original surname was Harrison, but after she won the Miss Israel title, she adopted a Hebrew surname of Harel. She was a member of the family of Yoel Moshe Solomon, who was one of the founders of Petah Tikva. Michal Modai established the first of WIZO’s shelters for battered women. World presidents prior to Modai were Rebecca Sieff, who was one of the founders of the movement; Rosa Ginossar, who was WIZO’s first secretary general and the first woman lawyer in Palestine; and the legendary Raya Jaglom, who served in the position for 26 years and was known as WIZO’s most effective fund-raiser.
■ TO ALLOW MKs to vote on their salary increases is comparable to sending the cat to mind the cream. Small wonder that a large sector of the public believes politicians are corrupt.
How dare they during a period in which they are barely fulfilling their roles vote themselves a 2.8% increase in their monthly salaries when the minimum wage is only NIS 5,300 per month, and the average national monthly salary is NIS 11,000? As of the beginning of this year, the salaries of MKs have risen to NIS 45,251 per month. Ministers are doing even better and getting NIS 50,623 per month. The prime minister is getting NIS 56,295, but let’s be honest, he deserves it because he works almost around the clock. The highest salary goes to President Reuven Rivlin, who is now receiving NIS 64,616 per month.
Of the 120 MKs, only 15 have asked to be excluded from the pay raise. Among them are party leaders Avigdor Liberman (Israel Beytenu) and Amir Peretz (Labor).
Although Blue and White initially announced that all of its legislators would decline the pay raise, in the final analysis only five lived up to that promise. It should be remembered that Blue and White as a political alliance is barely a year old, and at least half of its lawmakers are first-time parliamentarians who due to the general political situation, plus the long vacation period which MKs allow themselves, have all in all worked for little more than three months. Where else do you get a substantial pay raise in such a short period of time? The whole issue of wages of public servants should be taken out of the hands of the Knesset, and the responsibility for deciding how much people in different professions should be paid, should be at the discretion of the National Labor Court.
■ THE BEST way for any young professional immigrant to Israel to learn about what is happening in the country is to join the Tel Aviv International Salon which hosts and organizes lectures, debates and social evenings. Coming up on Sunday, January 26, is a really interesting debate between J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami and former diplomat and current president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs Dore Gold.
The topic of their debate is “Securing the Future of the US-Israel Relationship.” They will be discussing Democrats, Republicans, the Peace Process, Iran and more.
What makes this debate particularly interesting is the fact that while J Street – which claims to be the political home of pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans who want Israel to be secure, democratic and the national home of the Jewish people – is widely regarded in Israel as anti-Israel because it dares to publicly criticize Israel’s policies. It used to be that Diaspora Jewish organizations, even if they disagreed with Israel’s policies, rarely did so publicly. Things have changed, and J Street is one of several organizations that are pro-Israel but publicly opposed to some of the policies of Israel’s government.
Ben-Ami is not only pro-Israel, but has a proven connection to the country in that his great-grandparents were among the first settlers in Petah Tikva and his grandparents were among the founding families of Tel Aviv. His father was a leading activist in the Irgun, fighting for Israel’s independence, and involved in the rescue of European Jews before and during World War II.
Ben-Ami, who was born in New York, has been an adviser to several US presidents. In the late 1990s, he spent three years living in Israel before returning to the US.
Dore Gold, who is a former Israel ambassador to the United Nations and a former director general of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was born in Hartford, Connecticut, and is a graduate of Columbia University.
His intimate involvement with Israeli politics in their global context began in 1985 when he served as a senior research associate at Tel Aviv University’s Moshe Dayan Center for Near East Studies. He has been engaged in peace negotiations, has met with several leading figures from the Arab world and has written several books. He is also a frequent contributor to major international publications, writing on various aspects of the Middle East.
In short, when Gold and Ben-Ami meet in the Social Space at Kikar Atarim on the Tel Aviv beachfront on January 26, each will be familiar with the other’s political and intellectual territory.
Sparks may fly, but even if they don’t, the event will provide plenty of food for thought for members of the audience on both sides of the political divide.