Candidate Forum: Religion/State affairs

Candidates, from Labor to Shas, talk about the relationship between state and religion.

yeshiva study 88 (photo credit: )
yeshiva study 88
(photo credit: )
Less than three weeks before the elections, asked five candidates for the 17th Knesset, from Shas, Kadima, NRP/NU and the Likud, about potentially volatile aspects of the relationship between religion and state. The participants Ze'ev Elkin (Kadima): #17 on the Kadima list; Chairman of the Jewish Agency's academic-educational committee for the 'Jewish Identity' project. MK Yuli Edelstein (Likud): Deputy Knesset Speaker, parliament member since the 14th Knesset. MK Rabbi Yitzhak Levi (National Union/National Religious Party): Former minister; parliament member since the 12th Knesset. MK Eli Yishai (Shas): Party chairman, former deputy prime minister, parliament member since the 14th Knesset. MK Rabbi Michael Melchior (Labor/Meimad): Former deputy minister in charge of Diaspora affairs; parliament member since the 15th Knesset. The Questions JPost: Do you support non-Orthodox conversions? Elkin: In the current state of affairs, I object. However, in general, I support the solution of the government-funded Institute of Joint Jewish Studies that incorporated all three Jewish streams in the training of converts, although the test itself is still given by the chief rabbinate. Edelstein: In order to maintain a common denominator, the current situation - in which only an Orthodox conversion is possible - should be upheld. Levy: I do not support non-Orthodox conversion. It would bring about chaos. Yishai: I do not support non-Orthodox conversions. The mandate on the Jewish character of the nation should only be determined by the chief rabbinate and the rabbis. Reform conversion is the same as the acceptance process to a country club. Melchior: I would like to stress that as an Orthodox rabbi, I do not accept non-Orthodox conversions. However, the current situation is absurd. The state must take into account all three streams of Judaism. JPost: Do you support civil marriage/divorce? Elkin: I am in favor of civil marriage for those who cannot wed because of halachic problems. It is inconceivable that the state does not offer a solution to nearly 300,000 people. If, however, we are talking about Jews, it is more complex and requires further dialogue. Edelstein: In my opinion, a state must provide for its citizens in all aspects. Therefore, a situation in which people cannot wed because of halachic problems (which increased dramatically following the last two major aliya waves) is an outrage. However, alternative marriages are, in my opinion, "extras" and should not be recognized by the state. Levy: I wish to distinguish between Jews and non-Jews. When it comes to non-Jews (especially those who came from Russia), I believe the state should enable them to have a civil marriage. For Jews, I do not support the civil track. Yishai: We strongly oppose all of these phenomena that harm the Jewish image of this nation. Jewish matrimony preserved us for generations, long before we had a state, flag and national anthem. Any change would be lethal. Melchior: Again, as an Orthodox rabbi I accept only Orthodox marriages. However, the state must include a civilian course alongside the Orthodox one. JPost: What comes first when it comes to the definition of the state: Judaism or democracy? Elkin: Both are intertwined. Edelstein: First Judaism, then democracy. I would like to stress, however, that under no circumstance should one of the words be excluded. Levy: Both are intertwined. Yishai: First Judaism, then democracy; just like it states in the Declaration of Independence. Melchior: The two cannot be separated. In my opinion, a state that is non-democratic cannot be Jewish. JPost: Should haredim be drafted to the IDF, take part in national service, or remain in yeshivot? Elkin: We need to implement the same policy for all citizens. Edelstein: I support a continued dialogue to solve this problem. There cannot be a situation in which a large segment of the population does not carry the burden. However, forcing solutions is not the answer either. Personally, I would prefer to have young haredim enlist in the IDF, but I would certainly accept as a compromise a serious national service instead. Levy: The Tal Law provides the proper solution. It enables haredim to enlist in the IDF gradually. I do not believe a quick solution can be attained. The desired result should be that those who do not study should enlist, while those who do should be exempted. Yishai: The core that represents those who truly devote their life to the study of Torah should continue doing so. Those who do not should enlist in the IDF. Melchior: The fact that haredim do not enlist in the IDF is a moral flaw. However, it has been taking place for a long time now and therefore cannot be changed at once. There is a reality on the ground that should be taken into account. At the end of the process, what we need is an accepted solution in which as many haredim as possible either enlist in the IDF or take part in a national service program. JPost: Should the State adopt a constitution? Elkin: I support a constitution, which must include the subject of the Jewish state and Jewish identity. Edelstein: I support a constitution, but only if its inception would be widely agreed upon. Levy: I support a constitution, which should be adopted gradually. The first part must contain laws that regulate the relationship between the Knesset and the Supreme Court. The constitution must be achieved via an agreement. It must not be a catalyst for division. Yishai: I object to the adoption of a constitution. It would undermine the status of minorities and harm the Jewish character of this nation. Melchior: I support a constitution. I hope it would only strengthen the state's Jewish dimension. JPost: What would you do to bridge the gap between the secular and religious sectors? Elkin: There are no magic tricks. First, there must be dialogue. There must be a connection to ensure a future to a Jewish and democratic state. The majority of the next generation of Jews in Israel will consist of haredim and religious Zionists. We must make sure that these sectors do not enter a path of disengagement from the state. Second, we must increase Jewish studies in our education system while making it attractive, not necessarily as a religion but also as a culture. Third, we must increase the power of the moderates in the religious education system. Edelstein: Dialogue, mutual gatherings. Not by legislation or declarations. Levy: In my opinion, the gap has narrowed. However, there will always be one, though not as wide as believed. True, since disengagement and the events in Amona, there have been those who distanced themselves from the state, but I believe they represent a minority within the religious-Zionist sector. Eventually, they too will rejoin the path of loyalty to the state. Yishai: The way to bridge the gap is through Jewish education from an early age, and dialogue. The goal is to create an adult population that will be more homogenous. Melchior: Both sides need to understand that there needs to be a compromise. The 'Jewishness' of the state should be enhanced by increasing the volume of Jewish studies in the educational system. Secular Jews also want Israel to be a Jewish state.