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A man reads a newspaper while floating in the Dead Sea.(Photo by: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The silly season has begun
The most serious conflict point, according to the report, is between Jews and Arabs, cited by 53% of the respondents, followed by that between Left and Right (24%) and only then religious and secular.
The silly season has begun early in Israel. Called “the cucumber season” in Hebrew (apparently derived from the German term “pickled cucumber season”), the silly season reflects the summer vacation months, where there is little serious news and the media is filled with frivolous news items.

This is not to downplay the serious news events happening around the world – the terrorist attack in Nice, the attempted coup in Turkey, the hate killings in the United States, Britain’s Brexit political turmoil – but here in Israel, the two major domestic news stories of the past week are classic silly season examples.

The first, of course, is the appointment of Colonel Eyal Karim as IDF chief rabbi. Who knew that Orthodox rabbis believe women can’t be witnesses in court? Who would have thought an Orthodox rabbi would be against women enlisting in the army? Who would have believed it possible an Orthodox rabbi would regard it as a sensible use of his time to explain to a questioner the Torah’s rationale for condoning the rape of non-Jewish women by Jewish soldiers during a time of war, as opposed to simply saying that times and ethics have moved on, and the Torah’s position is simply irrelevant? None of the positions Karim expressed in his “Ask the Rabbi” Internet responsa, or in his halachic rulings as an IDF rabbi over the question (and I’m embarrassed to write this, as it gives sanction to the legitimacy of holding such a view) of male soldiers listening to a woman singer at an IDF ceremony, are particularly outlandish for an Orthodox rabbi. They actually believe such things.

And, in terms of freedom of belief, there’s nothing wrong with that. Orthodox Jews are perfectly entitled to believe all sorts of what I would term bubbe- meises, but the issue, which was mainly missed in the coverage of Karim’s appointment, is not what Karim believes but why the IDF needs a chief rabbi, and a separate rabbinate in the first place.

Serious, as opposed to silly season coverage of the Karim appointment would have focused on questioning the legitimacy of the IDF chief rabbi’s role and not the person filling it. Sure, Orthodox soldiers need to know that IDF food is kosher, but does that justify the army employing a battalion of rabbis? Just as there is no reason for the IDF to continue supporting and enlisting soldiers into the Army Radio station, there is no rationale for an IDF rabbinate.

The state-sponsored support of Orthodox Judaism is pernicious, striking at Israeli citizens’ basic human rights. The fact, for example, that Israeli Jews can only marry under the auspices of the Orthodox rabbinate places Israel, according to a report by Hiddush, as the only Western democracy that is on a par with Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and other Islamic states in relation to freedom of marriage. Is this the group of nations Israel really wants to be a part of? Remarkably, given the stranglehold the religious hold over secular Israelis, there is surprisingly little tension between the two groups. According to a new report soon to be published by the Israel Democracy Institute, and revealed over the weekend by Yediot Aharonot’s Nahum Barnea, only 10.5 percent of Israelis view the religious-secular chasm as the most serious point of tension within Israeli society.

The most serious conflict point, according to the report, is between Jews and Arabs, cited by 53% of the respondents, followed by that between Left and Right (24%) and only then religious and secular.

Appearing much further behind, with a measly 1.4%, was the culture clash between Ashkenazi and Mizrahi Jews.

And yet coverage of the Biton Report, established to examine and improve the way in which Sephardi and Mizrahi heritage is taught in the school system, soon degenerated into classic silly season coverage.

Ignoring discussion of the key recommendations of the committee, media coverage instead descended into lazy, stereotypical Ashkenazi versus Mizrahi bombast, generated by the racist Facebook posting of an Army Radio film critic.

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev might be making a political career out of fanning the flames of a supposed culture war but the fact, as shown by the Israeli Democracy Institute report, is that for most Israelis it is a non-issue. Economic inequality, lack of career prospects and a poor standard of education in the periphery are the topics that should be concerning our government ministers, not tedious arguments as to whether Umm Kulthum deserves more airplay time than the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

It’s going to be a long, hot summer. We could do without the extra hot air generated by silly season reporting.

The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.
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