Sunday, March 14

A Question of Pity and Bereavement

A young boy was fatally injured in Ofakim, a Negev town in the south of Israel. He was knocked over by a passing taxi driver while crossing the road with his bicycle at a pedestrian crossing. The accident was a terrible tragedy and should never have happened. He had not broken the law. The boy died in Soroka Hospital in Beersheva.

As if this was not enough, the rabbinical authorities discovered that the child's Jewishness is in doubt. He was an adopted child of Israeli Jewish parents and was brought up as Jewish. It was never a question. However the mark of Cain - his non-Jewishness - became an issue when he lost his life. It would have become an issue had he survived and reached adulthood and wished to marry a Jewish lady. Why is it that when there is a tragedy of this nature, the child's Jewishness is questioned by the rabbis and he is not recognized as Jewish and denied a Jewish burial? Is it because he was adopted and his biological parents were non-Jews?

These rabbis see themselves as God's messengers. Strange that their God has no pity and the bereaving parents had to now question the child's Jewishness to render him kosher for a Jewish burial. There was no alternative had there been no intervention by two MKs from the Kadima Party.

It is very sad that the custodians of Judaism in Israel are under the aegis of intolerant orthodox establishment rabbis. They believe that they are the messengers of Elohim and are carrying out his laws according to an intolerant Halacha, which has existed for thousands of years.

This may be fine for those who are observant; it somehow is no problem to them. Those who are not observant or are secular are very apathetic. They blindly accept the injustices metered out to those whose Jewishness is in question.

The problems arise when it comes to marriage between Jew and those who are not Jewish according to Jewish law. If somebody passes on - even though he/she has lived in Israel was accepted as a Jew, the rabbinical prying begins and if by chance the person is not Jewish, the personal tragedy to the deceased's family is further enhanced. A severe problem arises as to where the deceased can be interred. The rabbi usually refuses to officiate at the burial.

However, it seems that if a questionable Jew serves in the defense forces and risks his life for Israel, this is acceptable.

There is no separation between religion and state. The rabbis have too much power, far beyond their numbers. Somehow they have the monopoly on Halacha interpretation which is very often strict and merciless. Their God is not a merciful God but a God of vengeance and of religious dogma. Love is not part of their lexicon.

Why at the hour of spiritual need, especially in times of bereavement, does one's Jewishness become questionable as in the case of the young child who lost his life so tragically?

If establishment rabbis in Israel show lack of sensitivity towards deceased of questionable Jewish identity, their attitudes towards non-Jewish citizens of Israel does them no credit either.


If we were to take this blind acceptance of Halacha and the secular apathy towards its consequences, we note that the result is a dislike of the non-Jew in our midst and racism which is becoming more of a problem and a self righteous attitude is becoming common place. Israel is right while the world is wrong. A right wing wind is blowing across the face of Israel which is a wind of change towards intolerance of those who are not Jewish. Its consequences are felt by the foreign worker, the Arab film producer, Scandar Copti, who produced the film, Ajami, and Israel's Arab citizens. All these people are viewed as potential enemies of Israel.

It is hardly surprising. A poll conducted by Maagar Mochot research institution and presented recently at a Tel Aviv University conference shows that 56 % of Israeli high school students believe that Israel's Arab citizens should be prohibited from being elected to the Knesset. This figure rises to 82% among religious youths. Prof. Daniel Bar-Tal of Tel Aviv University School of Education aptly states:” The worldview of religious youth melds fundamentalism, nationalism and racism."

Many establishment rabbis in Israel are in the forefront in fomenting racism towards Palestinians, foreigners and non-Jews generally.

It is indeed a very sad day when those who are at odds with the right wing occupation supporters and their rabbinical allies are today viewed as enemies of Israel. These attitudes which are rapidly becoming more common are endangering democracy.

It is not surprising under these circumstances that cases of doubt of a person's Jewishness can jeopardize his last moments of peace before being laid to rest.

In Israel a culture of peace is expected of the Palestinians while the land grabs continue. The declaration of building 1600 housing units in disputed parts of East Jerusalem was a smack in the face of vice -President Joe Biden on his supposedly friendly visit to Israel and Palestine.

Surely there is an increase in the spread of racism in Israel?

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