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July 14, 2017

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PAGE 12A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JULY 14, 2017 OX r; eal Rabbi Nachum Eistenstein By Andrev Tebin JERUSALEMOTA)--Hare- di Orthodox Jews agree with their non-Orthc~lox brethren on one thing: The future of the Jewish people is at stake in the debate raging over who controls the Western Wall and conversion in Israel. Other than that, though, there is little common ground. According to Nachum Eisenstein, the chief rabbi of eastern Jerusalem's haredi Maalot Dafna neighborhood, Reform and Conservative Ju- daism threaten to undermine the survival of the Jewish people. "The reason why Judaism is the only religion that sur- vived throughout thousands of years and all the massacres and all the attempts to destroy it is that tl~ours is the only re- ligion that has always been the same, the way it was given to us on Mount Sinai," Einstein said in an interview. "Who gave you, the Conservative and the Reform, the authority to make up a new religion?" The government's suspen- sion last week of a deal that would have expanded a non- Orthodox prayer area has sparked a crisis in Israel-Di- aspora relations that some are calling unprecedented. Major U.S. Jewish groups, led by the Reform and Conserva- tive movements, rushed to Israel to complain that the government of Prime Minis- ter Benjamin Netanyahu had caved in to haredi Orthodox interests and insulted the Jewish majority that does not subscribe to Orthodoxy. They also railed against a government-backed bill passed the same day, and since shelved, to grant Israel's haredi-dominated Chief Rab- binate a monopoly over all conversions performed in the country. But like much of his haredi community, Einstein wel- comed the Western Wall decision as avictory over non- Orthodox Jewish meddling. And he said the subsequent ta- bling of the conversion bill was a setback in the same battle. Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, speaking last week to lawmakers from his Sephard- ic Orthodox Shas party, ex- plained his camp's resistance to non-Orthodox Judaism as a question of preservation. "We have nothing against Jews in any place they may be. They are all our brothers," he said, "Our fight is against the approach, this ideology which is attempting to bring a new Judaism here, is trying to destroy everything thatwe built here over the years." Haredi leaders often warn against the pernicious influ- ence of non-Orthodox Juda- ism in Israel and disparage "Reformim," as they call its adherents in Hebrew. Al- though as few as 5 percent of Israelis subscribe to Reform or Conservative Judaism, according to Pew, about half of Jewish Americans identify with one or the other. Under pressure from the haredi political parties in the governing coalition, Israel last Sunday essentially withdrew its support for the Western Wall deal. Non-Orthodox Jewish leaders reacted with outrage. "We love the State of Israel and will continue to do. But we will not sit idly by while the State of Israel delegitimizes us and frankly says to the Jews of North America and the Jewish of the world, 'You do not mat- ter," Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the head of the North American Reform movement, said June 26 at the Knesset. The Jewish Agency, which brokered the Western Wall deal on behalf of the Israeli government, took an unprec- edented public stance against its reversal, and major Jewish groups warned of an erosion of support for the Jewish state. One prominent American Jewish philanthropist briefly threatened to suspend his donations to Israel. But Eisenstein, who im- migrated to Israel from Chi- cago decades ago, doubts the sincerity of the protesta- tions, saying they were about politics, not religion. He said Reform and Conservative leaders do not represent their constituents, who gener- ally "don't pray," and anyway prefer to be part of Orthodox prayer when they visit Israel. "Just a few leaders, carry- ing big salaries, want to use the Kotel to get recognition. It's a joke to say their people want a place to pray," he said. "Who are their people? They're people who pay their membership fee to the Con- servative or Reform temple, and they come once a year for the High Holidays, or maybe to make a bat mitzvah for one of their children. "They go to a nightclub to mix [genders] and find women [who] dress inappro- priately. When they come to the Kotel, the people want to come and visit a holy place." As far as concerns about a loss of American Jewish backing for Israel, Eisenstein said, "Anyone who threatens to withdraw his support from Israel doesn't really love the state anyway." In contrast to non-Or- thodox leaders, Eisenstein said, Israel's chief rabbis and haredi politicians had acted in accordance with deep-seated sentiment in his community by rejecting the Western Wall agreement. He said Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinow- itz had made a mistake by ini- tially backing the agreement, as had any haredi politicians who may have consented to it. "We did not agree to any compromise. Anyone who agreed to compromise, you have to speak to him. Who gave him the authority to do that?" Einstein said. "Every Orthodox Jew feels that we were left this Wailing Wall, which is the only remnant that we have from the holy Temple, and every Orthodox Jew feels it's his responsibly to make sure the holiness of the wall is observed." Non-Orthodox Jews have visited the pluralistic prayer space at the southern end of the Western Wall, popularly known as Robinson's Arch, since Israel recognized their right to dosoin 2000. In 2013, Naftali Bennett, in his capaci- ty as Diasporaaffairs re:mister, built a larger platform there as part of what he called an "interim" solution. Bennett last week said the platform would still be expanded and made more permanent. Asked about this ongoing supposed desecration, Eisen- stein said haredi opposition to the Western Wall deal was fundamentally about stav- ing off state recognition of non-Orthodox Judaism. The Western Wall agreement also called for an interdenomina- tional Jewish committee to oversee the non-Orthodox section, which haredi critics felt gave non-Orthodox move- ments an unprecedented say in Israel's religious affairs. The conversion bill was meant to head off this kind of recognition. It requires the government to only recognize for immigration purposes conversions in Israel over- seen by the Chief Rabbinate. Although the bill would only affect the small number of foreigners who convert to Judaism in Israel each year, and not non-Orthodox con- versions performed overseas, itwould for the first time grant a degree of Knesset recogni- tion to the Chief Rabbinate's de facto monopoly on deciding who is a Jew. From an Orthodox perspec- tive, Jewishness is matrilineal and does not depend on ob- servance. But non-Orthodox converts are not considered Jewish, and marrying any non-Jew is prohibited by Jew- ish law. While haredi Jews are more than capable of keeping track of Jewish bloodlines, Eisenstein said, most Israe- lis would be dangerously confused were the state to begin recognizing Reform and Conservative conversions. "Jews living in Israel don't want intermarriage. Haredim aren't afraid of it because we won't marry such people," he said. "But secular Jews won't be smart enough to differentiate them from real Jews, and they'll intermarry. It's a terrible thing." The non-Orthodox move- ments, for their part, say the crisis in Israel is not inter- marriage but indifference. By controlling marriage, divorce and conversion, and promot- ing laws that limit commerce, transportation and entertain- ment on the Sabbath, the Chief Rabbinate has alienated the nearly half of Israelis who call themselves "secular." Reform and Conservative Judaism, they argue, offer secular Israelis an alternative for exploring Judaism on their own terms. Eisenstein, who chairs an interrlatjo~l~ h~redi x~b~ binical group that pushes for stricter conversion standards, said the Chief Rabbinate's conversion authority was already not up to snuff. Since he worked there years ago, he said, it has been taken over by more lenient Orthodox rabbis from the religious Zionist movement. "What you call haredi, I don't call haredi," he said. "I have a higher standard." Individuals described by the United Nations as Pales tinian refugees are pictured in Lebanon in January 1948. By Ariel Ben Solomon While Israeli government ministers in recentweeks have dueled over the acceptance of Palestinian "refugees" in a possible future Palestinian state, experts say the Arab world continues to refuse to take responsibility for the issue. "Unfortunately, respon- sibility is something which Arabs do not believe in, and therefore they demand that Israel solves a problem which they created," said Dr. Mordechai Kedar, a research associate at Bar-Ilan Univer- sity's Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and a lead- ing scholar on Arab culture. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman had called for no Palestinian refugees and their descendants to be admitted into the pre-1967 lines as part of a future Pal- estinian state. Instead, he said, they should be absorbed into the current Palestinian Authority (PA)-controlled areas in the disputed ter- ritories. Lieberman made the comments at the recent Herzliya Conference. Education Minister Naf- tali Bennett quickly rejected Lieberman's plan, telling Israel National News that the descendants of Arab refugees should not be allowed into Area C of the disputed ter- ritories, which is under full Israeli control. "The idea of importing mil- lions of refugee descendants from Syria, Lebanon and Jordan is a very dangerous idea that will flood Israel with Palestinian refugees. It took 40 years for Zionism to bring a demographic majority between the Jordan River and the sea," Bennett said. "The solution to the descen- dants of the refugees--and I emphasize that these are the descendants of the refugees and not the refugees them- selves--is to settle them in their places of residence," he added. Today, there are an esti- mated 5 million Palestinian refugees and descendants of refugees. The pro-Israel community disputes this number because the Pales- tinians count descendants as refugees. The Palestinians are the world's only refugee group with a United Nations agency--UNRWA--dedi- cated solely to their concerns. According to U.N. Resolution 194, "refugees wishing to re- turn to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensa- tion should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or equity, should be made good by the governments or authorities responsible." In 2014, during the most recent round of Israeli-Pal- estinian peace talks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netan- yahu declared there was "no room to maneuver" on the Palestinian claim of a "right of return" for refugees. Two-state solution's vi- ability The status of Palestinian refugees has long been astick- ing point in Israeli-Palestin- ian final status negotiations. Israel's current internal debate on the refugee issue comes amid uncertain pros- pects for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. President Donald Trump, who has stated his desire to broker a peace deal, said in February, "I'm looking at two states and one state. I am very happy with the one that both parties like." Trump's remark broke with America's longstanding firm commitment to a two-state solution. In the past, Netanyahu has repeatedly emphasized his support for a demilitarized Palestinian state that recog- nizes a Jewish state, but his current position on the issue is unclear. Kobi Michael, a senior research fellow at the TelAviv- based Institute for National Security Studies, told any talk of a two-state solution "for the time being and under the current circumstances is a theoretical and irrelevant issue." Nevertheless, Michael hy- pothetically analyzed the merits of Lieberman's plan. Demographically, Michael does not see a risk in allowing refugees into a Palestinian state, since they would not be a part of the state of Israel. "I think that once [a Pales- tinian state] would be realized, the numbers would be limited to refugees from Lebanon and Syria, and even then, not all of them," Michael said. Asked about the capacity of a future Palestinian state Refugees on page 15A