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October 18, 2013

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, OCTOBER 18, 2013 PAGE 15A study: Conservative & rabbi fear expressing true views NEW YORK--The Jewish Council for Public Affairs re- leased a new study, "Reluc- tant or Repressed? Aversion to Expressing Views on Is- rael Among American Rab- bis." The report, written by Steven M. Cohen, research professor of Jewish Social Policy at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and Rabbi Jason Gitlin, project manager of the Jewish Theological Seminary's ReFrame initia- tive, is the first large-scale survey of American rabbis' connection to Israel and their challenges in express- ing their views. "American rabbis have a great deal of involvement and engagement with Israel. More than 90 percent studied there and an equal number said they were very attached. Talking about Israel is not just a part of the job for rabbis, it is a characteristic," said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow. "However, though they care deeply about the Middle East and the Jewish state, there is a fear on both sides of the political spectrum--partic- ularly among younger rab- bis-that expressing their personal opinions may create a problematic and difficult situation in their synagogues and organizations. "Three years ago, we launched our national Ci- vility Campaign to encour- age and foster respectful discourse in response to increasingly divisive con- versations on Israel in Jew- ish communities across the country. This study shows that even rabbis are not exempt." Rabbi Gutow introduced the report on press confer- ence call along with the co-authors of the report as well as JCPA Senior Vice President Martin Raffel and JCPAVice President and Gen- eral Counsel Ethan Felson. "The diversity of views among American Jews and the increasingly tenuous position of congregational rabbis in a period of demo- graphic decline among non- Orthodox Jews point to new levels of insecurity among rabbis in presenting their true views of Israel. Younger people are both more distant from Israel and more critical of its current leadership's policies; the political econo- mies of Conservative and Reform congregations are shaky; and younger rabbis, while still deeply commit- ted to Israel, are even more dovish on Israel than their older colleagues. If anything, rabbis in coming years will be more likely to experience the cross-pressures and chal- lenges related to speaking about Israel in their com- munities and other places of rabbinic work," said Steven Cohen. "We just concluded the Jewish tradition's season of teshuvah, a process in which we work to repent and return to our most true selves. If we want rabbis to live up to this value, our communities must continue to find ways to empower those who are reluctant to express themselves openly about Israel whether because of age or political belief," said Rabbi Gitlin. "Rabbis, as the survey reflects, are simply too informed and passionate about Israel to not have their honest voices guiding Jewish Americans' engagementwith Israel. "In today's atmosphere of often alarming political and cul- tural polarization there are few institutions engaged in public affairs work that embrace consensus and ci- vility, particularly one that counts Israel as integral to its agenda. I believe the JCPA's championing of these values gave rabbis the confidence to respond to the survey openly and honestly and with the belief that the results could have a positive impact on how Israel is discussed in our communities." A copy of the report can be found online here. JCPA, the public affairs arm of the organized Jew- ish community, serves as the national coordinating and advisory body for the 14 national and 125 local agen- cies comprising the field of Jewish community relations. Sharkansky From page 4A rules of modesty, visited the rabbi at his home, discussed policy options, and typically received a friendly slap on the face. On the day after the rabbi's death, Ha'aretz headlined a prominent article on its internet site, "This is the way that politicians kidnapped the religious genius." The lead paragraph began: "The great man of his generation became a tool in the hands of political operatives and was dragged to defend their corruption." There is an economic side to SHAS which has attracted its own criticism, as well as several indictments and prison sentences for leading politicians. The rabbi estab- lished his own institution for granting certificates of kashrut to restaurants and other businesses that pro- duce and sell food, which cause the owners of those establishment to pay an additional cadre of kashrut inspectors, who are most likely to be loyal supporters of SHAS or family members of party leaders. A dispro- portionate number of SHAS Knesset members, including two who held prominent min- isterial appointments, served time for one or another form of corruption. Supporters as- serted that they were picked upon unfairly by prosecutors and courts dominated by the Ashkenazi elite. The most prominent of the felons, Ariyeh Deri, was rehabilitated and accepted back into the fold by Rabbi Ovadia after a prison term and several additional years meant to reform him via further study in yeshivot, and won the rabbi's blessing to return to the Knesset and head the party. Deri's return to grace required his overcoming the opposition of a Knesset member and minister of interior who had been the leader of SHAS. Also in the background are antagonisms between the sons of Rabbi Ovadia, who have themselves become prominent rabbis but who have competed with one another and with their father on matters of doctrine and politics. Another former chief Sephardi rabbi, from outside the family, was featured in competitive endorsements and nasty politicking for the recent election of the chief Sephardi rabbi, in which one of Ovadia's sons eventually received the position from the body with responsibility for the selection. Speculation is that the various personal, family, doctrinal, and economic fric- tions within the SHAS estab- lishment will fracture the organization that will lack someone with Ovadia's status to settle disputes, quiet the unhappy, and set the overall direction. Some of this was already apparent in the news stories about competition for inheriting Rabbi Ovadia's leadership that circulated in the last two weeks of his life. Among the projections are that the outpouring of sup- port associatedwith Ovadia's funeral may help the party in municipal elections sched- uled in the coming month, but that the longer term prospects are of decline and factional splits in national politics. What remains are pro- vocative questions about the meaning of the masses who honored the rabbi in his final days and at his death. Most prominent among the 800,000 to a million who crammed the streets were Sephardi-looking men dressed in the style of SHAS ultra-Orthodox. However, there were also Ashkenazim, Orthodox as well as ultra- Orthodox, and even Israelis dressed in the casual man- ner of the secular, with or without head coverings. The overwhelming majority were men, with only a scattering of women. Some of the country's leading Ashkenazi ultra- Orthodox rabbis came with escorts to create for them a path through the congestion to the site of the eulogies, and participated in the fulsome praise of Rabbi Ovadia's con- tributions to Judaism. While internal conflicts may determine the fate of SHAS within a few years or even less, the reputation of Rabbi Ovadia is likely to be a matter of dispute for much longer. Close supporters com- pare him to the geniuses of rabbinic history, in the league of Joseph Caro and the Ram- bam, i.e., Maimonides, who also suffered severe criticism, and in the eyes of some rabbis remain as outliers. Ira Sharkansky is a pro- fessor (Emeritus) at the Department of Political Sci- ence, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.