Our last newsletter covered two pieces of legislation introduced by the religious parties in the Netanyahu coalition that have the American Jewish community up in arms. The first bill effectively canceled the compromise that provided an improved space for women’s prayer groups and for non-halachic groups (NHG) — such as egalitarian, conservative and reform — to pray at the Kotel. It is called a freeze but things have ground to a halt.

The second bill gave the Chief Rabbinate complete control over conversions in Israel. The thrust of our newsletter was that the coalition members Bayit HaYeudi (Naftali Bennett)and Yisrael Beiteinu (Avigdor Liberman) should have threatened to bring down the Netanyahu government if either of these bills passed. Apparently, pressure was put on Netanyahu and discussion of the conversion bill has been postponed for six months.

What should the position of the modern orthodox community be vis-a-vis these bills? I feel that the RCA/OU should be taking a stand rather than running away from these issues. Let’s not be like those rabbis who evade taking a position on the Kotel deal by fixating on the foolish NHG threats to cut support for Israel.

The Kotel deal was negotiated over several years by Natan Sharansky — a former Prisoner of Zion and the head of the Jewish Agency. It was accepted by all of the players in Israel including Shas (headed by the convicted criminal Arye Deri who may soon be indicted again for corruption) and UTJ. At the very least, the RCA should issue a statement demanding that deal be upheld. For the Israeli ‘religious’ parties to renege is a chilul HaShem (desecration of G-d). The RCA/OU should also issue a statement that corrupt leaders of religious parties constitute a chilul HaShem. If the RCA/OU does get around to making statements, they might note that chief rabbis who are convicted of corruption also constitute a major chillul HaShem.

In spite of all their hue and cry, not getting an expanded space at the Kotel is a goldmine for the conservative and reform movements,. Fund raisers must be having a field day. They can present the issue as an existential threat. It could also have some spiritual benefits. Members of NHG are not into prayer at their local synagogues. Perhaps the fight over prayer at the Kotel will awaken an interest in praying more often than two or three times a year.

Unfortunately, there is little evidence that non-halachic Jews want to pray at the Kotel. Perhaps this controversy will induce them to visit the site already set aside for them. Conservative and reform sources claim that 50,000 people come to their present site each year. That sounds impressive but dividing 50,000 by 365 gives 137/day – not an impressive number (but a very important number in physics and Jewish mysticism).

The big issue is the attempt of the chief rabbinate to control all conversions in Israel, This does not affect the NHG as their conversions in Israel are not recognized now. It does however affect the conversions done under the auspices of National Religious Rabbis in Israel. These are the conversions performed under the auspices of Tzohar and under Giur K’halacha. Both of these groups are close to the ideals of our modern orthodox community and we should be declaring our solidarity with them. It’s time for the RCA/OU to take a public stand and state that all conversions performed under the auspices of Tsohar and Giur K’halacha will be recognized by the RCA/OU. This has little practical effect but it is an important statement. Sometimes one must take a stand or lose self-respect. It’s time for the RCA to get over its unwarranted infatuation with a corrupt chief rabbinate (Shakranut HaRasha).

Turning to the Middle East, there are several significant developments (1) a truce for South Syria brokered by the US and Russia (2) the ‘Justice March’ in Turkey and (3) arrests in the corruption scandal associated with the purchase of ships and submarines from the German shipbuilder ThyssenKrupp.

The truce in South Syria between rebel forces and the Assad regime is still holding. (South Syria is that part of Syria near the Golan in Israel.) It was brokered by the US and Russia. It’s good to have the Trump administration playing an active and constructive role in the Middle East. The AP article notes, ‘A separate truce for southern Syria, brokered by the U.S. and Russia, is meant to help allay growing concerns by neighboring Jordan and Israel about Iranian military ambitions in the area, including fears that Tehran plans to set up a disruptive long-term presence there.’

The Justice March in Turkey was led by the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). As reported in Hurriyet of July 9, ‘The CHP, under the leadership of Kılıçdaroğlu, launched its march from Ankara on June 15 after its Istanbul deputy Enis Berberoğlu was sentenced to 25 years in prison on June 14.’ The march of 450 kilometers ended in Istanbul on July 9.’

Kılıçdaroğlu stated, “We marched for those dismissed from their public duties, for child workers, for villagers, for jailed and lynched soldiers. We walked because we are against a one-man regime and FETÖ. We walked because we are against terrorist organizations and because of the fact that the judiciary has been taken under the orders of politics,” he said, also referring to hunger striking educators Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça.’

This march hopefully represents the start of a reaction to Erdogan’s seizure of all the levers of power in Turkey. Hopefully the 450 kilometers are a first step on the path of restoring democracy to Turkey.

The investigation into charges of corruption involving Israeli purchase of submarines and other vessels is close to completion. David Shimron, a cousin and lawyer of PM Netanyahu has been grilled by investigators and is under house arrest. As the July 12 issue of Times of Israel reports, ‘Shimron is suspected of pushing for an NIS 6 billion ($1.5 billion) defense contract to purchase submarines for the Israeli Navy and other vessels for protecting the country’s maritime natural gas fields, an effort that could have netted him a hefty fee. Netanyahu’s own role in the purchase decision, including his insistence that Thyssenkrupp be exempted from the usual Defense Ministry tender process, raised concerns of a conflict of interest for Shimron. Part of the agreement being pushed by Shimron would also have seen ThyssenKrupp construct a lucrative shipyard in Israel, where the company would maintain the new vessels.’

I became an admirer of Moshe Yaalon when he spoke out against Elor Azaria for killing an unarmed, wounded terrorist. Yaalon upheld the finest traditions of the IDF’s Purity of Arms doctrine. I am nonplussed by his comments on this corruption case. He threatens to go public with information incriminating PM Netanyahu in this corruption case – if Bibi is not indicted. If Yaalon does have such information, it is his duty to step forward now and give it to the investigators.

We have also included two articles on the developing ties between Israel and India in the full version of this newsletter.