Israel is a bifurcated nation. On one side, it is a robust democracy with active executive, legislative and judicial branches. On the other, it has a fourth branch of government—an official religious arm in the form of the Orthodox chief rabbinate. Through its control of “personal status” issues such as marriage, divorce and burial rights as well as broader societal ones such as kosher certification and Shabbat ordinances, this central religious authority wields enormous power over the lives of not only Orthodox Jews but all Jewish Israelis.
With this issue, Moment launches a new project, “Israel: Theocracy in a Democracy,” in which we will examine some of the many ways that Israel’s official rabbinate comes into conflict with the country’s democratic values. Our cover story, “An Uneasy Union,” investigates the rabbinate’s monopoly over marriage and divorce. This is not an easy topic for North Americans to wrap our brains around. Unlike Israelis, we don’t have an official rabbinate and we have access to civil marriage and divorce.
Eetta Prince-Gibson, former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Report, reports on the everyday impact of imposing Jewish law—with its staggering gender imbalance and exclusionary consequences—on relationships in a contemporary society. Any story on marriage must by definition include conversion, and Prince-Gibson also explores the increasingly rigid conversion requirements that are being imposed in the name of unifying the Jewish people.
This conflict at the heart of the Jewish State has spilled over to Jews in the diaspora, and some North American leaders believe that it has become a wedge issue that will further alienate young Jews from Israel, diminishing future American support. Some have gone so far as to call it an existential threat.
Elsewhere in this issue, we look at the history behind another source of tension in Israel: Gaza. Though many of us follow the headlines about the Palestinian territory closely, we are largely unfamiliar with its long and tumultuous history. We’ve created an illustrated timeline of Gaza that will take you from the conquests of Pharaoh Thutmose III, King David, Hulagu Khan, Alexander the Great and Napoleon Bonaparte up to the current conflict.
We also present the life stories of three remarkable women—DNA pioneer Rosalind Franklin, economist Anna Schwartz and comedy writer Lucille Kallen—whose extraordinary accomplishments failed to receive proper credit during their lifetimes. Senior editor Dina Gold interviews their family members in the hopes of understanding how they felt about being overshadowed by their male colleagues.
In our opinion section, Israel Prize-winning journalist Nahum Barnea discusses the forces conspiring against political change in Israel, and Moment opinion editor Amy E. Schwartz examines the destruction of cultural heritage that ISIS is leaving in its wake. The “Ask the Rabbis” section tackles the problem of arrogance and brings up some fascinating points about this all-too-human trait. And of course, there are light topics too, such as an inquiry into the origin of the expression “nice Jewish boy” and a Talk of the Table digression on Jews and olive oil.
For fiction lovers, we publish the first place winner of our Moment Magazine-Karma Foundation Short Fiction Contest, chosen by this year’s judge, novelist Alice Hoffman. Please join us on December 11 at the Jewish Museum in New York to meet the winners and hear Hoffman in conversation with writer Anita Diamant. (Register at jewishmuseum.org.) We also include two Hanukkah stories—from actor and folk singer Theodore Bikel and humorist Andy Borowitz—as part of our partnership with NPR’s Hanukkah Lights program. NPR’s talented Murray Horwitz and Susan Stamberg will read these stories aloud when the show airs on stations in December.
Meanwhile, please support Moment by attending our annual benefit in Washington, DC on November 16, where we will be feting Bikel in honor of his 90th birthday. For those of you who can’t make it, we hope you will help us continue our work by buying Moment subscriptions as Hanukkah gifts for your friends and family, and, if possible, remembering Moment in your year-end giving.
Thank you so much, and Happy Hanukkah to all!