There is more evidence that Israel is not a perfect society.
The headline on page 2 of Ha'aretz reports that 44 percent of the country's Jews agree with the rabbis who urge them not to rent or sell apartments to Arabs. According to details in the story, however, 48 percent oppose the rabbis on this point.
Thus is appears that the Jewish population of Israel is closer to the norms of honesty and multiculturalism than the editors of the most prominent left of center newspaper.
Other information coming out of the same survey shows that 48 percent oppose a law that would enable selection committees of small communities to pass on applications from prospective residents. This is a procedure used to screen families for their suitability. It has been criticized for keeping out Arabs who otherwise meet the community's profile on income, education, and professional status. Only 40 percent of the survey support the law that would authorize selection committees.
The same article reports that 54 percent of Israelis support the idea of conversations with Hamas, and only 41 percent oppose. However, 57 percent think that a majority of Israelis oppose such conversations. And 52 percent support the kind of arrangements with the Palestinians identified with the initiative of Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak in 2000.
On the other hand, 55 percent support a proposal requiring prospective citizens to endorse Israel as a Jewish and democratic country. Critics from within and outside of Israel have criticized this proposal as anti-liberal and anti-democratic.
Those interested in a complete report of the survey, in Hebrew, can click on http://www.huji.ac.il/dovrut/TrumanPollDec10Full.pdf
The full survey indicates that 58 percent of Israeli Jews want to end the dispute with the Palestinians, but only 38 percent are willing to compromise on the issue of Jerusalem, and only 36 percent on the issue of refugees.
Elsewhere in the same edition of Ha'aretz is a report that 30 rebbetzins (wives of rabbis, not to be confused with female rabbis) signed a letter urging Jewish women to stay away from Arab men. Reports are that young men with the name of Yusuf and Musa are calling themselves Yosi and Moshe, and inducing nice Jewish girls to do what Grandma would oppose. (According to the Jerusalem Post, only 27 rebbetzins issued such a call, but I will let someone else sort out the discrepancy.)
One hears occasional stories of Arab-Jewish coupling, but the fingers of one hand may be sufficient to count the percentage involved. Overseas, it would be necessary to remove one's footware and count all the digits to approach even one-half the percentage of Jewish-Gentile marriages.
Neither grandmothers nor rebbitzins appear to be as important as personal choice in affecting the choices made by Jewish women or men.
Rabbis' wives play a formal role in Israeli marriage procedures. Once the Rabbinate clears both parties for their credentials as Jews and issues a license, the prospective bride is expected to visit a rebbetzin for counselling, and then dip herself in a mikva. The rebbetzin may provide lessons in anatomy to those in need, as well as instruction in the proper behaviors of a Jewish wife ranging across the topics of sex and the menstrual cycle, kashrut, hygiene, submission or cooperation, and child care. Some rabbis may require certificates to indicate that the bride has listened and dipped herself before performing a marriage ceremony, but there are rabbis who overlook these requirements.
Jewish culture has long supported norms of both sexual freedom and abstention before marriage. There is no requirement that a prospective bride produce a certificate of virginity for either the groom or the rabbi who will wed the couple. There is an event after the ceremony under the canopy (chupah) when the bride and groom spend some moments in a closed room. For religious couples, this may be the first time they have been alone. One hears stories of a bloody sheet as part of Arab ceremonies, but none that I have heard on our side of the street.
There are indications that 20 percent of Jewish couples skip these rituals altogether and tie their knot in a municipal office outside of the country.
Other news is that Mahmoud Abbas is in Brasilia for the opening of the new Palestinian Embassy. Still no reports of diplomats from South America or anywhere else raising their flags over an Embassy in Jerusalem, and calling it the capital of Palestine.
The tragedy of the week began with a road accident that injured a 50 year old former soccer star while he was riding on his motorcycle. His head injury was serious, and he reached the status of brain death within a few days. The man himself had signed a statement indicating intentions to contribute his organs in such an event, but rabbis and others approached the family, led them to hope for a miracle, and not to consider the man dead until his heart stopped beating. So a man who was strong and healthy until his accident, and could have kept others alive, will be buried with all his organs.
There is enough happening to excite one's concern or relief, to make one rely more or less on the reportage of Israel's most prestigious newspaper, to please or worry Grandma, and to bring one closer or further away from religious authorities.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem