Inside Israel and the Palestinian Territories
For years Reform and Conservative rabbis in Israel have been trying to break the monopoly of the ultra-Orthodox Rabbinic Court, which is the sole authority for Jewish ceremonies like weddings and conversions. That's an especially big responsiblity in a country where there is no civil marriage, essentially forcing all Jewish Israelis to seek an Orthodox rabbi when they wish to wed -- or go abroad.
The more modern, liberal movements have a less strict interpretation and observance of Jewish law than the Orthodox, who make up about 20 percent of Israel's population.
This week's ruling came after the Reform movement petitioned the court, seeking state funding for conversions carried out by non-Orthodox movements. Whether it will have any real impact is unclear, since the Jewish state still only recognises Orthodox conversions for legal purposes.
Pope Benedict spent Thursday in Nazareth, the town where Jesus grew up in what is now the northern part of Israel. With no pressing political issues there, his sermon and speeches had a more religious focus than some recent ones.
MARRIAGE: "All of us need... to return to Nazareth, to contemplate ever anew the silence and love of the Holy Family, the model of all Christian family life. Here, in the example of Mary, Joseph and Jesus, we come to appreciate even more fully the sacredness of the family, which in God’s plan is based on the lifelong fidelity of a man and a woman consecrated by the marriage covenant and accepting of God’s gift of new life. How much the men and women of our time need to reappropriate this fundamental truth, which stands at the foundation of society, and how important is the witness of married couples for the formation of sound consciences and the building of a civilization of love!"
The Likud party leader was chosen to form a government after a right-wing majority was elected in a Feb. 10 parliamentary election. Netanyahu has been shuttling between factions, trying to cobble together as broad a coalition as possible that will have a better chance of long-term survival.