On/File: A Continuing Record of People, Groups, Movements, and Events Impacting Today’s Religion

1) The Interfaith, Spiritual, Religious, and Secular Campus Climate Index, or INSPIRES, created by researchers at Ohio State University and North Carolina State University, measures higher-ed institutions on their levels of religious diversity and inclusion. The index is based on extensive surveys of officials at 185 public, private and religiously affiliated institutions, covering questions relating to faith-related resources on campus, religious accommodation policies and more. The institutions are scored according to seven criteria, including religious accommodations, efforts to reduce bias, and extracurricular and academic engagement. Campus leaders will receive reports of the results and personalized recommendations from researchers starting in May. The institutions can then choose whether to make the information public as a resource for students and parents, in which case it will appear on the index’s website, or to keep the scores private and use them as an opportunity for reflection and learning. Index researchers say the “core issues of civil rights” related to students’ religious identities too often go unaddressed, and the index enables institutions to hold themselves accountable. (Source: Inside Higher Ed, April 13)


Matan Kahana (author: Arielinson, 2019 | Wikimedia Commons).

2) Matan Kahana represents a new breed of Israeli politician who is trying to straddle the line between Orthodox, Zionist and labor movements. Kahana, the 49-year-old minister of religious services in Israel, and a circle of like-minded friends rose through the ranks of the military and civil service and have taken their place at the center of Israeli society to the consternation of both the religious right and the secular left. Kahana is part of a privatized generation in the religious Zionist world “who vote for different political parties and don’t listen to the same rabbis, or listen to rabbis atall,” writes journalist Yair Ettinger. The liberal fear that religionist Zionists would “theocratize” the military hasn’t come to pass, while Kahana and his colleagues have actually put liberals back in power for the first time in years. Kahana, a former officer, and his generation did bring a more Orthodox Jewish orientation into the elite military force known as Sayeret Matkal, which was traditionally dominated by secular kibbutzniks. He is part of the new political alliance Yamina (meaning “Rightward”), which is part of a coalition that includes the left-wing parties Meretz and Labor but also a party of conservative Muslims that had pushed out ultra-Orthodox parties.

Kahana is working to end the ultra-Orthodox monopoly on the country’s religious establishment, successfully ending the rabbinate’s hold on kosher food regulation, and appointing record numbers of women as heads of local religious councils. More of a challenge will be his attempt to move Jewish conversion from the control of the ultra-Orthodox to city rabbis, who are at least potentially more flexible and Zionist and would be sympathetic to his idea that conversion play more of a role in national cohesion. This would make it easier for Israelis who are not Jews (such as many residents from the former Soviet Union), according to Jewish law, to opt into Judaism. But Kahana disavows the “liberal” label Westerners want to place on him; he wants to keep Israel Orthodox, even if more diverse and less coercive in pressing the demands of Jewish law on Israelis. Kahana is far from alone; the new “hyphenated” Orthodox-labor-Zionists include the new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, Yoaz Hendel, the communications minister, and Elazar Stern, the intelligence minister. (Source: Tablet, April 10)