The Israeli Religious Action Center (of the Israel Reform Movement) and Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel have agreed to a nearly six-month freeze on their High Court petition demanding state recognition of non-Orthodox conversions in Israel, and the government in return will halt the legislation on the conversion bill for that period, following a deal hammered out by cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser Thursday night at the behest of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu “to find any way to preserve the unity of the Jewish people.”
Under the deal, there will be no change in the status-quo of conversions till January 1, 2011.
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The non-Orthodox groups have also agreed to freeze all other ongoing legal proceedings pertaining to conversions.
In the interim, Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky will head a team including members of the non-Orthodox movements and of the government, to form the authority that would complete the legislation on the topic.
“The changes in the conversion laws should be reached through broad understanding, to prevent a schism in the Jewish people. Unity is a primary national interest, and I am determined to preserve it,” Netanyahu said.
Rotem had attempted in the recent Knesset session to put forth a law that would give municipal rabbis the authority to conduct conversions, but critics feared that the wording of the bill could change the legal status of non-Orthodox conversions in Israel and affect the legibility of such converts to the Law of Return. Netanyahu was recently subject to massive pressure not only from the non-Orthodox movements but also the Jewish Federations of North America to halt the bill till further dialogue.
“We appreciate the premier's decision to use all his sway to keep the conversion bill, which bore the danger of splitting the Jewish people, from being voted on in the Knesset session,” Yizhar Hess, CEO of Masorti Movement in Israel said. “We accepted the premier's suggestion to convene for negotiations on formulating the conversion law in such as way that wouldn't rift the people. With a heavy heart we agreed to freeze the High Court petitions, which deal with delicate and intricate personal cases, in order to enable a quiet, professional process, based on mutual trust.”
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, head of the Reform Movement in Israel, lauded the premier “for preventing significant harm to the unity of the Jewish people, and giving precedence to acts of dialogue over unilateral, aggressive legislation.”
“The movements' acquiescence to freeze the High Court procedures, a move far from being taken for granted, is proof that the non-Orthodox movements in Israel and abroad believe in the necessity of dialogue,” Kariv said. “We hope the appropriate ways to solve the severe conversion crisis in Israel will be found, along with the recognition of the pluralistic nature of the Jewish people.”
The Jewish Federations of North America’s President and CEO Jerry Silverman welcomed the agreement as "significant."
"We truly support this process of a dialogue table, which allows the participants time to discuss this important issue appropriately and reach a solution that protects the bonds between Israel and the Diaspora," Silverman said. "We are also thrilled that Natan Sharansky will be leading the process."
Silverman said the Jewish Federations appreciated the work of the entire advocacy coalition opposing the bill, ensuring it would not reach the Knesset floor for a reading this week. Leading the coalition partnership was JFNA, JAFI, the Conservative and Reform movements, Orthodox rabbis and a range of Israeli legislators.