I’m a moderate, traditional Jew. I’ve been following and supporting the progress
of Natan Sharansky’s efforts to find a solution to our society’s conversion
issues for more than a decade, and was very excited when the Neeman Commission
proposed its conversion courts. Here was a moderate, practical, halachic forum
to move quickly ahead to enable the conversion of immigrants from the former
Soviet Union (and others!) who have thrown their lot in with the Jewish people
by coming to live in (and defend, and die in) the Jewish state.
past two weeks, I have given talks at and spoken to Jewish leaders and
communities in eight cities across America – and I am quite frustrated at the
misunderstandings rampant, and even more so at the unnecessary wedge being
driven between non-Orthodox Jews abroad and Israelis (of all sorts).
if the Rotem conversion bill was perhaps flawed before the recent
the section affecting the Law of Return – and I’m not sure it was all
that bad –
at this point I suggest simply that all who care for Judaism and Israel
announce “victory” and support it.
ALL OF us – Reform and Conservative
rabbis and leaders in the US, modern Orthodox leaders there and in
all the rest of us who crave a “normal,” classical approach to Judaism –
feel satisfied that, with the amendment separating this internal-affairs
from any treatment of conversions abroad and the “who is a Jew” issue
the Law of Return, this is an effective and long-overdue
Personally, I wish Rotem would have waited until Sharansky (now
head of the Jewish Agency and specifically tasked by the prime minister
to help iron out an agreement) had been allowed to negotiate a
Politically, Rotem deserves our wrath.
But the bill is a
good one, one which actually promotes the kind of more open, welcoming,
Judaism and a cessation of control by the haredim which the non-Orthodox
have been supposedly seeking for years.
I’m not sure Sharansky’s efforts
wouldn’t have led to the same law, or one very similar.
leaders declaring that this law is “divisive” should be told in no
terms: They are the ones who are causing a potential “schism” in the
people, rather than blaming this law for it.
They were successful in
removing the offensive elements of it – now it’s time to declare victory
A close reading of the bill (which it appears many Reform and
Conservative leaders have not done, if judged by their rhetoric)
does exactly what it’s supposed to: enable local, community rabbis to
the conversion process and to make it more welcoming and, while halachic
The bill, while codifying certain elements of Israeli
practice already in place, allows much more freedom for more “modern”
like Shlomo Riskin and the Tzohar moderate rabbinical movement to move
with the conversions of immigrants who want them.
This can – and in
practice will – break the monopoly over conversions of the haredim.
Jerusalem Post editorial (July 20) was inaccurate; it said the bill
“the haredi-controlled Chief Rabbinate ‘responsibility over
already has that, even if not codified in law.
Of course we should
support the bill – it’s (part of) what we’ve been working toward for
(Yes, it’s a partial solution, but it’s a beginning. And mainly, it’s
answer to the issue of immigrants from the former Soviet Union who
and want to be but either won’t convert through the Chief Rabbinate or
aren’t being accepted by it.) MOREOVER, WE must understand the
rhetoric and the language used in debates like these. Those abroad who
that this law would be “divisive” or “destructive” (as did the Post
are mistaken, as it does nothing to affect conversions abroad. It is
are stoking the fires of division and a crisis in Diaspora-Israel
These leaders are making this a discordant issue when in fact
they should be celebrating it as the first step toward liberalizing
Israel ever, and toward eliminating the control of the haredim over our
We – all of us who look to a more moderate version of Judaism
which is open and liberal (dare I use that term, as an “Orthodox” Jew
what some might call “classical” Judaism?) – should simply claim victory
the recent amendment. We should explain to the liberal streams abroad
this is a good bill, even for them and their interests.
The SF Jewish
newspaper, The J Weekly, wrote that the bill puts more power over
into the hands of Israel’s Orthodox- dominated rabbinate. This is
that power exists there today and it is strangling the Neeman and
Druckman – and
Riskin and Tzohar rabbis – approach to conversions. This bill will
rabbis to take the power away from the haredim, including the more
The Diaspora leaders who’ve led this fight, for years –
Reform, Conservative and otherwise – can be justifiably proud of it, and
their success in removing the one, small, admittedly mistaken clause
I propose we declare victory with the recent changes, support
the bill and its liberating effect on conversions in Israel and its
haredi control and coercion – “we” including the Diaspora leaders who
climb on board, communicating this clearly, and as forcefully as they’ve
it – to their flocks.
The writer is director of MediaCentral
(www.m-central.org) and was an adviser to Natan Sharansky as Diaspora