New law would repeal all rights of non-Orthodox converts

The terms of the new law are likely to generate consternation from the progressive Jewish leadership in Israel.

April 23, 2018 20:21
2 minute read.
At the ceremony marking the 100th ordination of a graduate from Hebrew Union College’s Israeli Refor

At the ceremony marking the 100th ordination of a graduate from Hebrew Union College’s Israeli Reform rabbinical program. (photo credit: PR)


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Legislation being drawn up to address the conflict over Jewish conversion in Israel would totally negate the rights of all converts who converted outside of the state’s auspices in Israel, including Reform and Masorti (Conservative) converts and those of independent Orthodox rabbinical courts.

The law would, however, preserve the current situation in which Reform and Conservative converts who converted outside of Israel are recognized by the state and given the right of Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return.

The bill was formulated by former justice minister Moshe Nissim, following the June 2017 crisis that erupted when a bill advanced by the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) United Torah Judaism and Shas parties, which granted the Chief Rabbinate a total monopoly over conversion, was approved by the cabinet for passage to the Knesset.

The bill was frozen due to fierce opposition by many Diaspora Jewish leaders and political opposition from Yisrael Beytenu.
Nissim was appointed to draw up a compromise solution.

The Jerusalem Post has learned that the draft bill would establish a new conversion authority under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s Office, which would replace the current authority that was created by a government resolution and not by legislation.

The Chief Rabbinate would be strongly involved in appointing the head of the conversion authority under the proposed bill, thereby precluding non-Orthodox conversions done in Israel from being recognized.

Currently, an Israeli citizen or resident who converts through the Reform or Masorti movements is able to register as Jewish in the Population and Immigration Authority of the Interior Ministry. This right would be repealed under the terms of the new law.

In addition, the right afforded by a 2016 High Court of Justice decision to citizenship of Orthodox converts who convert in Israel in independent, Orthodox rabbinical courts would also be repealed.

The terms of the new law are likely to generate consternation from the progressive Jewish leadership in Israel, which has a petition before the High Court of Justice requesting the right to citizenship for non-Orthodox converts who convert in Israel.

The haredi bill approved by the government last year is designed to preemptively circumvent a High Court decision in favor of this decision, and so legislation that was supposed to be a compromise but negates the rights in question will be highly controversial.

Moderate national-religious elements which back independent, Orthodox conversions will also strongly oppose the bill.

Rabbi Seth Farber, head of the ITIM religious services organization and a founder of the independent, Orthodox conversion authority Giyur K’halacha, said that Nissim had done serious work in understanding the complexity of the conversion issue and in trying to address the concerns of multiple groups.

“But the bill falls short of providing a ray of light for the hundreds of thousands of individuals whose Jewishness is not recognized today,” said Farber, in reference to the large number of Israeli citizens from the former Soviet Union who are not Jewish according to Jewish law and whom Giyur K’halacha seeks to convert to prevent Jewish intermarriage in Israel.

“In addition, the concerns raised by the world Jewish community about the powers of the religious establishment in Israel are not addressed in a significant way.”

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