Jewish leaders oppose conversion bill

Israel Beiteinu legislation may "alienate Diaspora Jewry."

May 2, 2010 03:02
2 minute read.
Danny Ayalon

Danny Ayalon 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski/The Jerusalem Post)


Dear Reader,
As you can imagine, more people are reading The Jerusalem Post than ever before. Nevertheless, traditional business models are no longer sustainable and high-quality publications, like ours, are being forced to look for new ways to keep going. Unlike many other news organizations, we have not put up a paywall. We want to keep our journalism open and accessible and be able to keep providing you with news and analysis from the frontlines of Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World.

As one of our loyal readers, we ask you to be our partner.

For $5 a month you will receive access to the following:

  • A user experience almost completely free of ads
  • Access to our Premium Section
  • Content from the award-winning Jerusalem Report and our monthly magazine to learn Hebrew - Ivrit
  • A brand new ePaper featuring the daily newspaper as it appears in print in Israel

Help us grow and continue telling Israel’s story to the world.

Thank you,

Ronit Hasin-Hochman, CEO, Jerusalem Post Group
Yaakov Katz, Editor-in-Chief


NEW YORK – North American Jewish leaders remained firm in their opposition to a conversion bill being advanced by Israel Beiteinu, following a series of meetings with Israeli officials in New York.

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and MK David Rotem, both from Israel Beiteinu, traveled to New York last week to meet with Jewish leaders and sought to ease concerns of those opposed to the bill, which would give the authority to perform conversions to municipal and regional rabbis. Articles subsequently added to the legislation could limit the rights of some converts to make aliya.

In a joint statement, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist Jewish leaders outlined their opposition to legislation that “has the potential to divide the Jewish community or to alienate Diaspora Jewry.”

They urged, “in the strongest possible terms,” that Rotem, Israel Beiteinu and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu withdraw the bill.

Ahead of the trip, Ayalon and Rotem “decided to meet with leaders of different Jewish movements and explain that their status will not be changed,” Ayalon said last week.

The Jewish Federations of North America called on the Israeli government last month “to enter into dialogue with Diaspora Jews before making any proposed changes to the Law of Return.”

But following a series of meetings with individual denominations, and larger group meetings, US Jewish officials said they appreciated the dialogue but still opposed the bill. In the statement, Jewish leaders emphasized their support for Rotem’s goal to advance legislation that would ease conversion for some 350,000 Russian olim who are not recognized as Jews.

Participants said the meetings were frank, and both sides took advantage of the opportunity to share their perspective.

“We are unified in our opposition to this,” said Rabbi Steven Wernick, executive president and CEO of United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism.

“We did not back down, nor did he, from what our perspectives were,” Wernick told The Jerusalem Post on Friday. “But it was a dialogue, a conversation.”

He said Jewish leaders are watching the bill carefully. “I suppose we’re going to measure the success of this meeting based on what happens with this,” he said. “That’s the bottom line.”

In the statement, Jewish leaders outlined several concerns with the proposed legislation: It would consolidate conversion authority with the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, and, through Article 1, legislate the role and status of the Rabbinate. Further, they say, the bill does not mention non-Orthodox conversion methods, thereby marginalizing the Masorti (Conservative) and Reform movements.

“MK Rotem believes his proposed legislation would rapidly open the door to a faster conversion process. We respectfully disagree,” the statement read. “Not only would this legislation fail to achieve his forecasted result, the collateral damage to the 85% of world Jewry who are not Orthodox (and perhaps others who are) would be disastrous to the unity of the Jewish people in a number of ways.”

They said the bill thrusts Israel back into the destructive “Who is a Jew?” debate “that has previously threatened to divide world Jewry, as it does today.”

In addition, they are troubled by language that indicates people who enter Israel and then convert could still be ineligible for citizenship under the Law of Return.

“To explicitly connect conversion to a single religious stream, while making no mention of other streams of Judaism, is by definition to compromise and jeopardize the Law of Return,” the statement read.

Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>

Related Content

Jisr az-Zarq
April 3, 2014
Residents of Jisr az-Zarqa beckon Israel Trail hikers to enjoy their town