Ayalon to US Jewry: Allow conversion bill

Deputy FM says Israeli and American Jews face similar challenges.

May 3, 2010 08:24
3 minute read.
Danny Ayalon at Nativ Haasara

Danny Ayalon JPost interview 311. (photo credit: Benjamin Spier)


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Under heavy criticism by American Jewish leaders for pushing a bill that they fear will threaten the religious status quo on conversions, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told The Jerusalem Post Sunday that Israeli and North American Jews face similar challenges from “the ultra-ultra orthodox establishment.”

Ayalon argued that the controversial conversion bill would not impact Reform and Conservative conversions, but that Israeli lawmakers must work to prevent a split between Israel and world Jewry.

Ayalon traveled to America last week with the bill’s sponsor, MK David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu) in an effort to convince US Jewish leaders that the bill would not impact the rights of US converts to immigrate to Israel. But despite their efforts, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist Jewish leaders issued a joint statement in which they outlined their opposition to the legislation which they said “has the potential to divide the Jewish community or to alienate Diaspora Jewry.”

Ayalon, however, did not see the trip as a failure. “What was achieved was the beginning of a dialogue and I also hope that what was accomplished was trust,” he said. “It is true that we explained things without trying to beautify them, but we tried to emphasize that we would not do anything to change the status of Conservative and Reform Judaism.”

“In any case there are a lot of emotions involved, and I can understand that, if they see themselves as harmed by the law,” Ayalon added. “In that event, we must continue to describe and explain what we are doing and what our intents are.”

Ayalon emphasized the same point that he and Rotem pushed during their US visit – that “the goal is to find a solution for 350,000 immigrants from the USSR who want to convert and were not permitted to do so.”

The deputy foreign minister said that neither he nor Rotem had come to the conclusion that changes were necessary to the bill itself. “We don’t see a need for change,” he maintained, “but we will be happy to continue to speak with the North American Jewish communities about the bill.”

Ayalon said concerns that the law further extended the authority of the Chief Rabbinate as the only authority for legitimate conversion were unfounded. “The bill does not change the authority of the Reform and Conservative to continue to convert. What we should have explained better is that the mention of “the responsibility of the Chief Rabbinate” in the bill’s preamble refers only to those conversions carried out under the specific law.”

Ayalon argued that the bill was actually the best of both worlds, “offering a solution for those Israelis who were previously denied conversion, while not harming the rights of Conservative and Reform Jews.”

But, said Ayalon, he believes that the underlying protest against Rotem’s bill stems from “an issue and concern regarding the authority of the ultra-orthodox in Israel.”

“We are in many senses together in the same boat – we, including the religious Zionists, are in the same boat as North American Jewry regarding the ultra-ultra Orthodox establishment,” continued Ayalon, maintaining that situations such as the continued tensions surrounding Women of the Wall are untenable.

“My message to our Jewish brothers in North America is that we must continue with our dialogue as one family in spite of the fact that there are disagreements. We will not allow – and we hope they won’t allow – a rift in the Jewish world. We are aware of the complexities created by the ultra-ultra-orthodox establishment which does not represent the interests of many Jews. My message is to allow this law to pass because it is specific, but to continue the work and the dialogue to solve the other complex problems that remain.”

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