Neeman: We can't just let anyone convert to Judaism

Justice Minister slams US Jewry for not realizing problem of assimilation, which he claims is finishing Hitler's work.

By JONAH MANDEL
June 23, 2011 15:27
2 minute read.
Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman

yaakov neeman 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman on Thursday lashed out at US Jewry for focusing on the conversion issue in Israel, while the true problem facing the diaspora is assimilation. Conversion in Israel, he said, is unique since it entails legal rights – citizenship – and therefore “clear, legal norms” on the process must be agreed upon.

“The question is not which stream in Judaism is good,” the minister said as part of a panel on conversion in the President's Conference. “In Israel, we have a problem. We have hundreds of thousands of illegal emigrants, especially from Africa, who came illegally and want to stay here. No country in the world, including the enlightened United States, would allow them through an easy, religious procedure to become citizens of the state. This is an Israeli problem.”

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The problem facing diaspora Jewry is not conversion,” Neeman continued. “The major issue there are the high percentages disappearing from the world of Judaism. What Hitler didn't succeed in doing is happening now, there is terrible assimilation.”

Neeman stressed that he recognizes and respects every stream in Judaism – Lithuanians, hassidim, Reform, Conservative - “they are all Jews, that is not the problem. The problem is baseless hatred,” he said, using the title of the forthcoming book by Rene Levy on that issue.

“Thirteen or fourteen years ago I sat down with all the streams in Judaism, and we reached understandings,” he said of the committee he headed.

“Conversion has legal ramifications, unlike the US where it doesn't. You can't let anyone who wants to convert to do so, since that enables them to enter the country and receive citizenship, or change the status of an alien to legal. You must reach clear, legal norms. The body that torpedoed the issue was the Chief Rabbinate, who decided to not accept the committee's findings. Today they are penitent,” he said wryly. “The committee said that conversion should be according to Jewish law. You must understand what the problem is, and what the solution is. The solution is to sit at a round table, talk respectfully, and refrain from baseless hatred.”


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