US Jewish leaders still ‘concerned’ over conversion bill

But leaders of the non-Orthodox movements are “encouraged” after discussing the issue with Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky.

By JONAH MANDEL
June 11, 2010 02:41
2 minute read.
Natan Sharansky

Natan Sharansky 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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Leaders of the non-Orthodox movements in the US remained “concerned” over Israel Beiteinu’s proposed conversion bill after a Tuesday meeting on the topic with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon in New York, but at the same time were “encouraged” after discussing the same issue with Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman Natan Sharansky in the same city that day.

The joint statement by leaders of the Reform, Conservative (Masorti) and Reconstructionist Movements in the US who met on Tuesday morning with Ayalon and Lieberman on the bill called the encounter “an important step in increasing understanding of our concerns about this proposed legislation which would for the first time place legislative authority for conversion under the offices of the Chief Rabbi.”

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But even after the meeting, the statement continues, “we remain concerned... that this legislation would drive a dangerous wedge between the State of Israel and Diaspora Jewry, 85 percent of which is not Orthodox... Conversion must not be tied to one religious stream or point of view. Any legislation pertaining to conversion is by its nature directly linked to the Law of Return and is therefore a matter affecting the world Jewish community,” the rabbis stressed, noting their desire to express these concerns to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu during his visit to the US at the end of the month.

It was Netanyahu who recently asked Sharansky to lead a dialogue with Diaspora Jewry on the conversion bill, and last week assured leaders of the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel that any pertaining legislation would “ensure the unity of the Jewish people.”

Later on Tuesday the leaders of the Conservative and Reform movements in the US sat down with the head of the Jewish Agency for Israel at a meeting hosted by Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), to discuss the concerns they had on the proposed legislation.

“The rabbis repeated their concern that no single religious stream has authority to oversee or approve conversions,” a statement issued by the JFNA read. “Sharansky assured the participants that he would communicate their views to the prime minister and would work with the Knesset to ensure that any legislation moving forward would reflect these concerns.”

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, Executive Vice President of the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative (Masorti) Movement, who attended both meetings, told The Jerusalem Postthat the participants of the meeting with Sharansky, “who certainly has a thorough grasp of our concerns,” were “very encouraged” by it.

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