conversion class 248.88.
(photo credit: Hilary Leila Krieger [file])
Israel is a Jewish state. Yet, paradoxically, all too many of its native-born Jewish citizens are alienated from their heritage.
The state's founders were mostly irreligious - though Jewishly literate, capable of navigating their way through the liturgy and expounding the Torah. Oddly enough, they took it for granted that subsequent generations would be equally learned, adhering to a secular worldview while grounded in the Jewish canon.
So they relegated Judaism to an Orthodox rabbinate, which became the "established church." Sadly, however, in the minds of countless Jewish Israelis, honoring their tradition become entangled with Orthodox nitpicking and coercion.
Add to this mix the arrival of 300,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union who are not halachically Jewish.
Among them are those who wish to affiliate with the Jewish mainstream, but do not want to commit to the Orthodox way of life. Citizens in the formal sense, the rabbinate has left them in communal limbo - socially and culturally marginalized.
Israel's self-funded Reform and Masorti (Conservative) movements have been preparing some of these immigrants for conversion to Judaism. While the Orthodox state authorities won't accept these converts as "authentic" Jews, they are otherwise absorbed, spiritually and culturally, into Israel's mainstream. Many join synagogues and take succor in a tradition the Soviets had sought to rob them of.
We are delighted, therefore, that the High Court of Justice has ordered the state to start covering the expenses of non-Orthodox conversion institutes.
The beginning of the end of the Orthodox funding monopoly? Let's hope so.