Reform leader: Israelis worried by conversion bill too

Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism fears haredi control.

Conversion 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Conversion 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Many Israelis also feel threatened by the conversion bill being promoted by Israel Beiteinu MK David Rotem because they believe it will only strengthen the hold of the haredim here, Yaron Shavit, chairman of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
Representatives of international Jewry have repeatedly expressed their dismay at the legislation.
“I think Knesset members would be very surprised to learn how many Israelis are extremely concerned about this bill and are willing to speak out,” said Shavit, an attorney and notary at the Shenhav, Konforti, Shavit law firm in Tel Aviv, who was appointed as the Movement for Progressive Judaism’s lay leader three weeks ago.
“Many believe that Israelis are indifferent to this issue and there are many who feel this has nothing to do with them or that it’s a problem between the haredim and the Jews living outside of Israel,” he said, adding, “However, I think there are more and more non-Orthodox Israelis who are becoming personally involved in this issue. They are moving out of their indifference towards taking a stand.”
The Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism launched an online petition on Wednesday ( to gather support from its 5,000-member community here, said Shavit.
“Some will show their support by signing the petition, others will send e-mails to the prime minister or to MKs and I hope that we will get at least 100 people to come to the Knesset next week and make a statement,” he continued, noting that he expected Rotem to try and bring his bill to the Knesset plenum on Wednesday, the last day before the summer recess, for a first reading.
“Today there are so many more Israelis who profoundly understand the problem of strengthening the rabbinate and they realize that fewer and fewer Jews from around the world can identify with Israel, its institutions and society,” continued Shavit.
He believes that a growing number of traditional and secular Israelis are identifying with Reform Jewish beliefs that until now have not been popular here.
He also emphasized that “strengthening the rabbinate and refusing to embrace world Jewry is very bad for the State of Israel.”
Shavit said he believed that the timing of Rotem’s proposal was purely political and that aside from trying to “strengthen the control of the rabbinate,” his agenda “is to force a split between the Likud, Prime Minister [Binyamin] Netanyahu and North American Jewry.”
“Bibi returned from the US with a big hug from Obama and an aim of forwarding the peace process,” analyzed Shavit, “Now is a good time [for Israel Beiteinu] to put a different item on the agenda and put the prime minister in direct conflict with US Jewry.”
Despite assurances this week from Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin that he would not table the potential legislation before the summer recess, Shavit said Rotem was aggressively working to bring the bill for its first reading as soon as possible.
“He wants to get it through Wednesday night and that is a time when many people are either asleep or not there,” he said, adding that a mixed group of Reform and Conservative Jewish leaders are slated to arrive here this weekend “to show their personal commitment to fighting this.”
On Sunday, leaders of Reform and Conservative communities from Israel and the US are planning to meet with Labor Party ministers and on Monday will lobby MKs from across the political spectrum, he said.
“We will be meeting all the members of Knesset in order to encourage them not to fall asleep when Rotem tries to get this through,”said Shavit, adding that if it did manage to proceed to a vote on Wednesday, Israeli protesters would come out in full force.
Meanwhile in an open letter, Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the international association of Conservative rabbis, criticized the prime minister for allowing Rotem’s bill to be “reintroduced, undermining discussions you set in motion with [Jewish Agency Chairman] Natan Sharansky.”
She said that allowing the Knesset to even vote on such a bill was “not only a mockery of democracy, it is an even deeper betrayal of 3,000 years of Jewish tradition.”
Schonfeld also said the “coercive ultra-religious system” was a failure that “spends tens of millions of NIS to yield only 1,500 converts a year.
“The way to really solve this problem, is to have options for multiple streams and for the indigenous Israeli expressions that will only flower in a non-coercive system,” she said, asking the prime minister to help give rabbis all over the world a positive Rosh Hashana sermon.
“The sermon we all want to give, is one in which you, as a visionary leader, make an unambiguous statement in opposition to this bill, which divides Israel from the Diaspora,” wrote Schonfeld.
“We hope that we can invoke your name, Mr.
Prime Minister, with the same spirit of reverence we reserve for the great leaders of the Jewish people.”