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.

Natan Sharansky 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Natan Sharansky 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
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.”
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 movementsin the US sat down with the head of the Jewish Agency for Israel at ameeting hosted by Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of The JewishFederations of North America (JFNA), to discuss the concerns they hadon the proposed legislation.
“The rabbis repeated their concern that no single religious stream hasauthority to oversee or approve conversions,” a statement issued by theJFNA read. “Sharansky assured the participants that he wouldcommunicate their views to the prime minister and would work with theKnesset to ensure that any legislation moving forward would reflectthese concerns.”
Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, Executive Vice President of the RabbinicalAssembly of the Conservative (Masorti) Movement, who attended bothmeetings, told The Jerusalem Postthat theparticipants of the meeting with Sharansky, “who certainly has athorough grasp of our concerns,” were “very encouraged” by it.