30, 2010 (New York, NY) -- Israeli Knesset Member David Rotem,
author of a proposed bill dealing with conversion in Israel, met this week with
leaders of the North American Jewish community to discuss the bill's possible
ramifications. Following a series of discussions with Rotem, the Conservative,
Reform and Reconstructionist movements together issued the following
We are appreciative
of the substantial amount of time MK David Rotem devoted to meetings with us,
individually and collectively, during his visit to the United States to discuss
the legislation he has sponsored in the Knesset dealing with conversion and the
Law of Return. We also welcome Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Daniel
Ayalon's participation in many of our meetings.
It should, first, be
emphasized that we deeply appreciate Mr. Rotem's stated goal in advancing the
legislation - to ameliorate the bottleneck in the conversion process that
currently keeps as many as 350,000 thousand olim (immigrants) from
the former Soviet Union from converting to Judaism. The laudable goal of
attempting to hasten the process of conversion for these individuals - who
currently serve in the Israeli army and contribute positively to Israeli society
- is one that deserves widespread attention and support. Together, we thank MK
Rotem for his efforts in addressing this crisis.
MK Rotem believes his
proposed legislation would rapidly open the door to a faster conversion
process. We respectfully disagree. Not only would this legislation fail to
achieve his forecasted result, the collateral damage to the 85% of world Jewry
who are not Orthodox (and perhaps others who are) would be disastrous to the
unity of the Jewish people in a number of ways.
The bill threatens to
alter the Law of Return and consolidate conversion power into the hands of the
Chief Rabbinate of Israel. Both of these
results could have devastating effects on the
relationship between Israeli and Diaspora Jewry and thus on the broader unity of the Jewish people. Such
concentration of power in favor of Ultra-Orthodox Jewry effectively negates the
roles of the non-Orthodox movements both within Israel and abroad, sending the
message that only the Orthodox have a place within our Homeland.
current formulations of Article 1 would legislate the role and status of the
Chief Rabbinate in a way not previously written into law. Such legislation would
turn back the clock on 20 years of hard-won accomplishments in the Israeli High
Court and complicate future efforts to appeal to the Court, which has been the
single mechanism to counter religious discrimination in Israel.
This bill returns us
to the destructive "who is a Jew" question, that has previously threatened to
divide World Jewry, as it does today. To explicitly connect conversion to a
single religious stream, while making no mention of other streams of Judaism, is
by definition to compromise and jeopardize the Law of Return, as it places the
decision for "who is a Jew" in the hands of one group. Such an action is
inconsistent with the democratic ideals on which the State of Israel was founded
and relies, and would detrimentally affect the worldwide Jewish community.
our concern is the fact that the bill mentions no alternative method of
conversion via non-Orthodox streams. We - and more importantly, our Israeli
colleagues and their lawyers - believe that this language, if adopted as
written, would further marginalize and hamper the
Masorti and Reform movements in Israel. This would be a tragic
consequence as we offer vibrant religious alternatives to a nation of Jews
religiously alienated by the increasingly extreme positions of a minority
religious establishment. We firmly believe that any conversion legislation must
explicitly address these concerns.
We are additionally troubled by
language that provides that any person who entered Israel while ineligible to
receive Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return will remain ineligible
following conversion. Though MK Rotem says this language exists to outlaw the
possibility of illegal immigrants undergoing conversion solely to obtain Israeli
citizenship and remain in the country, the reality is that this deeply troubling
clause differentiates between those who are born Jewish and those who choose to
be Jewish, amending the Law of Return to exclude those who have made a conscious
decision to join the Jewish community. For 2,000 years, Judaism has treated
Jews-by-choice the same as Jews-by-birth. We are taught "as soon as a convert
emerges from the mikvah (ritual bath) she
or he is Jewish for all purposes." (Talmud, Yevamot 47b) We see no
justification now for differentiating between groups of Jews or including an
article with such severe ramifications in the framework of a law purportedly
dealing with easing conversion procedures.
While we recognize
the goals Mr. Rotem is working to achieve and deeply respect his efforts, we
cannot lend our support to a bill that will have such devastating ramifications.
This moment, when Israel faces a great many challenges, both at home and abroad,
is no time to enact legislation that has the potential to divide the Jewish
community or to alienate Diaspora Jewry.
Even as we expressed
our concerns to Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon and MK Rotem, we also emphasized
our steadfast love and commitment to the people and State of Israel. It is in
this spirit of unity that we stand shoulder to shoulder with our colleagues in
the Masorti and Reform movements in Israel and with one another. Indeed, it is
our unconditional love for Israel as both a sovereign nation and a worldwide
Jewish community that calls us to urge, in the strongest possible terms, upon MK
Rotem, the Yisrael Beitenu party, and Prime Minister Netanyahu to withdraw this
bill and introduce legislation that resolves the urgent problems of olim
from the former Soviet Union without compromising either the core democratic
values of the State or the Law of Return.
information about this joint statement of the leadership of the Conservative,
Reform and Reconstructionist movements to the Rotem Conversion Bill, please
contact the following: