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October 25, 2014 | 1st Cheshvan 5775

Background on the Rotem Conversion Bill

Sunday, July 12th, abruptly and with no warning, a committee vote was held on the bill sponsored by Member of the Knesset David Rotem that poses a dangerous threat to the rights of Conservative, Reform, and all non-Orthodox Jews, who comprise the overwhelming majority of world Jewry. (See "The conversion bill demystified" for more history on the subject.)

It has evoked the staunch, determined opposition of the vast majority of North American Jewry including the Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist Movements, the Federation system and individual organizations like the American Jewish Committee.

Leaders at the highest levels of Israeli politics including key Likud leaders such as the Prime Minister, Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, Minister Yuli Edelstein, and leaders of the Kadima and Labor parties strongly oppose moving the current legislation, believing it would have an enormously divisive impact on Israel–Diaspora relations at a very challenging time for Israel and the Jewish people.

For 2,000 years, Judaism has treated Jews-by-choice (converts) the same as Jews-by-birth. This treatment is rooted in the Talmudic teaching that "as soon as a convert emerges from the mikvah (ritual bath) she or he is Jewish for all purposes." (Yevamot 47b).

Since its founding 62 years ago, the State of Israel, through the Law of Return, has welcomed Jews from around the world as citizens in the world's only Jewish state.

This legislation would delegitimize all non-Orthodox conversions. It would also preclude conferring citizenship under the Law of Return to Jews who did not qualify for such status on a prior visit (ie. converts).

This bill poses a threat to the unity of the people of Israel and the State of Israel. All religious streams in Judaism must be treated fairly and equally to ensure Israel lives up to its promise as a Jewish and democratic state.

Key Points

  1. This is an issue of enormous importance to the character of Israel and to Diaspora Jewry in the US and around the world. No matter cuts more deeply to the heart of the Jewish religion than the issue of who is a Jew. Legislation now poised to move through the Knesset makes alarming changes in the status of Reform and Conservative conversions and affects all those interested in undergoing a conversion within the framework of the Reform and Masorti (Conservative) Movements in Israel and also anyone interested in converting overseas, if they ever visited Israel prior to their conversion.

  2. Two additional changes have just been added to the bill:

    1. The first would functionally change the Law of Return, disqualifying for the first time in Israel's history, converts by Reform and Conservative Rabbis under many circumstances.

    2. The second addition is to fully consolidate all authority in the hands of the increasingly hard-line Chief Rabbinate. In the complex Israeli political system, where religious pluralism is not acknowledged, the non-Orthodox movements have had to rely on the Supreme Court in order to secure their status. This bill will grant, for the first time, legal status to the Chief Rabbinate in the field of conversion, and will adversely affect the Court's ability to effectively enforce the recognition of non-Orthodox conversions, setting back a number of advances the Reform and Conservative Movements made in the past decade.

    The proposed law, in an unprecedented attempt, threatens the rights of converts who converted outside of Israel and differentiates for the first time in Jewish history between the rights of Jews by birth and Jews by choice.


  3. This move was a breach of good faith by the legislation's proponents. Over the past few months, Diaspora Jewish, Israeli Progressive and Conservative leaders and Israeli political leaders have been in intense discussions seeking to avoid a danger to Israeli and US relations posed by passage of a new conversion bill. MK Rotem and PM Netanyahu had assured us that they would not move ahead without working through their differences with the Diaspora communities. Clearly under pressure from the right wing and the religious parties, that agreement was breached and we were stunned by the abrupt move to push this through.


Comments

Ian Garay

July 14, 2010
02:02 AM

I will like to see how the Orthodox Movement survives without the rest of the Jewish world. Let's not just talk money wise, without the support of "the rest of us" Israel will be alone and surrounded by enemies. I will not support "this Israel" in anyway.

  Reply

Joel ben-Avraham

July 14, 2010
01:16 PM

sad threat of the unity of Am Israel

much more than excluding converts, this bill will be a strong threat of the unity of Am Israel, a sad moment in which non-orthodox jews will have to make a difference between the G-d given Israel we pray for and the real state of Israel which has replaced the values and visions of Torah for a peaceful world for all peoples by a more and more blind and inhumane fanatism.

  Reply

Mark Tasch

July 14, 2010
03:13 PM

Mr. Rotem has reportedly stated that "this is nothing that touched the American community. It has nothing to with Jews in the Diaspora. It is only an Israeli matter." Most Jewish leaders in this country insist, to the contrary, that every Israeli matter should be of utmost importance to all Jews in the Diaspora.

The duly constituted government of the State of Israel has the legal authority to alter its laws on immigration, including specific applications of the Law of Return. If the majority of the Knesset passes this legislation, it will clarify its contempt for non-orthodox Judaisms, whose adherents in the U.S. and elsewhere will have to decide how bound to the State of Israel they wish to be.

  Reply

Dr Whimsy Anderson

July 14, 2010
04:21 PM

Shut Down AIPAC indefinitely

I am calling on all AIPAC supporters and funders to shut down AIPAC indefinelty until this bill dismissed.

A long time supporter of Israel, I must, with great sadness, announce that I am asking my fellow American Jews to shut down support of AIPAC until this disput is resolved adn the rights of ALL Jewish people are protected fully under the "LAw of Return".

  Reply

GUILLERMO GONZALEZ

July 14, 2010
05:38 PM

As an American Converted Jew, I am extremely concern about legislation advancing through the Knesset that will grant absolute control of the conversion process to the ultra-Orthodox minority. I urge you to continue your stated opposition to allowing this legislation to proceed.
I come from a Catholic background and my search for GOD I believe Judaism fits with my spiritual goals in this search. It's a free commitment with, to and for GOD and not to a Human Beings. This is the same thing happens with Catholicism, which the Head of the Church, the Pope, gives the last word regarding with "Bible" and God, and lifestyle most of Catholics follow him blindly.
Judaism is not a religion, from my perspective, is a lifestyle, committed to oneself, family and society, it is the real expression that Moses taught us covering his face, we were not able to see our own faults.

  Reply

dm s

July 14, 2010
08:43 PM

RE: Shut Down AIPAC indefinitely

Why would you involve AIPAC in this? AIPAC never has any stance on Israeli policy, so why would you try to force an organization that will never lobby the government of another nation to do something here?

I hear that you are a longtime supporter of Israel, but I cannot imagine that you are a longtime supporter of AIPAC, considering how little you know of the organization. Before you ask people to stop supporting it, learn about it.


Originally posted by Anonymous User:
I am calling on all AIPAC supporters and funders to shut down AIPAC indefinelty until this bill dismissed.

A long time supporter of Israel, I must, with great sadness, announce that I am asking my fellow American Jews to shut down support of AIPAC until this disput is resolved adn the rights of ALL Jewish people are protected fully under the "LAw of Return".

  Reply

John Goldman

July 15, 2010
09:09 AM

Judaism not a religion?


Originally posted by Anonymous User:
As an American Converted Jew, I am extremely concern about legislation advancing through the Knesset that will grant absolute control of the conversion process to the ultra-Orthodox minority. I urge you to continue your stated opposition to allowing this legislation to proceed.
I come from a Catholic background and my search for GOD I believe Judaism fits with my spiritual goals in this search. It's a free commitment with, to and for GOD and not to a Human Beings. This is the same thing happens with Catholicism, which the Head of the Church, the Pope, gives the last word regarding with "Bible" and God, and lifestyle most of Catholics follow him blindly.
Judaism is not a religion, from my perspective, is a lifestyle, committed to oneself, family and society, it is the real expression that Moses taught us covering his face, we were not able to see our own faults.



How can you say Judaism is not a religion? you may take the cultural part of it for your lifestyle which is great. The fact remains Judaism is a religion.

  Reply

John Goldman

July 15, 2010
09:14 AM

RE: sad threat of the unity of Am Israel


Originally posted by Anonymous User:
much more than excluding converts, this bill will be a strong threat of the unity of Am Israel, a sad moment in which non-orthodox jews will have to make a difference between the G-d given Israel we pray for and the real state of Israel which has replaced the values and visions of Torah for a peaceful world for all peoples by a more and more blind and inhumane fanatism.



It seems either way the state of Israel chooses, they will be alienating a segment of Jewry. If they allow this bill to pass it will for sure pull our people apart. If it is stopped the orthodox will feel left out. There is no happy ending!

  Reply

Joyce J. Aloisi

July 15, 2010
01:41 PM

A Jew by Birth and Belief

I was born and raised a Jew but I am a Jew today because I believe in J udaism, not just because my parents did. IT is difficult for me to accept that the citizens of Isreal would allow this law to be passed. after all that we have gone through over the years and especially THE HOLACAUST,it would seem to me they would want ALL the support they can get. I know many Jews-by-choice and frankly, they often make better Jews, than many Jews-by-birth.

  Reply

Derek

July 15, 2010
03:40 PM

RE: RE: Shut Down AIPAC indefinitely

DM S: It is pretty clear why support for AIPAC should be withheld. AIPAC supports strategic goals of Israel vis a vis the US government. If AIPAC feels the pinch, Israel's support from the US government will feel the pinch. This is a valid way of putting pressure on Israel to realize the damage this law will cause.


Originally posted by Anonymous User:
Why would you involve AIPAC in this? AIPAC never has any stance on Israeli policy, so why would you try to force an organization that will never lobby the government of another nation to do something here?

I hear that you are a longtime supporter of Israel, but I cannot imagine that you are a longtime supporter of AIPAC, considering how little you know of the organization. Before you ask people to stop supporting it, learn about it.




  Reply

Mark Tasch

July 16, 2010
11:23 AM

RE: RE: sad threat of the unity of Am Israel


Originally posted by Anonymous User:

Originally posted by Anonymous User:
much more than excluding converts, this bill will be a strong threat of the unity of Am Israel, a sad moment in which non-orthodox jews will have to make a difference between the G-d given Israel we pray for and the real state of Israel which has replaced the values and visions of Torah for a peaceful world for all peoples by a more and more blind and inhumane fanatism.



It seems either way the state of Israel chooses, they will be alienating a segment of Jewry. If they allow this bill to pass it will for sure pull our people apart. If it is stopped the orthodox will feel left out. There is no happy ending!

  Reply

Mark Tasch

July 17, 2010
09:07 AM

RE: RE: sad threat of the unity of Am Israel

There is no legitimate reason for anyone to feel "left out" if this bill does not pass. No one is attempting to threaten the legal standing of Orthodox conversions.

  Reply

Bradley Todd

July 18, 2010
12:07 PM

Israel is beginning to be my slightly crazy friend who I love, but who also occasionally gets drunk and embarrasses the heck out of me. I will never need confirmation by anyone but myself regarding if I'm a Jew or not.

  Reply

Karen Cohen

July 18, 2010
09:10 PM

Judaism is in your heart above all else. It is a spiritual connection to the absolute trust and faith of a loving God and the Shema. Must we truly divide ourselves and have this inner turmoil that is so ludicrous? Let's keep our faith evident by our loving actions and not by making rules that deny another's right to live by their own good heart.

  Reply

Herb

July 19, 2010
12:18 AM

A perfect example why there should be seperation of religion and state!

  Reply

Jonathan Keren-Black

July 19, 2010
12:34 AM

Rabbi

I took a group of 23 from Melbourne Australia to Israel 2 months ago, and have just returned from a further few days there with my family. I found a much more developed and comfortable Israel than on my last visit 8 years ago. Things seem to be going so well economically that the impression that the rest of the world (including the Jews) doesn't matter seems to have got even stronger. It is a country that in some ways, at 62, has 'come of age', but it has failed to sort out its crazy political system, and its unsustainable religious zealots. These two challenges become ever more difficult, day by day, as more right-wing voters reach majority. Perhaps we should have engaged in the political game, rather than decide to stay above it? The arrest of Anat Hoffman for being a woman carrying a Torah (on the day I left), and the latest attempt to deliver determination of Jewish status, indicate wholesale failures of Israeli society. Whilst we should continue to do all we can, I have a growing inclination to think that it has to ultimately sort it out for itself, and take the consequences, which may well include growing isolation from the diaspora.

  Reply

Anonymous User

July 19, 2010
09:21 AM

This action further isolates Isreal. Interesting how they have forgotten that the Torah commands each of us be priests to the world. Seems they don't know our own history--we actively proselytized in the known world prior to the distruction of the second temple and bcause of this, Jews numbered 20% of the population known world. We shouldn't be not reecognizing convertsbut returning to our roots and actively seeking converts. That is, if we want to survive.

  Reply

Stan Mudrets

July 21, 2010
07:48 AM


Originally posted by Anonymous User:
I will like to see how the Orthodox Movement survives without the rest of the Jewish world. Let's not just talk money wise, without the support of "the rest of us" Israel will be alone and surrounded by enemies. I will not support "this Israel" in anyway.



With friends like this, who needs enemies.

  Reply

Steven Friedenthal

July 21, 2010
12:14 PM

All of these comments upset me.

  Reply


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