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ISRAEL: Conversion bill rattles relations with U.S. Jews and Israeli politics

A bill proposing (among other things) that control of conversions to Judaism be given to the country’s chief rabbinate, an orthodox body, is causing political controversy in Israel and threatening a big family feud outside it.

The question of "who is a Jew" has been asked -- and avoided -- since Israel’s inception. The interesting religious issue has practical civic repercussions in Israel, which passed the "Law of Return" in 1950. In a nutshell, it determined that anyone entering Israel as a Jew would be entitled to immediate citizenship.

 A later amendment clarified that for this purpose, a Jew "means a person born of a Jewish mother or converted to Judaism and who is not a member of another religion." The state law reflects religious law. The main gate into Judaism is biology, by way of maternal heredity. The second way is by conversion. At the time, religious Judaism in Israel was synonymous with Orthodoxy.

Orthodoxy welcomes new Jews, as long as they come in through the main door of orthodox conversion. Reform and Conservative streams are very nice religions, they say, but these won’t serve as a back door in. We’re not looking to recruit, said Ultra-Orthodox legislator Moshe Gafni in a heated debate in Parliament on Monday, saying even “membership in a beer-drinkers’ club is based on specific criteria.” 

The majority of religious Israelis are orthodox. Until recent years, different streams have been heavily Anglo but this is slowly changing as more Israelis want to reclaim some tradition but don’t want the whole package deal. But in the U.S., most are Reform or Conservative. and “are furious with Israel over its religious policies,” says this story in which rabbis warn of a crisis with American Jews.

Various local complexities have resulted in an oddity whereby one can be Jewish enough to qualify for the Law of Return and receive Israeli citizenship but not enough for the Orthodox rabbinate establishment, which controls religious matters such as marriage.  And hundreds of thousands of Israelis have found themselves in this limbo, among them many immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

Yisrael Beytenu promised its constituency legislation that would provide marriage alternatives. Now some accuse it of an under-the-table swap with the religious parties, marriage in return for controlling conversions. The conversion bill was tabled by David Rotem, of Yisrael Beytenu, and actually intended to simplify things by allowing rabbinate-appointed city rabbis to handle conversions too. But it appeared to gather some excess baggage on the way to help it pass a vote, such as the controversial clause that linked the conversion to citizenship. Rotem announced he's removing it.

Relations between Israel and U.S. Jews are already somewhat strained, taxed by debates such as that recently sparked by Peter Beinart. Dismissive treatment of non-Orthodox Jews will further alienate them and others living outside Israel, people warn. Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency, said the legislation would be divisive, as many regard it as defining them as "second-class Jews."

In Israel, too, non-Orthodox Jews meet with challenges. Anat Hoffman knew about these even before she was detained by the police Monday for holding a Torah scroll outside the area designated for women at the Western Wall.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a calming message, saying final legislation would "ensure the Jewish people's unity." When will this final legislation take place? Hard to tell. The preliminary reading passed in March caused tremendous controversy. Same for Monday, when it passed a ministerial committee vote. It still needs to pass three readings to become permanent legislation. 

"Next week the Knesset will go on recess and we want to do the utmost to end this chapter, this legislation" before it, said Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, head of Yisrael Beytenu. Only that was in March. It's not for nothing this is taking a long time. Next week, the Knesset is going on vacation again. Until October.

-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem

Comments () | Archives (13)


The (Orthodox) Rabbinical Council of America has an excellent statement regarding this conversation. Res ipsa loquitur

http://www.rabbis.org/news/article.cfm?id=105576

This bill honestly is upsetting me. I am only 16 years old, but I still see the danger that this beholds. I fear that this is the beginning of our open armed and unified religion to be torn apart at the seams. I do not wish for my religion to be based on a two tiered system of Jewish by birth and by choice. This restricts the eligibility of aliyahs...what about the converts children?! Do they not get to perform this at their children's bar and bat mitzvahs? I do not wish for this to become a majority and minority religion where one group has utter control over the other group. That is NOT Judaism. We all are in the same group..we are all Jewish. Orthodox or reform, we still fight the same battles. We all get put through the same stereotypes. We all were victimized during the Holocaust and in the earlier years in Europe. We have suffered and triumphed side by side and I don't want it to end. Judaism is Judaism....people just practice it differently.

I am hesitate to comment here, but after reading these earlier comments, then why not respond to them as well? (1) the question of who is Jewish smacks of an outgrowth of Nazism. Was my best friend, whose mother was Jewish, but father was Methodist, definitely considered Jewish, when they did not practice such? If so, then should we legitimize their return at the expense of the Palestinians? How do we really know that many of the non-diaspora Palestinians today were not of original Hebrew/Jewish blood but were converted to either Islam or Christianity as posited by Israeli academician, Shlomo Sand? (2) there is considerable evidence that Jews played integral roles, both directly and indirectly, in the triangular trans-Atlantic slave trade and in plantation slavery itself in the New World, and disproportionately supported and benefited from: the opium trade with China, gold and silver finds in the New World, and the blood diamonds in South Africa to name some of the most important linkages and cost effects to oppressed peoples in the world.

BRYAN
you rearly should have taken more notice during history lessons .

Does "Anglo" as used here mean Anglo-Saxon? Or merely Western European? Or what? Isn't it pretty unlikely that the folks living in what is now Israel (and to whom God deeded the real estate in question) at the time of the conveyance were even vaguely Western European? No offense. Just curious.

AH I SEE THE US WITH ALL ITS MONEY STILL GETTING ITS BACK SIDE KICKED AS IT HAS DONE THROUGHOUT MOST OF ITS HISTORY.WITHOUT ISRAEL THE MIDDLE EAST WOULD DO AS IT LIKED WITH YOU DONT FORGET ALL THE JEWISH TAX PAID TO THE USA .THE LAND OF THE FREE, UNLESS YOU ARE A NATIVE AMERICAN INDIAN OF COURSE, OR WERE BROUGHT UP IN THE SOUTH,HOW MANY TAX DOLLARS HAVE YOU GIVEN TO THESE GROUPS FOR COMPENSATION ?FOR THE THEFT OF THEIR LIVES AND LAND ,AMERICA IS HATED WORLDWIDE SO MAYBE ITS BEST TO KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT ABOUT WHERE YOU SPEND IT.HELPING ISRAEL KEEP YOU SAFER.

Well, Sam,

I suppose none of the Jewish migrants to the US over the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries got involved with torturing, raping and slaughtering Native Americans.

Get a life! Jewish history didn´t start with the Holocaust, Jews have played a part in European and American history for centuries. Although the Holocaust was the worst outrage in modern European history, it wasn´t the only one.

Jews have done their fair of land grabbing and killing in the States, as well as other parts of the world. They did it under the guise of their adopted countries: Britain, France, Holland, Spain and all the other colonising countries. Don´t let the denied become the new deniers.

Typing in uppercase is crass only heightens the reaction to a loud mouthed person.
I thought, based on many protestations I've read in the past, that Israel is the beacon of democracy in the Mideast but appears to be a theocracy.
American evangelicals are so happy with all the conflict in the Middle East. They care not about the Israelis. They care about the destruction of the Jewish state so that the second coming can occur. But of course the Israelis know that but continue to take millions of dollars from the US groups and laugh all the way to the bank.

Oh if you all can just find Jesus the problem would be solved! "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"
Soon very soon all this madness will come to an end.

REPLY TO AVI ISRAEL IS NOT ABOUT RACE ITS ABOUT LAND GIVEN TO THE JEWISH PEOPLE BY G-D THE MUSLEM TROUBLE MAKERS PLAY THE RACE CARD AS THEY DO EVERY-WHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD THEY GO THE USA KNOW ALL ABOUT RACE PROBLEMS BUT STILL POUR PLENTY OF MONEY INTO THE POCKETS OF THEIR REAL RACE PROBLEM WHICH IS GOING ON IN THEIR OWN BACK YARD.OH SORRY THE BACK YARD OF THE NATIVE AMERICAN INDIANS THEY TORTURED RAPED AND SLAUGHTERED SO THEY COULD HAVE A BACK YARD.

a subject who's meaning seems to have been lost somewhere, g-d gave nothing to women a child born to a jewish man is jewish but because jewish men had relationships with non jewish women any child born was counted as jewish so a quick law change .we didnt need to be told all those years ago that the outside world ,was going to allow israel to be recognised as the state of israel we didnt want it or need it.even my mother a good jewish lady would allways say be proud you are your fathers son

In Ukraine where I am from originally as in most of the world national and religios traditions nationality of child's father detrmines child's nationality. My paternal grandfather was a Jew, while the rest of my grandparents were russian (casacs), ukrainian and german. For russians and ukrainians I was a jew, especially with my last name I could not be anyone else. But for jews I am anything but Jew. I am not religios, so I can not be converted. I guess there is a large number of people with mixed heritage like me that feel rejected by people they are closely related too.

why does the US support a race based colony in the middle east? Why?


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