Frightening New Standards for Jews-by-Choice

The Forward newspaper published a forceful editorial this week over some alarming new standards proposed by the Israeli Interior Ministry regarding American Jewish converts who want to live in Israel. Among the proposals: the convert must prove they have lived in the same Jewish community for 18 months, studied with an approved rabbi for at least 350 hours, and doesn’t have any relatives who aren’t Jewish living in Israel.

The “new protocols,” says the Forward, are the “latest chapter of the ugly, ongoing attempt by the ultra-Orthodox establishment in Israel to control who becomes a Jew, and how.”

With surgical precision, the piece deconstructs the legal and moral issues at stake if the new standards are codified. Noting that every major denomination in American disapproves, the Forward explains point by point how one group should not be able to dictate to all Jews worldwide who is and is not a Jew. “This is the time for Israel to act as the state of all Jews, not just those deemed acceptable by a few ultra-Orthodox rabbis,” the editorial says.

The editorial brings together two points that JOI has been advocating for years. First, religion should be open to everyone searching for meaning. We have argued that imposing such strict standards goes against the basic notion that Judaism is a welcoming religion, as demonstrated in the biblical story of Ruth, the first official Jewish convert. Second, we believe creating divisions between denominations is one of the major obstacles to creating a vibrant Jewish future. “It would serve us better as a Jewish community to act like a community and not a group of warring factions,” we have said in the past.

The question posed at the end of the piece cuts right to the heart of the matter, and we would love to hear your comments. In light of the efforts of people and organizations who want to reclaim the allegiance of American Jews, “shouldn’t we do everything we can to remove the obstacles before those who want to become Jews, and want to take the profound step of living in the land of their new ancestors?”

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