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Fighting for Equality among the Worldwide Jewish Community

There is a new bill currently making its way through the Israeli Knesset that would, in the eyes of many, define as inferior anyone who has chosen a path to Judaism other than what is accepted by Israel’s Chief Rabbinate. The bill has language stating that a conversion will be recognized by the state only if the convert “accepted the Torah and the commandments in accordance with halacha (Jewish law).” Not only would this exclude converts in the Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements, it would also overturn a 2002 High Court of Justice ruling that Israel must recognize converts of any denomination, performed in any country.

Speaking recently at the Knesset Law Committee, Member of Knesset Dr. Einat Wilf explained exactly why this new bill would be detrimental to the worldwide Jewish community. She said:

Israel needs to understand and accept its responsibility for the Jewish people as a whole. Decisions that are taken in Israel are of importance and significance to the entire Jewish people. Israel is home today to the world’s largest Jewish community and its only sovereign one, and decisions taken in Israel affect Jews around the world, even if they never choose to live in it.

Her opinion has been echoed by many others in recent days, including the Jewish Agency (chairman Natan Sharansky called the bill a “betrayal” to American Jews) and the Union for Reform Judaism. And Tablet Magazine editor in chief Alana Newhouse published a scathing op-ed in the New York Times, saying that the bill could “alienate supporters [of Israel] outside its own borders.” She wrote:

If this bill passes, future historians will inevitably wonder why, at a critical moment in its history, Israel chose to tell 85 percent of the Jewish diaspora that their rabbis weren’t rabbis and their religious practices were a sham, the conversions of their parents and spouses were invalid, their marriages weren’t legal under Jewish law, and their progeny were a tribe of bastards unfit to marry other Jews.

They all fear that the bill – which could affect the ability of diaspora Jews who wish to make aliyah (immigrate to Israel) – will drive a wedge between Israel and the US and ultimately weaken the worldwide Jewish community. We both applaud the efforts of all those who are standing against the bill as it is written, and we would like to add our voice to the growing dissent.

The spirit of the bill is antithetical to one of the fundamental elements of Judaism, which is to welcome the stranger. Hopefully there will be an adequate compromise in which all of the world’s Jews – regardless of background or level of observance – will have equal standing in both Israel and the Jewish community.



4 Comments

  1. 1/ The bill is being introduced by Yisrael Beyteynu which is a secular party, indicating that even secular Jews in Israel have no problem with this bill.

    2/ Ben Gurion made an agreement at the beginning of the Israeli state giving the Orthodox authority over religious matters.

    This bill is simply a continuation of what has been Israeli policy since ‘48. Nothing new.

    3/ Since you don’t need a rabbi to officiate at a Jewish wedding I fail to see what Newhouse is saying about the Jews who have been married by Reform/Conservative rabbis being bastards. According to Jewish Law all you need is a proper kettubah, properly signed and witnessed.

    (I suspect Newhouse got her knowledge of Jewish law from a Reform or Conservative upbringing. Her lack of knowledge of Jewish law further shows why only the Orthodox should be Jewish authorities.)

    Comment by Dave — July 18, 2010 @ 12:39 pm

  2. Oy Israel… you want lay down the law as to who is and who isn’t part of the tribe? What’s next, you going outlaw the making and selling of falafel outside your borders unless its your recipe? What we need now is more unity amongst Jews not division. Let’s think about how we can be more “inclusive” not “exclusive.” Is that not part of the spirit of Tikkun Olam? And besides if this thing passes you are going to throw my Jewdar way out of whack.

    Comment by Larry Jay Tish — July 19, 2010 @ 1:09 pm

  3. Dave, Dave! Your comments sadden me. A bill that would erase and de-legitimize thousands of Jews by Choice and you say there’s “nothing new.” Under this bill, I, a JBC, could not make aliya meaning that Israel is no longer a home or refuge for me. This would be the case for almost all JBCs in the U.S. and abroad. You may consider this unimportant, but it is not unimportant to us. We are all Jews. And BTW, in regards to your last comment about a lack of knowledge on the part of Reform and Conservative Jews, it is exactly this type of attitude that separates Jews and makes many Jews voluntarily leave the tribe. Respect other Jews - we all need each other.

    Comment by Shira — July 22, 2010 @ 2:54 pm

  4. If Yisrael Beyteynu is successful, it will wipe out 3 generations of my family that began as Jews by Choice. What I would like to know is why the government of Israel has chosen any particular sect of Judaism to rule over everyone else. When Israel was founded - it didn’t question the Jewishness of anyone coming to Israel, in fact according to what Yisrael Beyteynu wants to do, a good many of the Jews arriving before and after statehood was declared, wouldn’t meet the requirements they want put in place. I was taught “a Jew is a Jew is a Jew!” The manner or how/where a Jew worshiped never changed the fact of being a Jew. Orthodoxy as practiced today is not the same as it was practiced in BCE - it has changed - so who are they to claim everyone else is not genuinely Jewish.

    Comment by Gerald Ford — August 29, 2010 @ 1:37 am

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