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.