will no longer be recognized as Jews under the Law of Return, according
to a bill formulated by the Chief Rabbinate and presented to Prime
Minister Ehud Olmert a few days ago. The revolutionary bill is now
awaiting a decision by the prime minister whether to make it a
The bill was initiated by Chief
Rabbi Shlomo Amar in an effort to block the possibility that the High
Court of Justice could recognize Reform conversions carried out in
Israel. Amar expects the government to adopt the initiative after other
solutions proposed by the state to the High Court, such as a recent
suggestion to establish a second Ne'eman Committee to discuss
conversions, seemed no more than stall attempts.
Rabbinate said yesterday the proposal was an egalitarian one that would
withstand the scrutiny of the High Court. It argued the bill would
"close the loophole" in the Law of Return that allowed foreign workers
to convert in order to receive Israeli citizenship.
However if the law passes, it is likely to lead to a major crisis between Israel and the Diaspora.
bill would give rabbinic courts and the Chief Rabbinate sole authority
over conversions, as another bill, which did not pass, had also stated.
The main element in the bill is a change in the clause defining a Jew
for the purposes of the Law of Return. At present the clause defines a
Jew as a person born to a Jewish mother or who converted to Judaism.
The bill proposes that an the only individuals recognized as Jewish by
the Law of return will be those born to a Jewish mother. In the past,
the Orthodox political parties had attempted to change this clause to
include only Orthodox converts in accordance with halakha (Jewish law).
This demand was rejected by successive Israeli governments due to
concern over relations with Jewish communities outside of Israel,
especially the Jewish establishment in the United States, where
non-Orthodox Jews predominate.
The Chief Rabbinate argued
yesterday that Interior Minister Roni Bar-On supports the initiative.
However an Interior Ministry spokeswoman said Bar-On was not familiar
The Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), the legal
advocate of the Reform Movement in Israel, called yesterday on Olmert
to reject the Amar initiative, which it said would "bring about a
rupture between Israel and most of the Jews in the world."
Rabbi Gilad Kariv said yesterday, "It turns out that Rabbi Amar's
hatred for non-Orthodox streams is so great that it leads him to harm
the basic principle that there is no difference between a convert and
an individual who is born Jewish."
MK Zevulun Orlev, the
chairman of the National Union-National Religious Party, expressed his
support yesterday for Amar's bill, which he said would "protect the
unity of the Jewish people and prevent a rift that would be caused by
recognizing Reform conversions." Orlev added that the passing of the
bill would be a test of the ability of Shas as a member of cabinet to
impact the Jewish character of the state.
Masorati Movement in Israel said it opposed Amar's bill, which it
called an attempt to detour around the High Court of Justice.