Save Conversion!

Post by Melissa

Ok, so my computer got a bad virus and I just got it back with not much time in my day for a good post, however the topic would have been the same — what is going on in Israel’s Knesset now is absurd and makes me so upset I don’t have good words for it.  Please read the following posts from JPostJewsByChoice and the Conservative Movement (after the jump) and take a moment to speak out.  Contact anyone you think might listen and pass it on.

The torah tells us countless times to welcome those who convert as full fledged members of the tribe and to treat them as our neighboors, not as strangers.  Apparently, this got lost in translation from Biblical Hebrew to Modern Hebrew/Yiddish.  If we do not do something, it will reach a point beyond all recognition where no one from outside Israel will be able to make Aliyah without undergoing an Orthodox conversion.

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Your Help Is Urgently Needed

We need your help on a matter of urgency concerning a bill that will come before the Knesset. We have received word from our colleagues in Israel that a bill may be put forward for passage as soon as tomorrow which affects conversion and we need as many of us and our congregants to forward the following letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu and to your Israeli Ambassador.

The bill sponsored by MK David Rotem of Yisrael Beitenu, deals with both the authority of the Chief Rabbinate and matters of Conversion. The Rotem Bill concerns three matters:

It grants legal authority to the Chief Rabbinate for Conversions (while until now there was de facto recognition this gives legal recognition to the role of the Chief Rabbinate in this area) and would make it much more difficult for conversions to be performed by our Movement, by more “open-minded” Orthodox rabbis, and by Reform rabbis.

It provides for the ability of local rabbis in Israel to establish conversion courts. This is a good part of the bill of which we are supportive because it will potentially permit the establishment of more forward looking conversion courts. However, the first part of the bill passes, the Chief Rabbinate may declare these courts null and void, which would obviate any cause for our support.

Section 3 of this bill is highly problematic. Here is the summary of Section 3 by our teacher, Rabbi Reuven Hammer:
“Section 3 of the proposed conversion bill that we strongly oppose states that anyone that who entered Israel as a non-Jew and then converted to Judaism-either in Israel or the Diaspora would not be eligible for citizenship under the Law of Return. First of all this is exactly the case that we now have before the Supreme Court, asking that our conversions in Israel be recognized and citizenship rights granted to our converts. This is an attempt to go around the Supreme Court. Secondly, the wording is so vague that it could mean that if such a person had visited Israel at any time, no matter when, their conversion would not be recognized for citizenship in the future. Thirdly this would be the first time that Israel is officially making a distinction between one who is born a Jew and a righteous convert, something that we find deplorable and unsupportable in Jewish Law. Since our movement is the movement that is most involved in conversion in America and elsewhere, we and our congregants are the primary target of the bill. We urge everyone to make their protest known immediately to the Israeli government.”

WE STRONGLY URGE THAT YOU CALL UPON YOUR COMMUNITIES TONIGHT TO FORWARD THE FOLLOWING LETTER OR ITS EQUIVALENT TO THE PRIME MINISTER AND YOUR AMBASSADOR.

The Honorable Benjamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister of Israel
Office of the Prime Minister

Jerusalem, Israel
Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu,

We write to request your immediate intervention to prevent passage of the legislation being brought forward by MK David Rotem

Passage of this bill in its present form especially section 3, will have the effect of providing for a path to alter the Law of Return or, at the least, cause undue hardship to anyone in Israel who has come from Diaspora communities and seeks conversion in Israel.

Sadly, this is reminiscent of those attempts in 1997 to enact similar legislation which ultimately led to the establishment of the Ne’eman Commission.

While we are supportive of your efforts to create greater accessibility to conversion courts in Israel and have done all we can to aid in this effort, the overall impact of the Rotem Bill will set back these efforts. Moreover this legislation will adversely impact the work of our Masorti movement and its members in Israel. This we cannot abide.

Even more regrettably, should this bill be enacted, it will exacerbate a widening gap between Diaspora and Israel communities, which we are all working very hard to avoid.

Therefore, we believe it is imperative that you, Israel’s leader, who cares so deeply about the well-being of our people, intervene and urge withdrawal of this bill.

The email for Prime Minister Netanyahu is: Prime.Minister’sOffice@it.pmo.gov.il

For the office of the ambassador to the United States: info@washington.mfa.gov.il

For the office of the ambassador to Canada: http://ottawa.mfa.gov.il/mfm/web/main/missionhome.asp?MissionID=13&

For a list of other ambassadors click here.

This effort to lobby against the Rotem bill is being spearheaded by the Masorti Movement in Israel, the Rabbinical Assembly and The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which includes Project Reconnect.

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10 thoughts on “Save Conversion!

  1. It is even worse. I have asked people in Israel who have read the bill and they say that it will also affect Orthodox converts (especially MO converts from abroad).

    • Everything I read or hear about it just makes me another level of upset. There was so much I wanted to say, but nothing can express my thoughts and feelings in a coherent manner right now. Like I said, I truly believe it is only a matter of time before it will affect all Jews who do not fit the mold these Rabbis stipulate.

  2. Being Orthodox myself, I won’t waste time commenting on Masorti conversions. Nor will I waste time commenting on the violation of the mitzvah to love converts.

    I will simply make two other comments:

    (1) It is not clear that Rotem’s intention is to disenfranchise converts for eligibility under the Law of Return. By his own testimony, his intention was to disenfranchise foreign workers who get conversions simply to make aliyah, without any desire to be Jewish. If so, then the law needs to be rewritten, because it is worded extremely horribly and evinces not an iota of what Rotem says it is supposed to. See my explication of this here.

    (2) You say, “This is an attempt to go around the Supreme Court.” What’s the problem with this? To quote myself (ibid.): As an aside, the Haaretz article (“New bill would make conversion insufficient for Israeli citizenship”) states, “The Movement for Progressive Judaism described the bill as a ‘coup meant to bypass the Supreme Court over the issue of who is a Jew,’ because it denies converts the right to become Israeli citizens.” This is difficult to understand: what can possibly be wrong with bypassing the Supreme Court? The Supreme Court’s job is to interpret law and to nullify unconstitutional laws. But the task of actual lawmaking is given to the parliament and to none other. Who other than the parliament should decide who is a Jew? Why should the Supreme Court be the one to decide? Evidently, the Movement for Progressive Judaism is woefully uneducated on basic democracy and political theory.

    • The fact is that the Israeli Supreme Court does not represent democracy, but rather, it impedes democracy. A few aspects of the Israeli Supreme Court are egregiously undemocratic:

      (1) There are no checks and balances; the judges elect their own fellow judges, and no one outside the judiciary has any say. It is a self-perpetuating oligarchy with no external oversight.

      (2) In a real democracy, i.e. a federal constitutional democratic-republic, there is a constitution explicating the powers of all parties of the government. The sole task of the courts is to interpret the meaning of the laws, and to strike down any laws which contradict the constitution. But in Israel, there is no constitution, and the Supreme Court has explicitly arrogated to itself the right to unilaterally judge which laws are just and which are unjust, based on what they call the “reasonability test”, which means they can overrule any law they personally and subjectively find unreasonable. In Israel, the judges are legislators, because they decide what ought to be. In America, if a law is interpreted differently than the legislators desired, then the law can be rewritten by Congress and passed again. If the law is struck down as unconstitutional, then the constitution can be amended. In other words, the judges are limited by the wording of the law and the constitution; change either and you’ve successfully defanged the judged. But in Israel, neither of these is an option; the same law can be rewritten and resubmitted for a million years, and the Israeli Supreme Court will strike it down every time, based on the judges’ personal opinions, without any constitution specifying or limiting their powers.

      (3) Justice Aharon Barak in Israel explicitly said that he cares not for the will of the people. By his own explicit admission, he cares only what leftist elites believe. Even if 99% of the country was right-wing and 1% were left-wing, he’d rule like the 1%. He has explicitly said that he doesn’t care about the will of the people or the consent of the governed, even though these are essential elements of democracy.

      I explain this all at greater length here.

    • I cannot help but laugh at the irony that the Movement for Progressive Judaism has rejected democracy in favor of authoritarian tyranny. It’s exactly the same mindset as the Haredim, only the substantive views are different. But the basic worldview and political theory is identical. Haredim believe in Da’at Torah and ex cathedra rabbinic infallibility, while leftists believe in “worshipful magistrates” (to quote Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter) who cannot be disagreed with.

  3. Thank you for posting this. I have heard a lot of mixed reports about what the bill actually stipulates, much to the effect that anyone who converted outside of Israel (under any auspices) would not be granted citizenship under the Law of Return.

    I’m a little hazy on what the current laws are anyway. Oddly, I think I would be allowed to obtain Israeli citizenship but maybe not be considered Jewish on state documents b/c of my Conservative conversion. Oy.

    • I think you’re right, based on the current laws – However, they are always getting more stringent… And as R. Juan noted above, word from Israel seems to agree with what your first statement was.

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