Latest News on the Conversion Bill
Since I last wrote to you about the dangerous conversion bill under discussion in the Knesset, the leaders of the American Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist movements, along with the president of the Jewish Federations of North America – an organization famous for never getting involved with Israeli politics – have sent a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu urging him to withdraw the bill. The strength of the letter, as well as the unified front presented by the American Jewish leadership, is unprecedented.
When MK David Rotem and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon went to New York in April to convince leaders that the conversion bill was merely an internal Israeli issue and would not affect the rights of non-Orthodox Jews, our leaders in America were not fooled for a minute. Instead, they recognized the bill right away as serious in its consequences – and they also saw it as a serious insult to Jewish converts everywhere.
The moment of conversion is a moment of pride and dignity. We are not a
missionary religion – we’ve got the numbers to prove it. Rather, we ask
the convert up until the last moment of the conversion process –
immersion in the mikveh - “are you sure you want to do this?” Once the years of studying are completed, the convert is accepted unquestionably as a Jew.
The conversion bill proposed by Ayalon, Rotem, and their Yisrael
Beiteinu party is in effect a re-writing of Jewish theology done by a
political party with narrow interests. Yisrael Beiteinu, a relatively
new party whose constituents are mostly Russian olim,
has 15 seats in the Knesset and is working hard to make as much noise
as possible to strengthen their political position. If passed, the new
law would differentiate for the first time in Jewish history between
Jews by birth and Jews by choice – favoring the former, of course.
In early June, Ayalon will return to New York to meet with North
American Jewish leaders to persuade them that the bill will affect only
those who convert in Israel and not those who convert in North America.
By describing the bill one way in Israel, and another way in America,
he is attempting to divide the Reform and Conservative movements in the
U.S. from their sister movements in Israel.
Here’s our response:
Maybe Ayalon and Rotem et al. really believe that the conversion bill
won’t affect the rights of non-Orthodox Diaspora Jews, and that the
ultra-Orthodox parties with which they’ve made a deal will ensure their
But there is no language in the bill that recognizes non-Orthodox
conversions. And in our experience, the Chief Rabbinate – which would
gain full authority if the bill were passed – has consistently
undermined the Reform and Conservative movements. The Rabbinate does
not recognize our rabbis, or our conversions. We are not fooled.
Rotem and Ayalon are trying to divide the Jewish people both in the
debate surrounding the bill and in the wording and intention of the
bill itself. Next week, leaders of the Israeli Reform and Conservative
movements will meet with Ayalon and make suggestions for how to end the
Israeli ultra-Orthodox monopoly on conversion and “who is a Jew.”
I will be in touch with you as the story develops. Thank you again for
those of you who have taken action on this issue. You are already
making a difference.