Conversion law must be modified
Jews around the world — and certainly some in Israel — were surprised on Monday when David Rotem, an Orthodox Knesset member of the mostly secular Yisrael Beitenu party, introduced his so-called “conversion bill.”
The bill itself is no surprise — the idea has been kicked around for months — but Diaspora Jews, as well as Natan Sharansky, head of the Jewish Agency for Israel, believed they’d reached an agreement with Rotem to hold off, following recent talks and meetings.
Regardless, the Knesset law committee approved the bill with a 5-4 vote, leaving it to pass through three readings in front of the full Knesset membership before it would become law.
Though Knesset politics, it seems, often have Jews both in and out of Israel up in arms, this bill carries a special significance — it could temper how converted Jews are recognized in Israel.
Currently, Israel recognizes only conversions overseen by the Orthodox rabbinate. Diaspora conversions handled by Conservative or Reform rabbis, however, still qualify the Jew by choice for the Law of Return, which offers Israeli citizenship to Jews living abroad. By consolidating the Chief Rabbinate’s control over conversions, opponents fear the bill could effectively discount non-Orthodox converts.
The bill was meant to ease the conversion process for Jews immigrating to Israel. However, according to its opponents, it will do precisely the opposite, muddying the lines of who is and is not Jewish in the eyes of Israel.
We believe if this bill is to pass, it must be altered to insure that Israel’s recognition of non-Orthodox Diaspora converts will continue. The Orthodox Rabbinate already controls Israeli conversions — this bill won’t change that — but the last thing the Jewish people need is a barrier forced between Israeli and Diaspora Jews.
Rotem has said the bill “will not affect non-Orthodox conversions performed abroad… non-Orthodox denominations have no reason for concern.”
Jews need to hope — and enforce — that he keeps his word.