Despite passing a law allowing conversions to other Jewish branches aside from orthodoxy by those emigrating to Israel, the issue remains contested, according to recent reports. Israel’s Chief Rabbi, Shlomo Amar, is currently leading efforts for amending the legislation on conversion in such a way that a convert would not automatically be entitled to the “right of return” (i.e. the right claiming automatic Israeli citizenship and of settling in Israel), regardless of the procedure (Orthodox, Conservative or Reform), reports the news service Ynet (http://www.ynetnews.com, Dec. 13).
Michael Freund observes in the Jerusalem Post (Dec. 28) that few issues in Israel have proved more contentious than conversion. A new committee was set up last fall by the Israeli government in order to examine the demands of the Conservative and Reform movements to recognize their conversions conducted in Israel. Several individuals who had converted in Israel under the supervision of Conservative and Reform rabbis have applied for recognition as Jews under the “Law of Return.” Reform and Conservative converts who have converted abroad are already recognized since a ruling by the Israeli Supreme Court in March 2005. This ruling has come under heavy criticism from Orthodox circles.
At the heart of the debate is the lasting question of deciding “how Jewish the Jewish state” should be, notes The Economist (December 9). The monopoly of the Orthodox chief rabbinate over matters of personal status has regularly come under attack from secular circles as well as from other Jewish denominations. The issue is made more complicated by fears that a number of (non-Jewish) foreign workers now living in Israel could become Jews through Conservative and Reform procedures, and then claim citizenship.
They still wouldn’t be recognized as Jews by the chief rabbinate – such is already the case of some 300.000 immigrants from some countries accepted under relaxed rules–and not entitled to Jewish marriage or burial in a Jewish cemetery in Israel. As The Economist remarks, if this increasingly assertive group would be supplemented by tens of thousands of non-Orthodox converts, pressure for breaking the monopoly of the rabbinate over Jewish marriages in Israel would become still stronger.
— By Jean-Francois Mayer