Eretz Yisrael Time

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Monday, July 19, 2010
This post was written by an anonymous member of the Muqata Think-Tank with some assistance from the rest of us. The author felt it is an important issue to discuss.

The link to the actual bill that the brouhaha is based on is here:

There are specific minor modifications to the proposal that we don't have available online at the moment, that are referenced in the post. (Thank you to Rabbi/Dr. Jeffrey Woolf and Yisrael Medad for those documents).

The Rotem Conversion Bill, an important bill, which should have been passed without any problem, has instead has become a political knife that is being used to promote various agendas and attack various people.

Unfortunately, certain people and organizations with very specific religious and political agendas are disingenuously trying to manufacture a storm by upsetting US Jewry with an issue that (a) doesn't affect them, and (b) might actually be better for them - if they moved to Israel and needed to deal with a conversion issue.

The bill was created to resolve some very specific internal Israeli issues – bureaucratic, political, and religious.

As Israel is a Jewish state, issues of Jewish law are important and central to a functioning society, as they are part of our legal system and they also prevent a permanent schism in the nation.

This law is a domestically-applied procedural law that shifts control and certification of who may perform recognized conversions in Israel – and only in Israel.

It does not change the status quo that Israel recognizes non-Orthodox conversions in the Diaspora for the purpose of the Right of Return. It does not have any affect on American Jewry or for that matter have any connection to Diaspora Jewry.

In Israel, two groups are coupled in the conversion process (1) The (State’s) Office of the Chief Rabbinate, and (2) the Religious Courts - the official religious court system in Israel.

The problem arose that due to Israeli domestic politics, the Religious Courts have become mostly populated with Ultra-Orthodox (Chareidi) judges, as opposed to “religious-Zionist” (Orthodox) judges and Rabbis, who better represent the country’s religious needs and character.

Consequently recently there have been cases where the Chareidi-controlled Religious Courts attempted to annul, retroactively annul, or not accept the conversion of some non-Chareidi Rabbis (a halachically questionable act in of itself), and have made it difficult, if not impossible for the non-Chareidi Rabbis to perform conversions if they don’t base it on the various criteria set by the Ultra-Orthodox (a combination of religious philosophy, and strict interpretation and application of certain safeguards - Chumrot - built into halacha).

This bill proposes to decentralize the conversion process and remove direct oversight and control from the Religious Courts, while decentralizing and localizing the process down to the community level.

It places the conversion process into the hands of Chief Rabbinate-appointed community leaders - the officially appointed and recognized local Rabbi of Israel’s towns and cities.

These Rabbis will be trained and certified in Conversion law, and will create special local courts trained and certified to handle conversions at the local level.

These local conversions will automatically be recognized by the Chief Rabbinate, the official Rabbinate of the State of Israel, and thus the State of Israel for all relevant matters.

The concept is that local Rabbis are more likely to know and have a relationship with the potential convert living in their community - perhaps even being involved with the conversion studies of the applicant, than a Chareidi Religious Court’s Rabbi in Jerusalem, and will hence be in a better position to assist the potential convert in the Conversion process, as well as better equipped to decide if a potential convert should or should not be accepted into the Jewish nation - it is not, nor should it be an automatic process.

Furthermore, the bill does not limit the certified Rabbis and Courts to their own community members. If any Israeli citizen, permanent resident (similar to a US Green Card holder), and according to one version of the bill, a foreign citizen who gives explicit permission, wants to go to a specific community’s authorized Rabbi and Court for conversion, they will be allowed to.

This decentralization bill should actually make it easier and perhaps faster for more people to convert. It will be particularly helpful to segments of Israel’s large Russian population who are not Jewish, but want to officially join the Jewish nation.

The law also creates a special Conversion Oversight/Appeals Court whose sole responsibility is to oversee and decide on questionable or problematic cases of the local Rabbis, should any such problems arise. It specifically requires that the Oversight/Appeals court make all decisions within 30 days, so that no case will drag on for months or even years – a problem that can exist today.

This is a reform (not Reform) bill that should help improve, smoothen and perhaps even speed up the conversion process in Israel.

The opposition to the bill is coming from two quarters.

The bill was introduced by the Yisrael Beiteinu party. This party primarily represents the secular, Russian, Zionist population in Israel. They would be among the primary beneficiaries of this bill. The bill happened to have been introduced by a religious member of the party, with full support and backing of his party.

On the political side, in the Knesset, a number of MKs and parties want Yisrael Beiteinu out of the coalition or at least knocked down a few notches. This currently includes Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Likud party who are seriously fighting with their coalition partner over a number of issues. Other parties outside the coalition are involved too, as they want the current coalition government to collapse, which it could as a result.

Furthermore, this bill is a two-prong bill. The second part that Yisrael Beiteinu is working on is a Civil Marriage bill for those who cannot marry under Jewish law. If the first bill falls, the second will certainly never be introduced or passed.

On the religious side, IRAC (an organization which receives funding from the NIF), the activist arm of the Reform Movement in Israel, is leading the fight. The Reform movement does not have much in the way of a significant number of constituents or followers in Israel, just a lot of money from various funds.

Just like the bill will prevent the Religious High Court from interfering with conversion, it will also make it harder for Israel's judicially activist secular Supreme Court to bypass the government, and overturn long-existing laws regarding conversion in Israel. A key project IRAC has been working on for years.

IRAC has been trying for a while to destroy the carefully balanced status quo, ensconced in law, not by convincing the public (which they’ve failed to do over the past 2 decades), but rather by attempting to bypass the government and the people, by going through the Supreme Court, which happens to share a similar world view to them on this matter.

So to reiterate, this bill is primarily being introduced to help resolve the issue of the many non-Jewish Russians in Israel who want to join the Jewish nation, generally ease the conversion process, and resolve the problem of potential intermarriage that could otherwise split the nation.

The bills opponents oppose it due to coalition politics, or because it blocks their attempts to destroy the religious status quo that would otherwise split our one nation in Israel apart.

The opponents are trying (in a very organized fashion) to obfuscate and inflame the discussion to promote very specific agendas (both religious and political) through hysterical polemics, half truths, and false insinuations.

But when it comes to facts on the ground, this is a very good bill that will help resolve some serious issues in Israel.


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