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Conversion Legislation Pending in Israel

Conversion Legislation Pending in Israel

Today, the URJ released a statement calling on the Knesset to reject a piece of legislation that would alter the Law of Return such that converts to Judaism would not be eligible for Israeli citizenship. This would be the first time that the state of Israel makes an official distinction between one who is born a Jew and a righteous convert.

Further, the legislation would place legal authority over conversion in Israel in the hands of the Chief Rabbinate, making it more challenging for progressive rabbis to perform conversions.

Finally, there have been recent negotiations between the sponsor of this legislation, MK David Rotem, and the ultra-Orthodox parties which could result in provisions blocking Reform and Conservative conversions in Israel.

As this situation unfolds, we will provide further news updates and ways to get involved in the issue. The full statement is available below.

Reform Jewish Movement Calls on Knesset to Reject Conversion Legislation

For 2,000 years, Judaism has treated Jews-by-choice the same as Jews-by-birth. We are taught "as soon as a convert emerges from the mikvah (ritual bath) she or he is Jewish for all purposes." (Talmud, Yevamot 47b)

For 62 years, since its founding, the State of Israel, through the Law of Return, has welcomed Jews from around the world as citizens in the world's only Jewish state.

Today, legislation before the Knesset - a bill sponsored by MK David Rotem of Yisrael Beitenu that addresses both the authority of the Chief Rabbinate and matters of conversion - threatens both of those sacred principles.

This legislation will certainly reopen one of the most divisive battles in the Jewish community. The proposed legislation will lead to a situation in which Jews-by-choice would be treated differently and denied recognition as Jews under the Law of Return, in direct contradiction of Israeli Supreme Court rulings. Additionally, it may lead to the delegitimization of all non-orthodox conversions performed outside of the State of Israel.

Our concern is neither partisan nor denominational, but emanates from true love of Medinat Yisrael and Klal Yisrael (the State and people of Israel). With the unity of the Jewish people foremost in our thoughts and prayers, we urge the government and the Knesset to affirm core principles of that unity when enacting any legislation. We call upon Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to withstand the pressures of a small segment of the political spectrum and to do what is best for all Jewish people everywhere.

The Reform Movement calls upon the State of Israel to treat all religious streams of Judaism fairly and equally, a cause that is far from realization. We call upon the Knesset to reject this partisan attack on the majority of American Jews. Finally, we call upon the Israeli people to join with us in an effort to help Israel live up to its promise as a Jewish and democratic State.

Published: 3/09/2010

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