Conversion in the State of Israel – An Update
The Israeli Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism (IMPJ) supported by the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA) offers the following report on the submission of the recommendations of the “Nissim Committee on Conversion” in the State of Israel that was presented to Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday (Sunday, June 3) and their immediate rejection by the Ultra-Orthodox Haredi political establishment and the Chief Rabbis of Israel (all ultra-Orthodox).
On Sunday, June 3 former Israeli Justice Minister Moshe Nissim presented his recommendations on the subject of conversion to Prime Minister Netanyahu after a process that lasted 8 months during which the leadership of the Israeli Reform movement met twice with Mr. Nissim for lengthy working meetings. The recommendations of the former minister were presented after the Israeli government requested from the Supreme Court to delay submitting their decision on the petitions by the Israel Reform and Conservative movements to recognize our conversions, for the purpose of the Law of Return. (In other words, a situation wherein people who are not Israeli citizens and who undergo Reform conversion in the State of Israel to request recognition as new immigrants in the Jewish state – that is, the nation state of the entire Jewish people).
In principal the proposal by Former Minister Nissim has three main parts:
- That by law in Israel there would be only one authority for conversion and that this would be Orthodox. Private conversion (both Orthodox and non- Orthodox would not be recognized) and therefore could not be done by any non-Orthodox Rabbi in the Jewish State.
- Israeli law would recognize that (as already decided by the Supreme Court) that conversions by all Jewish communities in the Diaspora (including Reform and Conservative) would be legal and recognized for purposes of the Law of Return and those converts would be allowed to make Aliyah to Israel and be officially registered as Jews in the Population Registry.
- Supervision of all issues involving conversion including nominating conversion “dayanim”( judges) would be done by a new government authority (not the chief rabbinate). In this new authority there would be representatives of the government, the chief rabbinate, and the Jewish Agency for Israel (with specific representation by JAFI of the Reform and Conservative streams). The chief rabbinate would not have veto power whatsoever.
The recommendations of the Nissim Committee are concerning yet interesting at the same time. Of course, we cannot agree to have Orthodox conversion be the sole basis in Israel for establishing the right to be considered a Jew under the Law of Return. On the other hand, the proposal for the first time calls for legally recognizing non-Orthodox conversions done outside of Israel, and protects the advances we have already made in Israel. Additionally, there is a clear recognition that the chief rabbinate can no longer have a monopoly on the issue of conversion.
As we expected, the Haredi political parties (right-wing ultra-Orthodox) and the Rabbinic establishment in Israel have already begun an attack on the recommendations while at the same time renewing their campaign of vilification of the non-Orthodox religious streams. As our Israeli Reform leadership told Mr. Nissim and the representatives of the government, there is no chance that politically the recommendation for new laws can be passed because of the makeup of the present government coalition. Therefore, as of now our Reform movement’s media strategy in Israel is to relate to the Haredi and Orthodox establishment’s attacks on the proposal and on us as further proof (after the Kotel agreement to have an equal prayer plaza beneath Robinson’s Arch for egalitarian prayer was vilified by the Orthodox political parties and later canceled by Prime Minister Netanyahu) that there is no willingness by the Rabbinic establishment to make progress on any compromise. In this situation there is no reason now to study the Nissim recommendations in depth and decide on our position towards a compromise.
The single danger that we must be aware of is that there may be an attempt to promote a conversion law not on the basis of the Nissim recommendations, and that it would be based on previous versions that give sole power to the monopoly of the chief rabbinate over conversion in Israel. These proposals are not at present on the table but we have to remember that the delicate political situation of the coalition might lead to this. In the event that these proposals are renewed we will need to respond in the strongest possible manner as we did successfully many times in the past.
Below is the official response of Rabbi Gilad Kariv to the Israeli media:
Response to the Conversion recommendations:
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, President and CEO of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, stated in response to the recommendations of the Nissim Committee on the Conversion issue:
“In the recommendations on the issue of conversion there are both worrisome and encouraging aspects, and on the surface a discussion would be appropriate. However it is clear that the Haredi political parties and the [ultra-Orthodox] Rabbinic establishment are already planning to bury the recommendations permanently. This is more proof that they are not interested in reaching a national agreement or compromise. This is exactly why these parties cannot be given sole responsibility for entrance through the “gates of the Jewish people” which belong to all the Jewish people in Israel and the Diaspora, and not to an extreme minority. After the inappropriate and destructive conduct of the Government of Israel following the Western Wall compromise agreement, we are not willing to again enter into new understandings with the government only to later discover that the Prime Minister’s “natural partners” will have thwarted them rudely while carrying on a campaign of insult, slander, and incitement against millions of Reform and Conservative Jews.”