We must praise the government and Interior Minister Ronnie Bar-On for their logical and correct decision to grant permanent residence status to the children of foreign workers who arrived in the country under the age of 14, speak Hebrew and have spent at least six years in Israel. The decision was accompanied by clarifications, to say nothing of apologies , that we are talking about a small group, and that the move will not change the Jewish nature of the country.
To me, the clarification was unnecessary. I think we should even be sorry for the fact that we are only talking about a small group. The move will effect positive demographic change if applied to more people.
The Jewish people are not racist. We have always been open to accepting members of other nations, as in the biblical story Ruth, who was a convert and the grandmother of King David.
True, conversion to Judaism took on a religious tinge at the time of the second temple, and today's Orthodoxy conditions conversion on the fact that that the religious body overseeing the conversion believes the applicant will observe the mitzvot as a Jew and will join the religious community.
At the same time, there are other streams of Judaism, each of which with its own conversion processes and standards. Israel must recognize all of these, and does, at least when the conversion is conducted abroad. Each stream is free, of course, to act in accordance with its religious outlook, and Orthodoxy is certainly under no obligation to recognize the validity of Reform conversions.
All these conversions are religious in nature, but all have deep meaning for the state of Israel. Each one gives the convert an entry ticket into Israel, including all the benefits that go along with it, including rights to residency and citizenship. But it is incredible that the secular State of Israel has no independent mechanism for allowing immigrants to join our ranks.
The absurd result of all this is that Israeli citizenship is left in the hands of thousands of rabbis around the world, including many non-Zionists and individuals who oppose the State of Israel, whereas the state itself has no parallel, independent mechanism of its own.
It is worth mentioning that there would be no problem absorbing the children of these foreign workers if they had undergone some sort of conversion process; and if that process had been Orthodox, even Shas wouldn't have opposed the move. Of course, these conversions would have raised halachic (Jewish law) questions, such as how old can a child convert be?
But the main issue remains that converts would be required to perform religious mitzvot; in other words, they would be required to become Orthodox Jews.
Conflict of interest
The monopoly granted to religious elements over entry into the Jewish people presents one of the factors for the lack of balance between secular and religious Israelis. The Orthodox only want to convert those people who will join their ranks, whereas secular groups lack a secular mechanism to absorb newcomers into theirs.
The secular stream of Judaism is the central and most important one in Israel, but in the absurd world of this country it is the only one to which entry is blocked.
We need a secular alternative for welcoming newcomers into the Jewish people in Israel. We must set criteria for joining the Jewish people, such as a knowledge of Hebrew and the traditions of our people, the lack of a criminal past and the ability to contribute and a willingness to blend into our society, and to fulfill responsibilities (such as serving in the army).
This is the correct way to welcome the children of foreign workers who have studied in Israeli schools, and who want to live here for better or worse. That's the way Ruth the Moabite joined our people, and that's the way converts should be welcomed, too.