Stormy discussion over proposed bill
Photo: Gil Yohanan

US Reform Jews protest conversion law

In strongly worded message to foreign minister, Movement's leaders call on Israel to reject proposed bill, treat all streams of Judaism equally

The Reform Movement in the United States on Wednesday strongly protested the conversion legislation currently being considered by the government.


"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," the organization said in a statement.


"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 (this sacred principle)."


The Movement's leaders, currently in a conference in San Francisco, have conveyed an unequivocal message to the Israeli consul in the region, Akiva Nof, requesting that their opposition be passed on to Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman who is from the same party as Rotem, Yisraeli Beitenu.


The Movement calls on the State of Israel "to treat all religious streams of Judaism fairly and equally."


"The proposed legislation will lead to a situation in which Jews-by-choice would be… denied recognition as Jews under the Law of Return, in direct contradiction of Israeli Supreme Court rulings," the Movement said. "Additionally, it may lead to the de-legitimization of all non-Orthodox conversions performed outside of the State 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 unity when enacting any legislation."


They ended their message with a call to the Knesset "to reject this partisan attack on the majority of American Jews," and a call to the Israeli people "to join with us in an effort to help Israel live up to its promise as a Jewish and democratic State."


The Movement is suspicious of any legislation that could restrict non-Orthodox streams in the field of conversion. The proposed law apparently makes Orthodox-state conversion easier, they say, by allowing municipal rabbis to set up clerical courts for conversions. However, they point out, the law also threatens the status of converts in Israel and the ability of Reform as well as Orthodox communities to perform conversions.


The law grants the chief rabbinate legislative powers for the first time, the Reform Movement notes, and so far, government representatives have avoided any explicit assurance that the law will not be exploited to declare the chief rabbinate's authority to be exclusive.


Furthermore, the law includes a paragraph which determines that a convert who has been in Israel while not being eligible for "oleh hadash" (new immigrant) status, will not be eligible for citizenship on the strength of his conversion.


The Movement protests that this paragraph breaks the link between the Law of Return and the Citizenship Law, and creates a discriminatory distinction between converts and Jews by birth.


פרסום ראשון: 03.15.10, 15:02
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