Sharansky, US rabbis discuss conversion bill
In meeting organized by Jewish Federations of North America, Conservative and Reform leaders repeat their concern that no single religious stream has authority to oversee or approve conversions. Jewish Agency chairman promises to communicate their views to PM Netanyahu
The leaders of the Conservative and Reform religious movements in North American Jewry met Tuesday with Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman Natan Sharansky at a meeting hosted by Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of The Jewish Federations of North America.
This followed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's recent request that Sharansky dialogue with Diaspora leaders on issues of mutual interest. Sharansky initiated last week’s discussion after he met with Conservative and Reform representatives in Israel to discuss their concerns about proposed legislation in the Knesset regarding conversion to Judaism.
Netanyahu last week wrote to the Conservative and Reform movements that any proposed legislation would ensure the unity “of the entire Jewish people.” Last week’s meeting, which Silverman hosted, included Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, and Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative movement and Dr. Misha Galperin, the Jewish Agency’s incoming head of Global External Affairs.
The rabbis repeated their concern that no single religious stream has authority to oversee or approve conversions. Sharansky assured the participants that he would communicate their views to the prime minister and would work with the Knesset to ensure that any legislation moving forward would reflect these concerns.
“This has been a very constructive start to an important dialogue,” Sharansky said. “The Jewish State is a state of all Jews and the government of Israel must balance its political concerns with the concerns of the Jewish people the world over. I am engaging in dialogue with all relevant parties at the request of the prime minister, fulfilling the Jewish Agency’s historic role as the nexus between world Jewish communities and the State of Israel.”
In March, a controversy erupted over proposed amendments to a bill intended to create local municipal conversion courts in Israel. The amendments would, for the first time, place legislative authority for conversion under the offices of the chief rabbi.
Leaders of Diaspora Jewry and the religious streams objected to the amendments that placed conversion in the hands of one religious stream because conversion is, by its nature, directly linked to the Law of Return and is therefore a matter affecting the world Jewish community.
“Since this issue arose, the Jewish Federations have partnered with the Jewish Agency to represent the concerns of Diaspora Jewry. By hosting this gathering of key partners in the religious movements, we are helping to ensure that our community is acting in unison to shape the best outcome,” said Silverman.