Thursday, July 15, 2010

worries about conversion bill

the most direct concern to us is the formal
public explicit declaration in the bill that the Chief Rabbinate now will
have exclusive jurisdiction over conversion, like it has enjoyed in the
State of Israel from the "Status Quo Agreement of 1947" over marriage and
divorce. This declaration certainly calls into question the future of
non-Orthodox conversions in Israel for the purposes of being registered in
the Population Registry (Mirsham Ha'Ochlasin) as Jewish but also by
extension could be used to invalidate the conversions performed in the
Diaspora on behalf of concerts who are making aliyah by any rabbinic
authority (Reform, Conservative and Liberal Orthodox) not recognized by the
Chief Rabbinate. So yes, non-Orthodox converts and even some Orthodox
converts could lose the right to make aliyah under the Law of Return if the
Ministry of the Interior decides to apply these same criteria from the law
to Diaspora converts. Again, this is speculation but not unfounded fears.

Proposed Conversion Law:
How good intentions turned into abhorrent legislation

By Rabbi Uri Regev, Advocate
President & CEO of Hiddush
1 Av 5770
July 12, 2010

"Jerusalem was only destroyed because they zealously applied the
strict letter of the Law [Torah] and not going beyond the letter of the
law." (Babylonian Talmud, Bava Metzia 30B)

1. The proposed conversion law [formally titled: The Chief Rabbinate bill
(Amendment - Powers in Matters of Conversion), 5770-2010] in the formulation
presented today to the Knesset Constitution & Law Committee is the worst and
most damaging in the sequence of conversion bills that MK Rotem, who chairs
the Committee, has proposed. It represents an unsavory surrender to the
rabbinical establishment and the ultra-Orthodox politicians. The proposal
is designed to expand the authority of the Chief Rabbinate and undermine
conversions done by the major religious movements within the Jewish people.
It pretentiously claims to facilitate easier access to conversion for new
immigrants and halt the increasing trend to nullify conversions after the
fact on the grounds of non observance of commandments. This proposal does
not solve the problems faced by new immigrants, and it puts at risk Israel's
strategic interests, by jeopardizing the cooperation and solidarity with
Diaspora Jewry. It places Israel on an inevitable collision course with
most Jews of the world today - and represents an unfortunate example for
highly objectionable legislation. It may have started with good intentions,
but after passing through the ultra religious political mill it has become
an appalling bill which must be rejected outright.

2. In article 1 the authority of the chief rabbinate is expanded, by
granting it "responsibility over conversion in Israel". This authority never
been granted to the Chief Rabbinate, and it is in clear contradiction with
consistent rulings of the Supreme Court, which negated the authority of the
Chief Rabbinate over conversion matters that are not tied directly to
issues of personal status. This expansion contradicts the principle of
"Freedom of Religion and Conscience" promised in Israel's Declaration of
Independence, and the desire of the majority of Israeli Jews to see
religious life here firmly based on pluralism and equality of all streams
of Judaism.

3. The article's language worsened in comparison to the draft that was
presented to the Knesset Committee in March. It now states explicitly that
the authority of the Chief Rabbinate "will not harm conversions that were
done by the Special Rabbinical Courts that were appointed by virtue of
government decisions and Rabbinical Courts that operate according to law".
In his recent visit to the US and in meetings with heads of the Jewish
federations and the non Orthodox Jewish streams, Rotem stated that the
formulation of the Bill that was presented in March,[the language of which
stated that the "Responsibility of the Chief Rabbinate over conversion
would not diminish the rights of other authorities to conduct conversion in
Israel according to any law"] provided for continuation of the recognition
of Reform and Conservative conversions. We doubted his statements on this
issue that were aimed at silencing criticism from the non-Orthodox movements
against the proposed law. Now it is patently clear that this was never the
intention, and that the new legislation attempts to undermine the continued
recognition of these conversions, and is intended to enable the Ministry of
Interior to argue before the Supreme Court that the legal situation has
changed and that non-Orthodox conversions, which do not fall within the new
language of the "exemptions" to the authority of the Chief Rabbinate, may no
longer be recognized.

4. Article 2 aims in part to expand the ranks of converting rabbis, in hopes
that among the "City Rabbis" and the "Local Council Rabbis" there will be
some with a moderate approach. The present draft adds an explicit condition
to the validity of their conversions; that they "will be recognized .only if
the conversion was conducted according to the religious requirements . after
acceptance of the yoke of Torah and commandments according to Halachah".
Beyond the ridiculous nature of this condition, which implies that the Chief
Rabbinate and the ultra Orthodox politicians entertain doubts as to whether
the "City Rabbis" and "Local Councils Rabbis" will act according to Jewish
Law, there is here a severe set of conditions in the most sensitive area of
converting new immigrants. Namely - the law states that even conversions
conducted in these new Orthodox rabbinical courts will be invalid if they do
not sufficiently comply with the requirement to accept the "yoke of
commandments". So long as the Chief Rabbinate does not publicly clarify to
what extent it is prepared to adopt lenient rulings regarding the demand to
accept the "yoke of commandments" from new immigrants - the new legislative
exercise is doomed to failure from the outset. Everyone who deals with
conversion knows exactly the nature of the challenge, and if Rotem and the
Chief Rabbinate are not prepared to recognize the reality and reconcile with
it - it is best they do not delude the new immigrant population and not push
the State of Israel into a collision course with the Jewish People

5. The present draft also includes a threat and sanctions against rabbis who
serve on the "Special Rabbinic Courts" if they do not satisfy the chief
rabbis as to requiring acceptance of the "yoke of commandments" by the
converts. The Bill authorizes the chief rabbis to forbid these rabbis from
continuing to officiate in conversions.

6. The proposed law professes to block the growing trend of retroactive
nullification of conversions, whether by "Regional Rabbinic Courts" when
adjudicating matters of personal status, or by City Rabbis who refuse to
recognize lenient Orthodox conversions and do not approve weddings for these
converts. Instead of drawing the logical conclusion and removing from
Rabbinic Courts and City Rabbis the State exclusive authority, and basing
their function on voluntary choice of those who accept their authority as
in every other democratic society. The present Bill tries "to eat its cake
and have it too." The Bill attempts to bypass the extreme rabbinic courts
by instructing that to rule on the validity of past conversions you first
have to refer it to the original court that conducted the conversion, and
that appeals against its decisions will require approval of the president
of the High Rabbinic Court. Likewise the Bill creates an alternative channel
for convert marriages, by a member of the converting rabbinic court, instead
of the "recalcitrant" City Rabbis. The time has come to recognize the truth
- the politicization of religion and creation of an Orthodox monopoly has
brought about the growing extremism and Haredization. . The answer is to
abolish the monopoly - not establish an apparatus of "rabbinate B" to bypass
"rabbinate A."

7. The proposed Bill makes it possible to nullify conversions if the
converting rabbinic court, or a Rabbinic Court of Appeal, decides that the
conversion "was conducted on the basis of misleading information". As is
known, the candidate for conversion is required to promise before the
rabbinic court to observe the commandments and give religious education to
his/her children. There is no doubt but that those who wish to may easily
nullify conversions after the fact, holding that the promise given the
rabbinical court was not sincere. This is how "nullifiers" acted in the
past, and they can continue to do so in the future.

8. Requiring the approval of the president of the High Rabbinic Court as a
condition for nullifying conversions is a dubious block against this
phenomenon. Rumor as to Chief Rabbi Amar holding a lenient approach have
not been proven, and nothing has been heard from him directly and
unequivocally as to his position regarding the vexing question of accepting
the yoke of Torah and commandments by converts. But what is no less
important is that in the best case scenario - this is a patchwork remedy
that does not provide a real solution. Rabbi Amar will conclude his term in
office in a few years, and there is no doubt but that the path of the Chief
Rabbinate is leading to even more religious extremism. Therefore, there is
no point in placing the matter in the hands of the president of the High
Rabbinic Court to close up the gaping hole in this dam, and it is clear that
nullification of conversions will continue.


Article 3 of the Bill changes the Citizenship Law in a way that reduces
recognition of converts according to the Law of Return and the Citizenship
Law, and creates a distinction between Jews-by-choice and Jews-by-birth. .
This is an outrageous initiative, which contradicts Jewish tradition and
particularly harms converts from abroad whose attraction to Judaism was
enhanced by a visit to Israel. This is a most grievous change of the legal
situation, which will hurt many converts and make them into "second class"

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