The leadership of organized Jewry, from the Jewish Federations of North America to the Jewish Agency for Israel, is expressing frustration, anger and a sense of betrayal — understandably — with the Netanyahu government for allowing a controversial conversion bill to go forward in the Knesset, even though it would alienate the vast majority of diaspora Jewry.
Despite criticism from the right and the left, a special Israeli cabinet subcommittee adopted the recommendations of the Neeman Commission this week and authorized the first of several planned conversion institutes, to open in Beersheva this spring.
Professor Binyamin Ish-Shalom, a respected educator and scholar, was named to head the institute. The board of directors will have seven members — five Orthodox, one Conservative and one Reform.
In a sign of how divisive the “Who is a Jew” question can become, the first non-Orthodox conversions in nearly 40 years took place between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur in the Czech Republic and Poland in the face of fierce Orthodox opposition.
Because the Orthodox in both countries would not permit the use of their ritual baths, the 38 conversions had to be moved to outlying cities.
Jerusalem — Have the liberal streams of Judaism been left at the altar by the State of Israel, or can they forge an historic union in their quest for recognition? That’s the issue at the center of the Conservative movement’s annual Rabbinical Assembly convention, attended by some 350 American rabbis here.
Some rabbis say they should support the Neeman Commission’s proposal to create conversion institutes, to be taught by Orthodox, Conservative and Reform instructors — with or without the approval of the Orthodox chief rabbinate.
Jerusalem — Legitimacy, long sought here by the Reform and Conservative rabbinate, was denied again this week by the Orthodox chief rabbinate, but advanced by the state — leaving the door ajar for a resolution to the religious wars.
Despite the chief rabbinate’s strong disapproval of a key element of the Neeman Committee proposal on conversion, two-thirds of the Knesset is expected to endorse the plan this week.
The Israeli government is falsely telling Jewish federation leaders that the conversion crisis is over, according to the leader of the Reform movement. “We think this is a political game by the government to try to proclaim victory out of what was a failure,” said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Reform movement’s Union of American Hebrew Congregations.
He said some members of the Knesset criticized the government this Monday during a debate on the recommendations of the Neeman Commission, which was created to resolve the conversion issue.
After three years of postponement, Israel’s High Court of Justice finally convened this week to consider the validity of two non-Orthodox conversions in Israel — and immediately sought to sidestep the issue.
At the very start of the nearly three-hour hour session, Supreme Court President Aaron Barak surprised the plaintiffs with this question: would they be content having the state recognize the nationality of the two adopted children as Jewish, but leave their religious status blank?
Israel’s chief rabbinate blinked. Or, the Reform and Conservative movements got cold feet and backed off. Those opposing scenarios were put forth this week as the reason the leaders of the two non-Orthodox streams decided to hold off for three months legal action that would give their movements formal recognition in Israel. Instead, they said they would remain at the bargaining table until Jan. 31 to reach agreement on a compromise to the controversial Knesset bill that would codify the status quo, allowing only Orthodox rabbis to officiate at conversions in Israel.
Two weeks after returning from Uganda, where he oversaw the conversion of about 300 members of the Abayudaya community to Judaism, Rabbi Howard Gorin of Rockville, Md., is already planning a trip back.
“This is not dunk ‘em and leave ‘em,” he said, referring to the mikveh, the ritual immersion conducted as part of the conversion process.
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