Israeli Knesset member David Rotem, author of a controversial bill that would grant the Chief Rabbinate sole authority over conversions, defended his position recently. In response to complaints from leaders of non-Orthodox movements that the bill discriminates against them, he said, “In my opinion, there’s only one Judaism. There are no three Judaisms.” What he meant was that Orthodoxy is the only legitimate form of Judaism. The other streams don’t count.
Over the last number of weeks, people with good intentions, and some with not such good intentions, have written and dealt extensively with the proposed Conversion Bill in Israel. I read what they are writing and wonder: do they really understand the Bill?
Following is an explanation, framed in a Question and Answer format.
Can 400,000 of Israel’s Russians be absorbed into society without alienating non-Orthodox Jews?
Although some American Jewish leaders said this week that they will be entering upcoming negotiations over the proposed Israeli conversion bill free of preconceptions, a leader of Reform Jewry said there remains a “red line” for his movement.
“The critical point will be giving ultimate authority to the Chief Rabbinate, which is a fundamental violation of the status quo,” said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism. “In my opinion, that is the red line.
JERUSALEM (JTA) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he opposes a proposed conversion bill, which "could tear apart the Jewish people."
Netanyahu made the comments Sunday at the regular Cabinet meeting.
The bill, which has been roundly condemned by the Reform and Conservative movements in the United States, Israel and in other countries in the Diaspora because it centralizes conversion in the hands of the Orthodox Rabbinate, could come up for a first reading this week.
As I write this article, furious negotiations are underway in Jerusalem regarding the so-called “Rotem Bill,” which might possibly be introduced to the plenum of the Knesset as early as next week. In a Jewish world that often hyperbolizes potential disasters, this bill, if passed, has the capacity to drive a major wedge between the State of Israel and the non-Orthodox Jewish community here in North America. I suspect that certain sectors of the Orthodox community are not anxious to see it passed, either.
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.