"Off the Mark" on Rotem Conversion Bill
Wed, 08/11/2010

Gary Rosenblatt does not hesitate to tackle difficult matters, but his latest column about the Rotem Conversion Bill is off the mark.

For more than 15 years, as well as in our several meetings with MK David Rotem, we have emphasized our strong desire to address the issue of the status of olim from the former Soviet Union. There are multiple ways in which the situation could be meaningfully addressed.

Although dubious about its effectiveness, we have consistently said we do not oppose Article 2 in the Rotem Bill which attempts to deal with the issue of facilitating the conversion process. We have said this even though Article 2 would not do anything to recognize non-Orthodox conversions. The problem, to use the words of Gary Rosenblatt, was the decision on the part of David Rotem and his allies to encumber Article 2 with addenda which "give in to the demands of the haredi parties."

However much we might want to address the core question of the status of olim from the former Soviet Union, the price ought not to be the acceptance of tangential provisions which are harmful to the pluralistic and democratic future of Israel and which augment the role of the haredi Chief Rabbinate.

Why must we and the overwhelming number of Israelis "give in to the demands of the haredi parties?" Beyond this, more than one Israeli official, in off the record comments to us, indicated that almost no one believes the bill, with the haredi provisions added, would have any positive impact on the needs of those olim whose halachic status is in question. Its passage would be a cruel joke.

David Rotem is quoted as saying we are "purposely misleading" and "cheating people by not telling the truth." The sad fact is that it is precisely because we are telling the facts and laying bare the problem that so many are outraged. How often is it that the Prime Minister of Israel hears from in excess of 60,000 people on an issue?

Gary Rosenblatt is correct that we should find a way to welcome hundreds of thousands of olim to Judaism. We are encouraged by the leadership of Natan Sharansky in attempting to chart an effective course. Certainly there is no one more aware of and committed to resolving all of the relevant issues. He merits our full support.

Rabbi Alan Silverstein and David H. Lissy are  Chair and  CEO/ Executive Director of the Masorti Foundation for Conservative Judaism in Israel

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