Thursday, March 11, 2010

ACTION STILL NEEDED re: Conversion Bill

Statement from The Jewish Federations of North America

March 10, 2010
The Jewish Federations of North America, representing 157 Federations and 400 smaller Network communities, urges the Government of Israel to enter into dialogue with Diaspora Jews before making any proposed changes to the Law of Return, which allows Jews to migrate to Israel and become Israeli citizens.

Committees in Israel’s Knesset have begun debating a proposal to allow local municipal rabbis in Israel to perform conversions to Judaism. The proposed bill also includes a provision that could prevent a non-Jew who converts to Judaism, in Israel or in the Diaspora, from receiving Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return. Although we commend the Knesset for its initial rejection of the proposed bill today, this issue remains unresolved and is of urgent importance to our communities.

We implore the Israeli government to seriously consider the concerns and sensitivities of Diaspora Jews before acting on such proposals. Changes to the Law of Return could adversely affect many members of our community by preventing them from making aliyah and becoming Israeli citizens. Any action of this type would be an affront to world Jewry.

Leaders of the Jewish Federations movement today hand-delivered a letter to the Office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to express our concerns. Representatives in JFNA’s Washington and Jerusalem offices have additionally communicated our concerns to Israeli officials in Washington, New York and Jerusalem.

Members of The Jewish Federations of North America’s Large City Executive Committee also convened today to discuss these developments. Natan Sharansky, Chair of the Executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel, briefed the committee on the issue. Sharansky and the Jewish Agency stand in solidarity with The Jewish Federations of North America on this important issue.
Urgent Action Regarding Rotem Conversion Bill

We need your help on a matter of urgency concerning a bill that will come before the Knesset.
We have received word from our colleagues in Israel that a bill may be put forward for passage as soon as tomorrow which affects conversion and we need as many of us and our congregants to forward the following letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu and to your Israeli Ambassador.
The bill sponsored by MK David Rotem of Yisrael Beitenu, deals with both the authority of the Chief Rabbinate and matters of Conversion. The Rotem Bill concerns three matters:

1. It grants legal authority to the Chief Rabbinate for Conversions (while until now there was de facto recognition this gives legal recognition to the role of the Chief Rabbinate in this area) and would make it much more difficult for conversions to be performed by our Movement, by more “open-minded” Orthodox rabbis, and by Reform rabbis.

2. It provides for the ability of local rabbis in Israel to establish conversion courts. This is a good part of the bill of which we are supportive because it will potentially permit the establishment of more forward looking conversion courts. However, the first part of the bill passes, the Chief Rabbinate may declare these courts null and void, which would obviate any cause for our support.

3. Section 3 of this bill is highly problematic. Here is the summary of Section 3 by Reuven Hammer:

“Section 3 of the proposed conversion bill that we strongly oppose states that anyone that who entered Israel as a non-Jew and then converted to Judaism-either in Israel or the Diaspora would not be eligible for citizenship under the Law of Return. First of all this is exactly the case that we now have before the Supreme Court, asking that our conversions in Israel be recognized and citizenship rights granted to our converts. This is an attempt to go around the Supreme Court. Secondly, the wording is so vague that it could mean that if such a person had visited Israel at any time, no matter when, their conversion would not be recognized for citizenship in the future. Thirdly this would be the first time that Israel is officially making a distinction between one who is born a Jew and a righteous convert, something that we find deplorable and unsupportable in Jewish Law. Since our movement is the movement that is most involved in conversion in America and elsewhere, we and our congregants are the primary target of the bill. We urge everyone to make their protest known immediately to the Israeli government.”

The Honorable Benjamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister of IsraelOffice of the Prime Minister
Jerusalem, Israel
Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu,
We write to request your immediate intervention to prevent passage of the legislation being brought forward by MK David Rotem
Passage of this bill in its present form especially section 3, will have the effect of providing for a path to alter the Law of Return or, at the least, cause undue hardship to anyone in Israel who has come from Diaspora communities and seeks conversion in Israel.

Sadly, this is reminiscent of those attempts in 1997 to enact similar legislation which ultimately led to the establishment of the Ne'eman Commission.

While we are supportive of your efforts to create greater accessibility to conversion courts in Israel and have done all we can to aid in this effort, the overall impact of the Rotem Bill will set back these efforts. Moreover this legislation will adversely impact the work of our Masorti movement and its members in Israel. This we cannot abide.

Even more regrettably, should this bill be enacted, it will exacerbate a widening gap between Diaspora and Israel communities, which we are all working very hard to avoid.

Therefore, we believe it is imperative that you, Israel’s leader, who cares so deeply about the well-being of our people, intervene and urge withdrawal of this bill.

The email for Prime Minister Netanyahu is:
For Amb. Oren’s office:
For a list of other Ambassadors click here

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