Monday, July 19, 2010

The Rotem Conversion Law

This post was written by an anonymous member of the Muqata Think-Tank with some assistance from the rest of us. The author felt it is an important issue to discuss.

The link to the actual bill that the brouhaha is based on is here:

There are specific minor modifications to the proposal that we don't have available online at the moment, that are referenced in the post. (Thank you to Rabbi/Dr. Jeffrey Woolf and Yisrael Medad for those documents).

The Rotem Conversion Bill, an important bill, which should have been passed without any problem, has instead has become a political knife that is being used to promote various agendas and attack various people.

Unfortunately, certain people and organizations with very specific religious and political agendas are disingenuously trying to manufacture a storm by upsetting US Jewry with an issue that (a) doesn't affect them, and (b) might actually be better for them - if they moved to Israel and needed to deal with a conversion issue.

The bill was created to resolve some very specific internal Israeli issues – bureaucratic, political, and religious.

As Israel is a Jewish state, issues of Jewish law are important and central to a functioning society, as they are part of our legal system and they also prevent a permanent schism in the nation.

This law is a domestically-applied procedural law that shifts control and certification of who may perform recognized conversions in Israel – and only in Israel.

It does not change the status quo that Israel recognizes non-Orthodox conversions in the Diaspora for the purpose of the Right of Return. It does not have any affect on American Jewry or for that matter have any connection to Diaspora Jewry.

In Israel, two groups are coupled in the conversion process (1) The (State’s) Office of the Chief Rabbinate, and (2) the Religious Courts - the official religious court system in Israel.

The problem arose that due to Israeli domestic politics, the Religious Courts have become mostly populated with Ultra-Orthodox (Chareidi) judges, as opposed to “religious-Zionist” (Orthodox) judges and Rabbis, who better represent the country’s religious needs and character.

Consequently, recently there have been cases where the Chareidi-controlled Religious Courts attempted to annul, retroactively annul, or not accept the conversion of some non-Chareidi Rabbis (a halachically questionable act in of itself), and have made it difficult, if not impossible for the non-Chareidi Rabbis to perform conversions if they don’t base it on the various criteria set by the Ultra-Orthodox (a combination of religious philosophy, and strict interpretation and application of certain safeguards - Chumrot - built into halacha).

This bill proposes to decentralize the conversion process and remove direct oversight and control from the Religious Courts, while decentralizing and localizing the process down to the community level.

It places the conversion process into the hands of Chief Rabbinate-appointed community leaders - the officially appointed and recognized local Rabbi of Israel’s towns and cities.

These Rabbis will be trained and certified in Conversion law, and will create special local courts trained and certified to handle conversions at the local level.

These local conversions will automatically be recognized by the Chief Rabbinate, the official Rabbinate of the State of Israel, and thus the State of Israel for all relevant matters.

The concept is that local Rabbis are more likely to know and have a relationship with the potential convert living in their community - perhaps even being involved with the conversion studies of the applicant, than a Chareidi Religious Court’s Rabbi in Jerusalem, and will hence be in a better position to assist the potential convert in the Conversion process, as well as better equipped to decide if a potential convert should or should not be accepted into the Jewish nation - it is not, nor should it be an automatic process.

Furthermore, the bill does not limit the certified Rabbis and Courts to their own community members. If any Israeli citizen, permanent resident (similar to a US Green Card holder), and according to one version of the bill, a foreign citizen who gives explicit permission, wants to go to a specific community’s authorized Rabbi and Court for conversion, they will be allowed to.

This decentralization bill should actually make it easier and perhaps faster for more people to convert. It will be particularly helpful to segments of Israel’s large Russian population who are not Jewish, but want to officially join the Jewish nation.

The law also creates a special Conversion Oversight/Appeals Court whose sole responsibility is to oversee and decide on questionable or problematic cases of the local Rabbis, should any such problems arise. It specifically requires that the Oversight/Appeals court make all decisions within 30 days, so that no case will drag on for months or even years – a problem that can exist today.

This is a reform (not Reform) bill that should help improve, smoothen and perhaps even speed up the conversion process in Israel.

The opposition to the bill is coming from two quarters.

The bill was introduced by the Yisrael Beiteinu party. This party primarily represents the secular, Russian, Zionist population in Israel. They would be among the primary beneficiaries of this bill. The bill happened to have been introduced by a religious member of the party, with full support and backing of his party.

On the political side, in the Knesset, a number of MKs and parties want Yisrael Beiteinu out of the coalition or at least knocked down a few notches. This currently includes Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Likud party who are seriously fighting with their coalition partner over a number of issues. Other parties outside the coalition are involved too, as they want the current coalition government to collapse, which it could as a result.

Furthermore, this bill is a two-prong bill. The second part that Yisrael Beiteinu is working on is a Civil Marriage bill for those who cannot marry under Jewish law. If the first bill falls, the second will certainly never be introduced or passed.

On the religious side, IRAC (an organization which receives funding from the NIF), the activist arm of the Reform Movement in Israel, is leading the fight. The Reform movement does not have much in the way of a significant number of constituents or followers in Israel, just a lot of money from various funds.

Just like the bill will prevent the Religious High Court from interfering with conversions, it will also make it harder for Israel's judicially activist secular Supreme Court to bypass the government, and overturn long-existing laws regarding conversion in Israel. A key project IRAC has been working on for years.

IRAC has been trying for a while to destroy the carefully balanced status quo, ensconced in law, not by convincing the public (which they’ve failed to do over the past 2 decades), but rather by attempting to bypass the government and the people, by going through the Supreme Court, which happens to share a similar world view to them on this matter.

So to reiterate, this bill is primarily being introduced to help resolve the issue of the many non-Jewish Russians in Israel who want to join the Jewish nation, generally ease the conversion process, and resolve the problem of potential intermarriage that could otherwise split the nation.

The bill's opponents oppose it due to coalition politics, or because it blocks their attempts to destroy the religious status quo that would otherwise split our one nation in Israel apart.

The opponents are trying (in a very organized fashion) to obfuscate and inflame the discussion to promote very specific agendas (both religious and political) through hysterical polemics, half truths, and false insinuations.

But when it comes to facts on the ground, this is a very good bill that will help resolve some serious issues in Israel.

Do you want $25,000?
Buy a raffle ticket for the Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim 2010 Summer Raffle.
Purchases by August 3rd also enter a raffle for a $500 AMEX gift card.

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael טובה הארץ מאד מאד


YMedad said...

Would you eat a hotdog certified as "kosher" from your local Reform female Rabbi? If not, why would you insist everybody accept their conversion authorization which is 100 times more important?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this explanation, JoeSettler.

What I don't understand is why US Jews are making such a fuss. Especially the Reform movement. If Israel was so important to them, wouldn't more of them live there?

JoeSettler said...

From all appearances, there is a well organized effort on the part of a few NGOs that are creating this tempest in the (US Jewry) teacup to promote their agendas in Israel.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the explanation. From accounts in the Israeli media (in English) I didn't have any clear idea of the proposed legislation.

ODannyBoy said...

would that be the 'usual suspects' connected to other instigations?

YMedad said...

"All appearances"?

Where are these "appearances"? Who is "appearing"?

Give us the dirt!

Anonymous said...

To us North American Jews this bill is just the tip of an iceberg of insult to us and our families on the part of "Israel". Many of us have a firm policy of advocating for Israel's right and need to make its own decisions re self defense -- in spite of the growing world antagonism towards Israel. However, we expect to be treated as part of the Jewish people -- not arrested, spat upon, insulted when we and more importantly our children visit Israel and think about aliyah. Doesn't it strick you Israels as strange that we have more religious freedom to practice our Judaism in North American than in Israel. For shame

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Hi Anonymous; I can understand your frustration, yet this bill has absolutely nothing to do with the existing situation in Israel concerning "Who is a Jew".

This bill doesn't deligitimize Reform or North American Jewry.

Anyone from North American can make aliya and become a citizen of Israel based on maternal AND patrilineal descent.

No one is spitting at anyone, and this bill is a first step to improve the current situation in Israel.

The fact that this bill is being touted that its an "insult" to American Jewry is simply cynical and political, and doesn't change a thing concerning the way the State of Israel recognizes Reform Jewry.

JoeSettler said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Joe: Can you please delete and rewrite your comment above? Thanks.

JoeSettler said...

Please read this post again carefully.

This is a procedural law that will streamline the conversion process to make it easier for hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish Russian immigrants currently living in Israel to be fully accepted as Jewish converts.

It does not affect, change or discuss the legal/halachic issue of "Who is a Jew". It works completely within the confines of the existing law to streamline the conversion process.

What strikes me as very strange is that a Jew in the US who has no connection to this law, who is unaffected by this law, who is unfamiliar with the details of this law, and apparently doesn't appreciate the benefits it will potentially bring to hundreds of thousands of citizens of Israel is so upset by it.

Perhaps if you could explain to us what specifically is so bad about this law, rather than claim that it just somehow insults your Jewishness we could understand your position.

In all seriousness, I would add that if there were a million Jews who defined themselves as Reform living in Israel, rather than numbers in the thousands, then the Reform movement probably would have influence in Israel, but as most Jews in Israel would never define themselves as Reform ("the Shul they don't go to is Orthodox") and most Reform Jews do not live in Israel, why should the American Reform movement realistically expect to have a say in legal issues that simply don't affect their daily lives, unlike how it directly affects ours - just like with major security issues?

Lurker said...

To Anonymous @ 2:57 PM:

Conversions in Israel today are under the complete authority of the haredi-controlled rabbinical courts. Even conversions performed by Orthodox, religious-Zionist rabbis, like R. Haim Druckman, have been summarily, retroactively annulled by these rabbinical courts, with no option of appeal.

The purpose of Yisrael Beiteinu's bill is to wrest the monopoly on conversions away from the haredim, by granting the power to perform conversions to local community rabbis. This would mean that a person in Israel who wishes to convert to Judaism would no longer be trapped with the haredi-run rabbinical courts as his only option, but rather would be able to choose from among various different local community rabbis. The would provide potential converts with the option to choose a rabbi with a more liberal, open approach than that of the haredi-run rabbinical courts (e.g., R. Shlomo Riskin).

Please note that this bill has been sponsored and fought for by a party whose constituency is overwhelmingly secular and non-Orthodox.

The lies and misinformation regarding this bill have reached staggering proportions. It is simply astonishing that the American Reform and Conservative movements are fighting to get this bill defeated: If they succeed in defeating it, the result will be the continuation of the status quo, in which conversions remain under the sole, exclusive authority of the rabbinical courts and the haredim who run them.

Furthermore, current Israeli law recognizes conversion performed in the US by Reform and Conservative rabbis. This bill does nothing whatsoever to change that. It simply -- and for the first time -- expands the conversion options available in Israel. Which is something desperately needed by hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish Russians living in Israel today, whom the haredi-run courts will not convert. By opposing this bill, you are seeking to snatch away from these people the solution that they have been anxiously awaiting for years.

Do you not see the incredible irony of the fact that you are arguing against at attempt by a secular party, representing the interests of non-Orthodox Israelis, to end the haredi monopoly over conversions, and to reform and liberalize the system by opening up the process and providing people with choice?

You like things better the way they are now? Keep fighting against this bill, then. The haredim will thank you.

Anonymous said...

As I said, the tip of an ugly iceberg that has to be destroyed. Misstreatment of the religious committments of North American Jews has been going on forever, and now it must stop before the chasm cannot be crossed. For example, to get personnal, The year Rabin was murdered my daughter was studying in Jerusalem. It was a tragic year but also a very meaningful one for her, learning Torah in Israel as suicide bombings went off around her. She focused on the spiritual and she stayed up all night studying on Shavuous, walked near the Kotel to daven Schachrit in a mixed, male and female group. She was spat upon, feces were thrown at her, yelling drowned out their davening and they were escorted away by the police. Similarly her last morning in Israel, she checked in at the airport and it was time to daven Schachrit. She quietly went to a corner of the chappel in the airport, began davening and then -- was forceably evicted. She could not practice her Judaism in Israel, and obviously it's gotten worse and worse since then. More and more people here are saying, is Israel really our homeland if we get treated like this. Okay, we are not (G-d forbid) being slaughtered but isn't Israel meant to be more than just a place of refuge, but rather a place to nurish the Jewish soul? Are we over reacting -- are we irrationally angry, perhaps but it's not going to stop until our religious views are respected in Israel. The Rotem bill is simply a symbol of decades of misstreatment of Israel's strongest supporters. It's gone beyond logic, I admit, but it is what it is and not debatabe.

JoeSettler said...

Jameel: Rewritten

Anonymous: I want to clarify that I did not write my above comment to be insulting in any way.

You are repeating the same unsubstantiated rhetoric running around the US right now (from letters being sent out by Conservative and Reform temples, and a NY Times article) that are completely disconnected from the actual facts.

It is our opinion that this is an organized disinformation campaign on the part of certain groups, specifically designed to instigate and antagonize segments of the US Jewish community against Israel.

Lurker said...

Anonymous: The Rotem bill is simply a symbol of decades of misstreatment of Israel's strongest supporters.

That is a complete load of nonsense, and the very opposite of the truth. Did you even read my response to you above?

Anonymous said...

"The Rotem bill is simply a symbol of decades of misstreatment of Israel's strongest supporters. - It's gone beyond logic"

That statement goes defies logic. That's for sure.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Anonymous: I'm sorry, but you are mixing apples and bicycles.

She focused on the spiritual and she stayed up all night studying on Shavuous, walked near the Kotel to daven Schachrit in a mixed, male and female group. She was spat upon, feces were thrown at her, yelling drowned out their davening and they were escorted away by the police.

Not one supporter of this bill condones violence, especially not MK David Rotem.

The Rotem bill is simply a symbol of decades of misstreatment of Israel's strongest supporters. It's gone beyond logic, I admit, but it is what it is and not debatabe.

Its unfortunate you have been fooled into thinking that the Rotem bill is a symbol of "decades of misstreatment", while it has absolutely nothing to do with Reform Jewry in the US and their relationship with Israel.

Your arguments have simply "gone beyond logic" and don't correlate to the reality of the bill.

Lastly, to say that Reform Jewry is "Israel's strongest supporters" is waving your own flag. Many others support Israel, just as strongly as you do. It would have been slightly more modest to write, "among Israel's strongest supporters"...

Anonymous said...

Reform are Israel's strongest supporters? How many of them criticized Israel over the Goldstone Report and Cast Lead?

A lot more than any Orthodox criticism (except probably for DovBear)

Lurker said...

Anonymous: The Rotem bill is simply a symbol of decades of misstreatment of Israel's strongest supporters.

If the Rotem bill is "a symbol of decades of misstreatment", then how would you describe the status quo of the last few decades -- in which conversions are controlled exclusively by the haredi-run rabbinical courts -- and which the Rotem bill is seeking to change?

Just curious.

Shira said...

"How many of them criticized Israel..."

I don't know if those are Reform or more accurately unaffiliated Jews.

"The Rotem bill is simply a symbol of decades of misstreatment of Israel's strongest supporters."

Could he possibly mean that the Rotem bill is a weak, symbolic attempt to overturn the decades of intolerance, etc.?

Lurker said...

Anonymous: Misstreatment of the religious committments of North American Jews has been going on forever, and now it must stop...

How about the religious needs of hundreds of thousands of Russian Israelis, who actually live here, and who have been stuck for years with no conversion options? The liberalization and reform offered by the Rotem bill would finally change that, but apparently people like yourself would rather keep them trapped in the clutches of the haredim with no way to convert. Do the immediate, pressing needs of these people really mean so little to you? That's very sad.

Anonymous: It's gone beyond logic, I admit...

To say that it's gone beyond logic is an understatement, coming like someone like yourself who purports to be a liberal, open-minded Jew, but ironically seeks to defeat the first serious attempt to wrest control over conversions in Israel away from the haredim and liberalize the conversion system.

Anonymous: ...but it is what it is and not debatabe.

It's unfortunate to see someone so closed-minded that he rejects even the possibility of debate. Even for someone like yourself, who, incredibly, is arguing in favor of a reactionary position diametrically opposed to your very own purported values.

JoeSettler said...

Yet it is hardly weak or symbolic. It would potentially revolutionize the conversion process in Israel.

Anonymous said...

I am a bit sick of hearing about the strong support of Reform Jews for Israel.

Reform Judaism rubbed all mentions of Israel, Zion and Jerusalem out of its prayer book. Then, after Israel had become a successful reality, slowly Israel crept back into the Reform agenda.

NOW they want to deny the rights of thousands of Russian Jews who physically live here, serve in the army, tough it out with us & want to be part of the Jewish people, just in order to make the few Reform Jews who live here and the many who live in the US feel better.

If and when the Reform ministry start to preach the centrality of Israel to the Jewish people and its religions and successfully encourage a large portion of their constituency to make Aliya THEN they will have the moral position to preach to the rest of us who risk our lives and those of our children.

Hopefully, they will then understand that while we all deplore the actions of a few insane people who spit & throw feces, they will also understand that mixed prayer and singing at Judaisms holiest site is an unnecessary provocation toward the majority of religious Israelis who practice Judaism as it has been practiced for hundreds, if not thousands of years.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a "Reform" Jew, but a traditional Jew committed to halacha -- most likely to identify with Masorti and Modern Orthodox approaches. If my daughter or my wife or other committed Jews in my family are considered too provocative in their actions --- it's a sad day indeed and this is what the Rotem bill is also about --- all symptoms of the same mindset shared with extremists in many religion. The fight for the future of Israel is whether this mindset will continue to dominate the Jewish future in Israel -- if so it is something we must all lament -- tonight an all nights. For now we must fight it will all our might because we believe in the slogan "we are one" even though Israeli religious authorities don't.

YMedad said...

Anon. 6:26 - Every Jew was Orthodox or non-observant until the Reform movement came along. But even until then, the non-observant accepted the definition of a Jew.

The Reform stepped away from mainstream Judaism and their descendants now accuse Orthodoxy of divisiveness and of destroying unity.

Now, I could tolerate a debate about the essence of conversion, patrilineal descent, etc. but let's not exploit victimhood as being the object of a campaign of splitting the Jewish people.

The Reform did that way back then.

And I still haven't heard about my example of kosher certification vs. conversion - no one really would accept a Reform Rabbis hechsher so why should we accept their conversion process.

NormanF said...

And converting to Orthodox Judaism is a problem because? I wish someone would explain to me what the problem with the procedure outlined in the Rotem bill is because I really don't understand how it would create a split in the Jewish people? That split is already there because Conservative and Reform Jews moved away away from halacha on the question of conversion. And the Rotem bill won't fix that split and nothing is going to lead Orthodox Jews to ever recognize Conservative and Reform Judaism as its equal. They can scream until the cows come home but two facts surrounding the Rotem bill are as a certain fact of life as the sun rising in the morning. The bill contrary to Netanyahu's assertion, will have no affect on how non-Orthodox Jews - who will never immigrate to Israel, live their lives in the slightest and the Rotem bill has nothing in the world to do with them.

JLan said...


A lot of the anger and concern I'm hearing from the Orthodox community (yes, the Orthodox community) is that it doesn't protect the decisions of the city rabbis. That is, all the various sections about "in keeping with halacha" and "if they keep with halacha" and so on still gives the hareidim the power to decide that one is not a sincere convert. If a woman dresses like many dati leumi women in Israel do (covers her hair but wears pants), is she observing halacha, according to the hareidim? If a man goes to the army in a general unit, is he observing halacha according to the hareidim? What if it's a woman who goes to the army?

The bottom line is that there's nothing restricting the removal of conversions (as R' Sherman did). If the point is to give the rabbeim ha'ir trust, then give them that trust.

Neshama said...

People don't want the Emes, the truth, they want to rant and rave about their misconceptions!

Well, empty barrels make the most noise!

Shmilda said...

Joe, Jameel, & Co.:

What is the great advantage of leaving conversions to the local chief rabbis? Aren't they (similar to the dayanim) political appointees, often helped along by nepotism, and generally loyal to Gimmel and Shas?

JLan said...

"What is the great advantage of leaving conversions to the local chief rabbis? Aren't they (similar to the dayanim) political appointees, often helped along by nepotism, and generally loyal to Gimmel and Shas?"

Shmilda- note that it's not the "chief rabbis" (only a few cities technically have chief rabbis), rather, it also includes rabbis on a smaller level. There are any number of Dati leumi folks who control on smaller levels (take, as an example, R' Riskin of Efrat).

Anonymous said...

You still don't understand -- this isn't about the Rotem bill, as bad as that is it's just a symbol and has catalyzed years of rage at non Hereidi Jews being treated as less than Jews. Coming as it did just after Anat Hofman's arrest for carrying a Torah -- all of the pent up feelings have burst out and will not be stopped. Israel/Diaspora is entering a new era of becoming Jews. Israelis who say "the synagogue I don't go to is Orthodox" will hopefully soon be seeing new visions of Judaism. Even the Orthodox are in for education, for example:

As Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, Rabbi of Ohev Sholom - The National Synagogue, wrote in an email to his congregants:

"Orthodox Jewish law does not prohibit women from carrying a Torah scroll and leading rabbis have endorsed the practice in the past, albeit in a different setting. (For example, in 1972 Rabbi Shlomo Riskin received support from both the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson and Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik when he allowed women in his congregation, Lincoln Square Synagogue, to dance with the Torah scroll on Simchat Torah.) Thus, Anat Hoffman was not in violation of Jewish law. We would not tolerate the arrest of a Jew, man or woman, for carrying a Torah (especially when seeking to participate in a prayer service) in any other country, so we should not stand silent when Israel does so."

LI Reader said...

This essay is very well-written, but its main point has one flaw -- probably fatal. You say that people will be able to choose which "local community rabbis" to go to, and that moderate rabbis are currently found among them.

But aren't the community rabbis appointed by the Chief Rabbinate? After this bill becomes law, what's to stop the Chief Rabbinate from replacing the currently moderate local rabbis with rabbis all of whom are Chareidi?

What'll you say then? That it wasn't supposed to happen this way?

Lurker said...

Anonymous: ...this isn't about the Rotem bill, as bad as that is it's just a symbol and has catalyzed years of rage at non Hereidi Jews being treated as less than Jews.

Why in the world would any sane person see such a symbol in a bill whose entire point is to strip the haredim of their power over conversions? Why should the "rage" be directed at the first credible, constructive attempt to curtail the power of the haredim and liberalize the system, rather than against those who seek to maintain the status quo?

You make no sense whatsoever. Based on your own arguments, you ought to be supporting Rotem's bill; not bashing it. The bill's failure will guarantee the continuation of the very situation you condemn.

You seem to be a completely irrational person.

Anonymous: Even the Orthodox are in for education...
"Orthodox Jewish law does not prohibit women from carrying a Torah scroll and leading rabbis have endorsed the practice in the past..."

(a) I, and most Modern Orthodox Jews, are well aware of this. Women dance with sifrei Torah on Simhat Torah in numerous Modern Orthodox batei knesset. You are not presenting new information here.

(b) None of this has any bearing whatsoever on the Rotem bill. FYI, Rotem's bill is about reforming and liberalizing the conversion process in Israel, not about women carrying sifrei Torah.

Lurker said...

LI Reader: But aren't the community rabbis appointed by the Chief Rabbinate? After this bill becomes law, what's to stop the Chief Rabbinate from replacing the currently moderate local rabbis with rabbis all of whom are Chareidi?
What'll you say then? That it wasn't supposed to happen this way?

To date, the Chief Rabbinate (R. Amar) has been a vocal defender of rabbis like R. Druckman against the rabbinical courts. Remember that when R. Sherman (the rabbinical court judge and puppet for the haredim) retroactively nullified all conversions performed by R. Druckman, Chief Rabbi Amar gave his backing to R. Druckman, and openly attacked Sherman and the rabbinical court. (Unfortunately, R. Amar had no power to override Sherman's ruling. But if Rotem's bill had been law, Sherman could have never made his ruling in the first place.) So as things stand now, the Chief Rabbinate backs the more liberal approach of rabbis like Druckman.

If the haredim should, in the future, manage to take full control of the Chief Rabbinate, then it is true that the situation could then revert to equivalent of the way it is now. I would still support Rotem's bill a the current time, however, as a very effective first step. I am fairly confident that this bill will not be Rotem's last legislative initiative in this area.

Larry Lennhoff said...

I agree with LI Reader. I hear about provisions such as the chief rabbinate having the authority to vet all rabbis who are approved to do conversions. that the Chief Rabbis will appoint the rabbis who sit on the appeals court, and I see yet another power grab by the charedim.

I sincerely believe the Yisrael Beteinu thinks that this will allow for easier conversions. I think easier conversions means to them they can become Jewish while not being Orthodox - that they can go to movies on Shabbat, eat non-kosher food, etc.. I don't think it will actually work out that way. (Perhaps I am wrong - perhaps there are plenty of Russian olim who want to keep kosher and shabbat without following charedi minhagim about dress and ultra strict kashrut supervision etc. But I'm not hearing about these people - I'm hearing about people who think because they will die for the state by fighting in the army they should be able to get married and be buried in a Jewish cemetary.)

As I understand it, the clauses about the special conversion court of appeals and the statement that the chief rabbis are the final arbiters of matters of conversion were added at the charedi behest after YB's first draft of the bill. It is clear to me that these are poison pill provisions that will subvert all of YB's intentions.

LI Reader said...

Lurket wrote:
"If the haredim should, in the future, manage to take full control of the Chief Rabbinate, then it is true that the situation could then revert to equivalent of the way it is now."

Actually, it would probably be worse than it is now, because then -- as a result of this bill -- there would be no counterweight at all to the Chief Rabbinate's power.

Am I cynical to think that this is the reason why the Chareidi parties all support this bill? It's their expectation that sooner or later, unlike today, they'll have the unquestioned ability under the law to reject all non-Chareidi conversions.

JoeSettler said...

Some responses:
If the situation escalates as far as to actually require intervention by the Religious Court, the bill explicitly requires the personal and direct involvement and decision by the President of the Religious Court, not just any random Dayan - but the Chief Rabbi of Israel.

For the most part (Rav Amar as an excellent example), we've had many very good Chief Rabbis.

LI Reader: I will tell you now that it can't happen that way.

While I'm not particularly familiar with the details regarding how town Rabbi are elected, there are specific laws ("Town rabbis' elections regulations") that detail how a town and city's Rabbi are selected and appointed - which includes input from the resident's elected representatives. The process of choosing city and town Rabbis is far more complicated than just the Rabbinate picking who they want.

In Jerusalem, for instance, there are a number of Rabbis vying for the positions of Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem (Ashkenazi and Sephardi), - the Mayor of Jerusalem is in fact politicking for a Zionist (non-Chareidi) Rabbi for one of the positions. There's lots of excitement happening there - the mayor's candidate may lose, but it is going to be tough fight.

Larry: Furthermore, the elections for Chief Rabbi involves voting and representation from elected officials and public representation in the vote.

YMedad said...

To Anon at12:59:

You wrote about "Anat Hofman's arrest for carrying a Torah". Well, that's not quite correct. She was carrying the Torah scroll out of the Women's Section and was even being accompanied by the Police. The women began singing and Anat, who I know very well and whose TV interview after the event I watched to and listened, slowed down her pace. She even admitted that the police were concerned that in doing so, by making a sort of provocative walk/protest, she would be drawing the attention of the Hareidim and a disturbance of the peace would occur. Despite being urged on, she refused and the detention was not for carrying the Torah but for disobeying the police instructions. And she admitted so on TV.

Now, you can say why should she need fear and why shouldn't the disturbers of the peace from amongst the hareidim be arrested and I am all with you on that. I suffer the same treatment.

No, I am not a woman nor a non-Orthodox Jew but one who ascends the Temple Mount and am similarly treated to what Anat goes through. But Anat will never assist me in my religious discrimination case (I have debated her dozens of times).

So, it always pays, dear Anon., to know the truth.

Anonymous said...

Ten's of thousands of North American Jews voted with their computers and sent emails to the Prime Minister and others objecting to the Rotem bill. Are we all idiots and all have no understanding --- could easily be but on the other hand we have had enough of misstreatment, and thanks to minister Rotem we have at least for the moment been mobilized to voice our concerns. These events keep happening year after year, and hopefully no longer will we look the other way. Hopefully one beneficiary of this new awareness will by the Masorti in Israel who will likely become more prominent in our focus. This also started with David Ben Gurion and the unholy alliance he made with the Haredi:

JoeSettler said...

OK, so here is your challenge.

Where in the bill does it state that non-Orthodox conversions outside of Israel won't be recognized for Aliyah purposes?

The link to the law is in the post. Please show me anywhere it says that.

JoeSettler said...

And when did Rabbi Riskin become a Hareidi Municipal rabbi?

I think he would be surprised to learn that.

Where do you get the strange idea that all municipal rabbis are Chareidi?

AreaMan said...

To switch from generating heat to generating light, we need an English language translation of the law.

JoeSettler said...

Yet everyone is arguing based on hearsay, and not having read the source material.

Anonymous said...

I think what is most upsetting to the North American Jews is the potential for delegitimizing their religious identity.

For instance, my mother converted to Judaism before she met my father, and I'm guessing that she did not have an Orthodox conversion. So with this new proposal does this mean that even though I had a Bat Mitzvah and have been living my whole life as a Jew, that because my mothers conversion was not an Orthodox conversion that Israeli Jews would look at me as not being a "real Jew".

Being Orthodox is not and should not be what makes you a Jew. While this change may not impact the Diaspora Jews rights in Israel it is kind of insulting to have my Jewish faith questioned as a result of denominational differences.

JoeSettler said...

I just got this translation of the bill. I would not 100% agree with every choice of translated word, but it is certainly good enough for this discussion.

Part 1 of 3:

Version for Discussion - Preparation for First Reading - July 12, 2010

The Chief Rabbinate of Israel (Amendment - Jurisdiction with respect to Conversions) Bill, 5770-2010

Amendment of Section 2

1. In section 2 of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel Law 5740-1980[1] (hereinafter: the "Principal Law"), the following shall be inserted after paragraph (6):

"(6A) Responsibility for Conversion Issues in Israel. The provisions of this paragraph shall not derogate from the powers to conduct conversions in Israel granted to the special conversion courts by government decision, nor from the existing powers of the Rabbinical Courts under any law;"
Addition of Sections 24A - 24D
2.The following shall be inserted after section 24 of the Principal Law:
"Qualifications of Members of Special Rabbinical Court 24A.
(a) A municipal rabbi or the rabbi of a local council, or a person who acted as a municipal rabbi or as a rabbi of a local council under the Jewish Religious Services Law [Consolidated Version], 5731-1971[2], and whose office was not terminated under the provisions of section 12A of such law (in this section and in sections 24B and 24C, a municipal rabbi) may conduct conversion together with two other municipal rabbis or with two members of a special conversion court set up by virtue of government decision, as set out in section 2(6A) (all three jointly - a Special Rabbinical Court), provided that the conversion is performed by the special court lawfully, following acceptance of the burden of the Torah and commandments as required by Jewish law.
(b) Should the Chief Rabbis of Israel find that a member of a Special Rabbinical Court has acted in a way unbecoming of his status or that a member of a Special Rabbinical Court is not conducting conversions in accordance with the provisions of sub-section (a), they shall be entitled to determine that such Special Rabbinical Court shall not be entitled to conduct conversions under this Law.
(c) Procedures for hearings and matters before the Chief Rabbis in proceedings under sub-section (b) shall be set out in regulations, with the consent of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee of the Knesset.

JoeSettler said...

Part 2 of 3

Powers of Special Rabbinical Court 24B.
(a) A Special Rabbinical Court shall be authorized to discuss the conversion of an Israeli National or a holder of a permanent residence permit in Israel under the Entry in Israel Law, 5712-1952[3] (hereinafter: a "holder of a permanent residence permit"), wherever the place of residence of the applicant may be, and to give certificates of such.
(b) Notwithstanding the provisions of sub-section (a), a Special Rabbinical Court shall be authorized to discuss the conversion of a person who is not an Israeli National or a holder of a permanent residence permit if such person is given a certificate in accordance with the rules prescribed by the Chief Judge of the Supreme Rabbinical Court.
(c) The verdict of a Special Rabbinical Court allowing a conversion shall serve as evidence of the Jewishness of the bearer of the certificate; however, such conversion, if effected in contravention of the rules set out under sub-section (b) shall have no force regarding the granting of visas, including an immigrant's visa, nor regarding the grant of Israeli citizenship.
(d) (1) Cancellation of a conversion conducted by a Special Rabbinical Court shall have no force unless the Court that conducted the conversion rules that it was conducted on the basis of misleading information or intentional concealment of information by the party seeking conversion prior to the conversion.
(2) Should the question of the validity of a conversion arise for any other reason, before a Rabbinical Court or before any other Court in Israel, or before the Registrar of Marriages, the ruling on the question of conversion shall be brought before the Court in which the conversion took place or before a special panel of a Regional Rabbinical Court to be appointed by the Chief Judge of the Supreme Rabbinical Court.
(e) Should the Special Rabbinical Court that conducted the conversion have dispersed or should at least two of its members have ceased to serve as members of the Court, the ruling under sub-section (d) shall be submitted to a special panel to be appointed by the Chief Judge of the Supreme Rabbinical Court.
(f) A decision to cancel a conversion shall require the consent of the Chief Judge of the Supreme Rabbinical Court, and shall be of no force in the absence of such consent.

JoeSettler said...

Part 3 of 3


24C. An appeal against a ruling to cancel a conversion under section 24B(d) may be submitted to the Supreme Rabbinical Court in a panel headed by the Chief Judge of the Supreme Rabbinical Court, the judges on which panel shall be appointed by the Chief Judge of the Supreme Rabbinical Court.
Registration of Marriage
24D. (a) A member of a Special Rabbinical Court serving as a Rabbinical Registrar of Marriages shall be authorized to handle registration of the marriage of a couple at least one of which has converted in a Special Rabbinical Court, wherever the couple's place of residence may be.
(b) Should no member of the Special Rabbinical Court serve as a Rabbinical Registrar of Marriages, the Council shall, at the proposal of the Chief Judge of the Supreme Rabbinical Court, appoint one or more members of a Special Rabbinical Court for conversion who are qualified to act as a Rabbinical Registrar of Marriages to handle registration of the marriage of the couple as set out in sub-section (a).
Regulations under Sections 24A - 24C
24E. Notwithstanding the provisions of section 31, regulations and rules under sections 24A to 24D shall be made by the Minister of Justice with the consent of the Chief Judge of the Supreme Rabbinical Court and with the approval of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee of the Knesset only."
Amendment of Nationality Law
3. The following shall be inserted in section 2(c) of the Nationality Law, 5712-1952[4], after paragraph (6):
"(7) to a person who, prior to entry into Israel, was not entitled to receive an 'oleh visa or an 'oleh's certificate".

4. The provisions of the Hearing of Conversion Applications Rules, 5766-2006[5] shall be deemed to have been made lawfully under the provisions of this Law.

[1] Sefer Hachukim, 5760, p. 90.
[2] Sefer Hachukim, 5731, p. 130.
[3] Sefer Hachukim, 5712, p. 353.
[4] Sefer Hachukim, 5712, p. 14; 5768, p. 810.
[5] Yalkut Pirsumim, 5765, p. 2062.

JoeSettler said...

Now that everyone has an English text to work from, let's answer some questions:

Challenge 1: How does this bill affect anyone who converted in the Diaspora?

Challenge 2: How does diversifying conversion authorization to a larger and more heterogeneous group of Rabbis (including liberal Orthodox rabbis) somehow consolidate the power of the Chareidim (who currently mostly control the process)?

Lurker said...

Anonymous: Ten's of thousands of North American Jews voted with their computers and sent emails to the Prime Minister and others objecting to the Rotem bill. Are we all idiots and all have no understanding...

Why don't you answer that question yourself?

By way of preparation, try answering this one first: Now that the Rotem bill, which would have stripped the haredim of their monopoly over conversion, is about to be defeated, the haredim remain in exclusive control. The only hope that existed for the hundreds of thousands of Russian Israelis who had hoped to finally convert has now been crushed, thanks to your efforts. The haredim are celebrating their victory.

Is that what you wanted?

Now that you've answered that, go back and answer your own original question. It should be pretty easy.

Anonymous: ...we have had enough of misstreatment, and thanks to minister Rotem we have at least for the moment been mobilized to voice our concerns.

David Rotem, FYI, is not a minister. He is just an junior MK, who was fed up with the haredi stranglehold on conversions in Israel, and wanted to bring an end to it. So he submitted a bill that would reform and liberalize the system. For mysterious reasons that you have still failed to provide, you and your friends didn't like that, and "voted with your computers" to quash Rotem's reform, and to instead preserve the existing the system of exclusive haredi control. Congratualations, you seem to have gotten what you wanted.

Anonymous: These events keep happening year after year...

Um... What events are those? Do you mean events like the haredi-run rabbinical courts denying people the opportunity to convert to Judaism, and retroactively annulling conversions performed by "liberal" rabbis? If so, then you're quite correct: These events keep happening year after year. And thanks to the inexplicably self-destructive, massive efforts that you and your own friends have expended against your own interests to defeat the first practical legislative attempt to end haredi control of the conversion process, you have guaranteed that these events will keep happening. Are you proud of yourself?

Anonymous: ...and hopefully no longer will we look the other way.

Does that mean that the next time someone is foolish enough to introduce legislation aimed at breaking the haredi control over personal law, you are going to mobilize once aqain to get that defeated as well?

Daniel said...

P.s. You don't have a Bat Mtzvah. You become a Bat Mtzvah (if you are a twelve year old Jewess)

Yishai said...

Anonymous, given your situation, you should support the bill. If you ever want to be considered Jewish by the entire worldwide Jewish population, and end up moving to Israel, then you'd want to convert Orthodox there. This bill makes it easier, because it ends the growing ultra-Orthodox domination of conversions. This is important because a lot of people would like to convert and plan on being Modern Orthodox, not ultra-Orthodox. This might even have positive repercussions in the U.S. too, by increasing the likelihood that Modern Orthodox (as opposed to ultra-Orthodox) conversions in the U.S. will be accepted in Israel. If you never want to become Orthodox, this bill will not affect you in any way -- you can still move to Israel through the right of return.

Anonymous said...


In America, you HAVE a Bat Mitzvah to become a Bat Mitzvah, you don't just automatically get it when you are 12/13 by age alone. It is a carefully planned, practiced and orchestrated ceremony, which I'm sure you already know.

This is exactly what I am talking about - you Orthodox Jews look down upon the Reform conversion and go so far as to say I am not a Jew, when I have been practicing and observant my whole life is a slap to the face. THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT THE ISSUE IS WITH THIS NEW PROPOSAL. As if converted Jews and their offspring don't get enough de facto critcism from the Orthodox community, now this proposal would institutionalize this intra- Jewish discrimination.

We are all part of the same faith and shame on you for your disgusting denominational discrimination. Its not enough that the world discriminates against Jews but Jews discriminate against Jews.

So Daniel, if it turns out my mother had an ORTHODOX conversion, then would I be a Jew in your eyes?!?

Daniel said...

You automatically become bat/bar mitzvah at 12/13. You don't need to have a treife party with a band, you don't need to have an aliya. its automatic.
I would hope that you would know if your mother had a real or a fake conversion. You are not the only person to have thought that they were Jewish but wasn't. Children become the victims of their parents indiscretions. Many decide to undergo a conversion to truly become Jews. A partner of mine's husband had to convert prior to her marriage because his father married a gentile with a quickie reform conversion.
Be angry at your father and not at religious Jews. If he had cared about his Jewishness, he'd not have intermarried. Be angry at reform for condoning intermarriage.
If your mother indeed had an Orthodox conversion, than you would not be a shiksa. However if you were raised reform, I doubt that she would have had a real conversion.

Masorati said...

Anonymous: Judaism (till the Reform movement came around), never had a "carefully planned, practiced and orchestrated ceremony" called a "Bat Mitzva" fact till 70-80 years ago, there was rarely any "bar mitzva" ceremony!

Orthodox Judaism doesn't "look down" at Reform Judaism -- it views it more with shock that it changes laws which are thousands of years old (patrilineal descent as an example).

Reform Jews who are only "Jews" based on having Jewish fathers -- are eligible to be citizens of Israel, but many, many Jews -- secular Israelis to Orthodox will not marry them.

No law will change that -- not pressure on the Israeli Supreme Court or even a Diaspora Reform Juwish Initfada letter campaign to Israel's Prime Minister. It has nothing to do with "looking down" at anyone -- it has to do with adhering to a faith that is thousands of years old.

The truth hurts, and Orthodox conversion is a must for the sake of Israel's that people can marry each other here in Israel.

I was Conservative in the USA and I consider myself "Dati" in Israel -- religious. But I don't want a situation where my kids won't be able to marry others, so I consider myself now, Orthodox lite.

Anonymous said...

My mother had a mikvah as part of her conversion and I don't care what you Orthodox people say, my mother, my brothers and I are Jewish.

Orthodox conversion is not a must - SOME JEWS DO NOT WANT TO BE ORTHODOX. Would it be right to convert as an Orthodox and then given it up to be Reform or non observant since you don't agree with all the Orthodox traditions?

The danger in this new proposal is that it is trying to define what being Jewish means when there will obviously be no consesus on this because of the differing views of the different Jewish denominations.

For people who want to convert to Judaism but don't want to be Orthodox, what then? I went to Brandeis and have tons of Orthodox and Conservative friends and they have never called me a shiksa or made me feel bad and insulted about my Reform heritage.

Masorati said...

Anonymous: The reason for this proposal is to allow tens of thousands of Russian Olim, who LIVE IN ISRAEL, to become Jewish. This is what THEY want to do. These tens of thousands are more concerned with their immediate issue of wanting to be Jewish in Israel, as opposed to what might be an issue for you.

You can write whatever you want, and you, your mother, and siblings are all Reform Jews under Reform Jewish law! What you fail to realize is that most Israelis view Orthodox law as traditional and part of Israel's heritage.

No one is insulting your heritage, no one is calling you a shiksa, or wants you to feel bad.

But there's more to Judaism than simply calling yourself a Jew....or attending Bradeiss.

Son of Shmuel said...

3 things I don't get. First is all the emotional angry arguments coming from the non-Orthodox who are commenting here, but not one has said anything correct about the law. It's Borg like how your all repeating the same emotional arguments with zero knowledge of whats being talked about. It's like someone told you all to the argue the same emotional way, but didn't bother to tell you the details. Your just not arguing substance.
Second is that the Orthodox already have a monopoly in Israel in religious matters. Don't you know that? That's not gonna to change in the future cause Israel isn't America. Religious and secular have a lot of interaction and no one wants to split the country in half where people and families won't be able to marry one another a generation down. That's what Reform has done in America, but that is what this law is trying to fix in Israel. In America Orthodox can ignore Reform and Reform can ignore Orthodox (except apparently to feel angry and inferier) but in Israel religous and secular interact and its one law for one people. Don't you get that?
Third, you keep talking about respecting your religious beliefs and your legitimicy, but you guys aren't respecting anyone elses beliefs or legitimicys.

Anonymous said...

The issue being debated here is what denominations conversions will be recognized in Israel.

With the Orthodox denomination and Israel as a whole not recognizing the Reform or Conservative conversions this will effectively strip those denominations converts and their offspring of their religious identity, which is an emotionally charged issue. As its been said, being Jewish is more than just in name and for Orthodox Jews to not respect and be condescending of the ways of the Reform and Conservative denominations it will further hinder efforts towards unity.

The Russians living in Israel should be allowed to be confirmed as any denomination of Judaism as they wish to be (I mean despite Israel being a Jewish state they do support freedom of religion, correct?)

I can understand why there must be more oversight and regulation of conversions in Israel, but to invalidate the Reform and Conservative denominations conversions will have an effect on the psyche of Jews worldwide and prevent unity.

Daniel said...

reform, reconstuctionist, messianic, etc created the disunity by having non-halachic conversions.
For new organizations to recreate the rules and demand legitimacy is quite chutzpadik.
Calling a pig kosher doesn't make it

Anonymous said...

Did you know that Conservative Jews doe not consider many Reform Jews to be Jewish. That's right. Because most Conservative Jews, and the official stance of Conservative Judaism is against the Reform change to accept patrilinial descent along wiht their massive intermarriage rates- including without even a pro forma conversion.

What Reform have done is break themselves off from the rest of the Jewish people, and are now trying to introduce their divisive behavior into Israel.

But in Israel, the Jewish people are looking for unity, not divisiveness, and the Jewish people in Israel for the most part are willing to accept that Orthodox law sets the rules of personal status if that means that the Jewish people can continue to marry one another without a problem and remain one people.

Anonymous said...

The issue being debated here isn't what denomination conversions will be accepted in Israel.

Reform are trying to turn that into the debate. But that isn't the debate.

The issue on the table is the law that will help create more unity in Israel by helping Russian immigrants be accepted by all denominations.

t's not how the Reform are trying to prevent that unity from happening for their own short-sighted political gain. A political gain that will damage the unity of the Jewish people in Israel, just like it damaged the unity of the Jewish people in America.

Anonymous said...

If unity is what Israel wants, then it should recognize any denominations conversions!

The whole marriage issue should not even truly be an issue because I'm guessing that no Orthodox Jew would want to marry a Reform Jew anyways because of a difference in traditions, and that a Conservative person wouldn't want to marry a Reform Jew who converted for the same reasons. The issue of marriage acceptability should not strip the converts of one entire Jewish denomination of their recognition of being "Jewish". Marriages can be done regardless of this because they will fall into place with what it historically and culturally acceptable for their denomination, but to sanction a definition of what converts can be "Jewish" by the state of Israel is not needed.

If there is to be unity then all Jews must be recognized and respected. Israel is for all Jews regardless of how one denomination views another. If this was the case, then we would not even be debating this because the Russian Jews would not be encountering issues of being recognized as Jews in the first place.

Dash Parr said...

If everyone is Jewish, then no one is Jewish.

Daniel said...

"Soon, even Conservatives will require a Reformist to convert if they want to marry a Conservative, or even become "more religious". "

I doubt that. While some Conservative clergy may feel that way, their numbers are hemorrhaging, and they can't afford to piss of a dues paying member

JoeSettler said...

Just finished dinner (after the fast).

It's getting nasty here. Even by my standards.

The subject at hand is the Rotem Conversion Bill, which will resolve a serious crisis (or two) that Israel faces, as well as the actual contents of the bill which are purposely being misconstrued.

The subject at hand is how certain groups have created a very organized disinformation campaign against the bill, not based on facts, but rather through distortions (and even outright lies) and by the pushing of emotional buttons, in an attempt to falsely connect their political agenda to this bill, regardless of the damage blocking this bill will do to Israel in the long term. Statements by commenters here have confirmed that.

The subject is how various politicians are caving in because of the pressure (not the facts) or because of domestic political inter-party battles.

Please stay on topic.

Anonymous said...

Joe, when did you become such a religious liberal that you'll let people who have no plans to act Jewish "convert"?

Anonymous said...

You guys are thick but I'll try again. To understand what this is really all about to North American Jews, read:

The real news is that another unintended consequence of this bill has been to open the door to major North American criticism of Israel's approach to North American and Masorti Judaism.

Craig from Austin, TX said...

People: I'm a proud Reform Jew. My father is Jewish, my mother is a Christian. I couldn't care less what goes on in Israel. Live and let live. I have no intention of moving there, and I don't know if I will marry a Jewish girl or not, since it makes no difference.

If I get married, my children will be proud Jews as I am, they will be bar/bat-mitzvahed at age 13, and I will be proud of them and their heritage.

I don't understand why people are so caught up with Israel, since its done nothing for me, except give me a lot of bad press. My friends at work automatically associate me with Israel, though I have nothing to do with what goes on there, nor do I want to.

JoeSettler said...

Thick! The Bill is being purposely manipulated through lies and distortions in order to get American Jewry upset. This article just confirms that - again.

Daniel said...

the best part of the article you cited was the first response:
An irrefutible fact the cons and ref movements in americas have destroyed more Jewish soules than hitler yimach shemo.
before these 2 IMO american front orgs bring their cancer into israel, why dont they start growing their declining population in america. If Bobo Notayahud had any betziim he would rip the cons/ref leaders a new a hole for their destruction of american Jewry!

yasher koach Shushan Denis

Daniel said...

'The real news is that another unintended consequence of this bill has been to open the door to major North American criticism of Israel's approach to North American and Masorti Judaism."

If North American Jewry really cared about their Judaism or Israel they'd start making aliya or stop intermarrying. As long as you have intermarriage rates up to 80% and a negligible aliya rate you'll never be taken seriously

JoeSettler said...

Joe, when did you become such a religious liberal that you'll let people who have no plans to act Jewish "convert"?

You're not asking a simple question, nor is the situation as simple as your question makes it sound.

But I haven't become a liberal, and I believe that someone who wants to convert, should clearly and unquestionably be planning to accept the yoke of Torah and Mitzvot according to Halacha at the time of their conversion.

But this is a question and answer that deserves a serious post by itself to discuss all the ramifications, rules, and obligations surrounding conversion.

We'll write up something about this in the near future.

Shmilda said...

Joe, reading the translation of the bill which you posted makes me wonder why it is worth the effort.

....provided that the conversion is performed by the special court lawfully, following acceptance of the burden of the Torah and commandments as required by Jewish law.
(b) Should the Chief Rabbis of Israel find that a member of a Special Rabbinical Court has acted in a way unbecoming of his status or that a member of a Special Rabbinical Court is not conducting conversions in accordance with the provisions of sub-section (a), they shall be entitled to determine that such Special Rabbinical Court shall not be entitled to conduct conversions under this Law.

So the Chief Rabbi gets to disqualify conversion courts based on "conduct unbecoming." If the Chief Rabbis were to be Elyashiv puppets, it easy to imagine them disqualifying anyone not towing the Haredi line. (Requiring "acceptance of the burden of the Torah and commandments" allows them to claim that any rabbi allowing non-Haredi converts is unbecoming.)

Following the last two Chief Rabbi elections and the recent shmitta/heter mechira fights, I don't think my reading is far fetched.

JLan said...


You still haven't answered the following issue:

The part that bothers me is still the phrase "provided that the conversion is performed by the special court lawfully, following acceptance of the burden of the Torah and commandments as required by Jewish law."

Now, if I had a guarantee that the rabbis with the ability to determine "following acceptance of the burden of the Torah and commandments" will be people who I agree with, I'd be perfectly happy. But there's already one chief rabbi from the hareidi ashkenazi community (the one who thankfully hasn't been allowed to be involved with the conversion courts), and I don't see it as so far fetched that at some point the chief sephari rabbi will be subject to such pressure.

Regardless, I would feel much more comfortable with this bill if the phrasing was not "as required by the Jewish commandments" but was rather something much more specific- perhaps observing shabbat and keeping kashrut according to the rabbanut (so, for example, no one can say at a later date: "but you're not requiring badatz; rabbanut isn't really kosher"). The way it's phrased now is tailor made for the chareidim to start excluding people left and right.

JoeSettler said...

1) Halachic conversions require that acceptance. It does not say Halacha according to Chareidi hashkafa.

2) I am 99% sure it is specifically referring to acts of moral turpitude and the like - when it says "acts unbecoming".

3) Rav Amar could hardly be described as Rav Elyashiv's puppet. I don't know enough about R. Metzger.

4) Someone needs to certify the rabbi to perform conversions, and continues to follow the law.

This way it is the elected Chief Rabbi, not some random Dayan.

Which qualified government official would you give the job to if not to the Chief Rabbi?

JLan said...

"1) Halachic conversions require that acceptance. It does not say Halacha according to Chareidi hashkafa."

Right, but where is the guarantee that the chief rabbi will interpret things that way? Again, there are rabbeim who say women wearing pants is acceptable; there are plenty of rabbeim who say heter mechira is acceptable. What's to stop a challenge by a chief rabbi who disagrees?

"2) I am 99% sure it is specifically referring to acts of moral turpitude and the like - when it says "acts unbecoming"."

I agree that's what it means. But who's to determine that it doesn't mean something else?

"3) Rav Amar could hardly be described as Rav Elyashiv's puppet. I don't know enough about R. Metzger."

I agree, which is why I noted that in my comment, above. But I don't think it's particularly difficult to picture that pressure coming on a future chief rabbi, particularly at a point after (chas v'shalom) R' Ovadia Yosef passes away.

"4) Someone needs to certify the rabbi to perform conversions, and continues to follow the law."

Why? Either the person doing the conversion is a legitimate rav ha'ir, or he is not. Or are you saying we cannot trust a rav ha'ir?

"Which qualified government official would you give the job to if not to the Chief Rabbi?"

I'm not sure that I would. But I would certainly like to see a more specific list of things that they're worried about, to give less leeway to future, more right wing chief rabbis.

JoeSettler said...

JLAN: The Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, 268:3 makes it very clear that the Convert must accept all the Mitzvot (in front of 3 kosher witnesses) - and not just specific mitzvot.

Halacha does not require that he know all the laws, but at least the general principles and some major and minor laws, as well as a bit about the history of the Jewish people.

zalman said...

is sharansky issues that have not been addressed here?

JoeSettler said...

1) The Chief Rabbi probably does set the tone for interpreting the applied halacha to a point, but he doesn't work in a vacuum. Again, the Shulchan Aruch is pretty clear that the convert needs to accept the mitzvot, even if he doesn't know them all. Na'aseh v'Nishma if you will. We've been blessed with many good Chief Rabbis so far. The person is a concern, but that's true for any senior official from PM down to Supreme Court President.

2) I suspect it's written in law somewhere. Or it refers to breaking existing laws. I don't know.

3. Anything is possible. But there is pressure from all sides, not just the Chareidi side.

4. Not an issue of trust, but I'm sure not every Rav Ha'ir has experience or knowledge in conversion law, and furthermore it's now adding a bureaucratic function to the job that wasn't there before that they will also need to learn.

As they are also fulfilling what is essentially a bureaucratic role here, which has a lot of responsibility as their converts will automatically gain citizenship as a result, they need regular oversight, just like any other bureaucratic position.

As we are dealing with halachic decisions, the Chief Rabbi seems to be the best and natural choice.

I wonder if listing more things would cause the bill to fail, rather than leaving certain things vague and up to the Chief Rabbi of the time.

JoeSettler said...

zalman: In a quick glance I don't see anything new.

From a comment he said in a UJA press release, I don't think Sharansky personally sees any problems with the content of the bill, but he acknowledges there is significant pressure against it from segments of American Jewry who have been convinced that the bill is a bad thing.

Lee Smith said...

I wonder -- are those who argue for this bill trying to fool the rest of us, or are they fooling themselves. Read what an Orthodox Israeli authority on conversion has to say:'s_bill_promises_doesn't_deliver

"The law, authored by Yisrael Beiteinu’s David Rotem, began as a promising attempt to both encourage a lenient approach to conversions and exclude the possibility of retroactively annulling conversions. But a close examination of the law demonstrates that it causes more damage than good, and that it sets dangerous precedents with potentially disastrous results. " It "could result in the nullification of tens of thousands of conversions edone since the founding of the state. Because the bill stresses that conversions are valid only if the convert accepts “the yoke of Torah and mitzvot” (the first time in history that halachic terminology is used in Israeli legal formulation) the definition of what constitutes “Torah and mitzvot” is left completely in the hands of the haredi rabbis and allows for their most stringent interpretations to be inscribed as law. Thus the majority of converts from overseas would not be recognized under the terms of this bill.

The most significant and painful element of the proposed legislation, however, is that it is based on narrow political considerations that damage Jewish unity. In 1998, the Ne’eman Commission achieved what many thought impossible: a consensus among Israelis and Jews of all denominations, based on mutual dialogue, respect and understanding. This new law would set us back 15 years and erase the achievement of the Ne’eman Commission. Jewish unity is an issue that is essential to Jewish identity and critical to Jews in Israel and the diaspora. "

The back of the hill said...

The problem that you have been arguing in over eighty comments is one of terminology - what does the word ‘Jew’ mean?

Gentiles, Reform, and Orthodox all have differing definitions. So did the Nazis and the Soviets. According to many in the Arab world, the US congress is filled with Jews - their definition of Yahood is aza meshune that it boggles the mind.

Halacha considers a Jew to have been born of a Jewish mother or having undergone a halachic conversion, including accepting all the mitzvos before three kosher witnesses.
[What that means is accepting that they are mitzvos. Not all mitzvos can be performed at present.]

Halacha is the methodology of the mitzvos, and halacha determines who is Jewish.
Reform, having rejected much of halacha, cannot be considered kosher, and some of them cannot be considered Jewish. Jewy, yes. Jewish, not by accepted halachic definition.

I personally have no problem with that. I am not Jewish (or Reform), and hell will probably freeze over ere I convert; I am too much a skeptic to be able to ‘accept all the mitzvos’.
I am just about as ‘Jewy’ as I need to be, or want to be.

I would, however, like everyone to adhere to consistent terminology, and not change the meanings of words like halacha, gerus, ve yahudi. Remember please, Rabbosai, that Humpty Dumpty was NOT a rabbi.

Unknown said...

The (Orthodox) Rabbinical Council of America has an excellent statement regarding this conversation. Res ipsa loquitur

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Lee Smith: R' David Stav, the head of Tzohar doesn't agree with you or R' Ish Shalom, and he thinks the bill IS a good idea.

"“If the bill passes,” Stav said, “we will get together – city and local council rabbis who care and want to encourage conversion – and with the help of advertisements and public opinion professionals, go from city to city, from town to town, to try to restore the FSU immigrants’ faith in religion.”"

Guess what? R' Stav is ALSO a "Orthodox Israeli authority on conversion"

Lee Smith said...

Gregory: Thanks for pointing out the RCA statement. They assert that this is an internal Israeli issue and North Americans should stay out of it. All I can say is that many of the North American opponents of the bill disagree as evidenced by the hugh reaction against it -- I would say unprecedented. I suspect a new era in diaspora/Israel interactions has been entered -- hopefully for the better for all of us. Israel has been happy to accept North American donations and pro Israel pressure but now there will be a "price" -- more respect for North American approaches to Judaism. I think the Israeli do have something to learn from us about the value of religious pluralism. Perhaps we will finally get Israelis to reject the detrimental approach that "the Synagogue I don't go to is Orthodox".

Extortion said...

I noticed that some people keep declaring there is a price for their support for Israel. Interesting.

Shmilda said...

I'm still not convinced that the Rotem bill worth the fight over it.

It allows the Chief Rabbi to disqualify any other rabbi. Although now it is the Sefaradi Chief Rabbi who is responsible for conversions, my impression is that only lasts for five years (half his term), after which responsibility will shift to the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi. Remembering the last couple of Chief Rabbi elections, and remembering the recent shmittah controversy, it seems fair to say that if (=when) the Chareidi establishment (=Elyashiv) complains that a particular municipal rabbi is unfit,
Rabbi Metzger will be quick to disqualify such rabbi.

And Joe, I am pretty sure they will not feel constrained by Rotem's intended understanding of "conduct unbecoming." From their perspective, no conduct could be more unbecoming than foisting "phony" converts on the Jewish people.

JLan said...

"Although now it is the Sefaradi Chief Rabbi who is responsible for conversions, my impression is that only lasts for five years (half his term), after which responsibility will shift to the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi."

In general, this is true. This did not, however, happen with the current set of Chief Rabbis (who are more than 5 years into their terms). The Knesset actually specifically passed a bill preventing this, because R' Metzger did not have a sufficient background to be put into that position.

The next Chief Rabbis will be elected in 2013.

Lee Smith said...

To Extortion: Opposing the Rotem bill is for the good of Israel and for Jews around the world. But realistically this is a price Israel has to pay for our support -- they have to be a Jewish state, not a state taken over by the Haredi. And it's not just the "Reform" opposing the bill. Here is what a major Modern Orthodox Rabbi has to say:

Statement by Rabbi Marc Angel on the "Rotem Bill" dealing with conversion to Judaism
By mdangel
Created 07/20/2010 - 4:04pm
Rabbi Marc D. Angel

The State of Israel has unfortunately surrendered responsibility for conversions to a Hareidi-dominated bureaucracy. The Chief Rabbinate and their courts have insisted on imposing stringencies far beyond what halakha demands; the negative attitude of many of the rabbinic judges further alienates potential converts to Judaism.
The "Rotem Bill" will serve to further alienate potential converts to Judaism. It will create a breach between Israel and the Jewish diaspora. It will not only alienate non-Orthodox rabbis and communities, but will deepen the rift between the Israeli rabbinic bureaucracy and the Modern Orthodox rabbinate in the diaspora.
We are clearly living at a time when the over-riding concern should be to increase the number of Jews in the world; to increase the number of supporters and friends of Israel; to be as inclusive as possible in reaching out to all who wish to identify with Israel as a Jewish State. To maintain the current conversion policies in Israel is in direct conflict with the best interests of Israel and the Jewish people. To introduce a conversion bill that will alienate so many Jews and so many potential converts to Judaism--this borders on the absurd.

LI Reader said...

Joe Settler, I appreciate your comment to me (WAY above in the comments) that the moderate community rabbis will still be able to hold their positions.

But I'm left with one simple question (to you and all knowledgeable readers here):
If this bill will break the Chareidi hold on conversions in Israel, why are the Chareidi parties in favor of it?


JoeSettler said...

We were discussing that today.

Rav Amar is for it, because he has been looking for solutions to help converts since he came into office.

As for the political parties, hold on to your chair...

The answer may be in this JPost article with a statement by a UTJ Knesset Member:

MK Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism), whose party represents the halachic stringency Amsalem referred to, indeed expressed discontent with part of the bill, but explained his ultimate support.

“We didn’t initially plan on supporting the bill because it expands the conversion authority,” Maklev said, “but we saw that since the Likud was absent from the vote, the bill wouldn’t have passed due to pressure from the Reform movement.”

He's appears to be saying that by supporting the bill, they figured it guaranteed the Reform movement would attack and put pressure to have it canceled.

"Hafuch al Hafuch" as they say.

UTJ got exactly what they wanted.

Anonymous said...

My objection to the whole thing is the institutionalization of this decision. If it is good enough for Maimonides that 3 knowledgeable laymen can determine whether to convert someone to Judaism and that their decision is irrevocable, it is good enough for me. I object to the elitist nature of this process whereby power is concentrated in the hands of a few. It should be a jury of peers, not a rabbinical elite that makes the decisions regarding conversion.

JoeSettler said...

First of all, it has to be 3 Kosher laymen who are acceptable to form a Beit Din together.

Second, in Israel there are legal ramifications to becoming Jewish, specifically automatic right to Israeli citizenship, it introduces a bureaucratic layer to the process.

Now if the "Right of Return" were modified...

Anonymous said...

"3 Kosher laymen who are acceptable to form a Beit Din together." My point exactly. The fact that 3 kosher laymen can form a Beit Din means that Rabbi's do not need to make every decision. In fact, they should not make these kind of decisions. Who is part of the Jewish people should be decided by the Jewish people in all walks of life, not just the rabbinic elite. If God had intended otherwise he would have made it the sole province of the Priests. The fact that he did not means he did not wish it to be owned by one group at all. In the end it is the difference between trial by jury and trial by judge.

JoeSettler said...

I would modify that, "3 Kosher laymen who are acceptable to form a Beit Din together and who know the Laws of Conversion."

JoeSettler said...

But again, "3 Kosher laymen who are acceptable to form a Beit Din" wouldn't include someone who wasn't Shomer Mitzvot.

Not Orthodox said...

According to the Israeli government web site, the conversion process is simply bureaucracy, with the most onerous requirement being the ulpan course in (Orthodox) Judaism.

Considering that the USA requires a course of study and a test for citizenship, I don't see what's so wrong about requiring those converting to take a course in traditional, orthodox Judaism.

A far more serious problem -- so far as I know, not addressed by the bill -- is that of the attempts to annul conversion unless the converted continues an orthodox lifestyle. I think the majority of Israelis prefer the status quo (until recently), under which the rabbinate could not control individuals' religious lives once the conversion process is complete.

LI Reader said...

Joe Settler, you wrote above (July 18, 1:18 a.m.) that the chareidi parties were really supporting the Rotem bill because they expected the Reform to oppose it and stop it, not because they were actually in favor of it.

How does that theory fit with their strong opposition to delaying the bill?


JoeSettler said...

There was an article the other day in the Jerusalem Post (I didn't save the link) where one or two Chareidi MKs explicitly said they were against the bill, until the Reform declared their opposition to the bill, after which they took the opposite position.

Perhaps Lurker still has the link.

Search the Muqata


Related Posts with Thumbnails