I agree with Gary Rosenblatt (“On Rotem Conversion Bill, Focus Should Be On Israel,” Aug. 6) that on the Rotem bill the primary, though not exclusive, focus should be on Israel. Israel is the homeland and state for all Jews. Israel is home to growing, vibrant Reform, Conservative and spiritual communities and to the majority of Jews who do not choose any formal religious affiliation or practice. The focus of any change in conversion procedures or any other religious matters should be done in such a way that is positive for all Jews in Israel and throughout the Jewish world.
Rosenblatt quotes Rabbi David Stav that “We have to change the climate because no one wants to convert” out of fear of the stringent demands made by the Chief Rabbinate (which Rosenblatt points out is corrupt).
It helps no one, least of all the former Russian olim and their now Israeli-born children, to impose upon them a different standard of Jewish behavior than what is practiced by the majority of native-born Israeli Jews.
The right to define who is a Jew does not belong to political leaders in Israel. However, if that is the current case in Israel and Rotem and Yisrael Beiteinu really care about this issue, they have an option. Form a nongovernmental coalition of like-minded members of Knesset, regardless of party, to solve the problem outside the boundaries of the rabbinical courts. This would be an act of political courage.
Open societies in an age of individualism understand that communities define their own standards differently. What Rosenblatt and Stav both posit as their underlying premise is that Israel and the Jewish world should have one Jewish religious standard. Our people, since the destruction of the Temple, have always had multiple community standards including varying interpretations of halacha. If you were a mamzer [illegitimate] in Minsk you could move to Pinsk and no one questioned your status.
Perhaps the uproar over the conversion bill is the opportunity we have been waiting for to have truly decentralized religious authority in Israel, as we already do in the rest of the world, outside the boundaries of the government and the Chief Rabbinate.
Association of Reform Zionists
of America (ARZA)