While the Reform and Conservative movements here mounted campaigns to convince Israeli lawmakers to vote against the proposed conversion bill, the largest group of Orthodox rabbis here said American Jews should keep out of internal Israeli matters.
“The legislation is designed to change nothing regarding North American Jewish issues, a matter which in any event is far less significant to the State of Israel and its citizens than the undoubted benefits that the bill promises,” said the statement by the Rabbinical Council of America.
The RCA was the only major Orthodox group to issue a statement on the proposed conversion bill. Both the Orthodox Union and the Agudath Israel of America said they would have no comment; the National Council of Young Israel did not respond.
Although the RCA said the bill could be changed to alleviate Reform and Conservative concerns that it would for the first time codify the right of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate to oversee all conversions in Israel, “that should be for Israel’s religious and political leadership to decide, without outside pressures or interference.”
“As a diaspora community we ought all to respect the internal political process that impacts first and foremost on those who live within the boundaries of Israel, and only in a derivative fashion on us who have chosen to live in the diaspora,” the statement added. “We thus call on our fellow Jews to respect Israel’s internal political processes, so as to allow Israel and its citizens to make this decision in their own…”
Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, first vice president of the RCA, acknowledged that his organization and Israel’s Chief Rabbinate have had disagreements in the past concerning conversions that RCA members have performed. He said steps by the RCA to coordinate conversions performed in the U.S. were not in response to concerns raised by the Chief Rabbinate but rather to “create a uniform standard” that would assure their acceptance by the Chief Rabbinate.
Rabbi Goldin stressed that it is the RCA’s understanding that the reason for the bill is to “help solve the tremendous crisis in Israel” of Russians who have been “unable to gain access to the system” in order to convert. They are said to number more than 400,000.