Warnings On Conversion Vote
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Warnings On Conversion Vote

Your article on the front page of the Nov. 7 issue, “Conversions Vote
Loosens Grip of Chief Rabbinate,” rightly celebrates a small but conceivably
significant step towards ending the monopoly of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate
over all issues of personal status, including conversion. Any change in the
status quo is certainly welcome.

However, lest your readers get overly excited by this development, they
should keep in mind the following:

First, the vast majority of the 300,000-plus
olim from the Former Soviet Union, and their descendants, are unlikely to
undergo Orthodox conversion of any kind.

Second, this new cabinet resolution
(which does not have the full force and permanence of a bill) does nothing
towards recognition of non-Orthodox conversions performed outside of Israel, 
leaving many olim with no possibility of being married in Israel unless they
are willing to undergo an additional Orthodox conversion.

Third, it provides no
solution for to the far greater problems concerning marriage in Israel; 
specifically, it gives no recourse to the thousands of Israelis who currently
are not eligible to get married in Israel, such as Cohanim [Jewish priests] and divorcees,
same-sex couples, Jews who were converted outside of Israel (including most
Orthodox converts), and many others who cannot establish their “Jewishness”
to the satisfaction of the ultra-Orthodox Rabbinate.

And finally, it does not
authorize marriages in Israel by Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist or
other non-Orthodox rabbis.

This cabinet decision does not begin to
resolve the myriad of problems related to divorce, as even couples who marry
outside of Israel must go to the Rabbinate to get divorced, nor does it
address the problem of agunot, chained women, whose husbands refuse to give
them a get, a Jewish divorce decree.

What is most encouraging about the Israeli cabinet’s vote is that it clearly
demonstrates that a determined Knesset member, in this case Elazar Stern
(HaTnuah), who has the will to promote reform to the current system, can
convince the Israeli leadership to take on the Rabbinate for the good of
Israeli society as a whole. We can only hope that this is the beginning of
far more extensive reforms to the system of marriage and divorce in Israel,
so that it becomes inclusive, meaningful, and ultimately brings Israeli
citizens closer to Judaism.

 

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