Daily Alert

14 July 2010

Conversion in Eretz HaKodesh: JFNA Seeks to Undermine Halacha

In my email today, I along with probably many readers received the communication below from Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA). The email addresses the conversion bill now in consideration in Knesset which would place all conversions in Israel officially in the hands of the Chief Rabbinate. The Jewish people will only be blessed when the State of Israel advocates the keeping of Halacha and doing mitzvos. What Jew could possibly disagree with this idea? Halacha and mitzvos are the core of Judaism.

I fundamentally oppose the position taken by JFNA and encourage readers to submit the APRPEH suggested letter at the bottom of this post which can be found after the JFNA communique and the letter JFNA suggests be sent to the PMO.

JFNA URGES PM NETANYAHU AND OTHERS TO HALT CONVERSION BILL

July 14, 2010

The Jewish Federations of North America, with the Jewish Agency and other partners, are leading a concerted and high-profile advocacy campaign to stop a bill in the Knesset that could prevent some Diaspora Jews from gaining automatic Israeli citizenship as immigrants.

These efforts are the latest phase of an initiative that began this winter, when a Knesset member proposed revising the Law of Return. Though the change was initially aimed at giving local Israeli rabbis greater authority, it carried the potential effect of threatening to delegitimize those who converted to Judaism through the Conservative and Reform movements and preclude conferring citizenship under the Law of Return to those who did not qualify for such status on prior visits.

This Sunday, the Knesset member, David Rotem of the Yisrael Beitenu Party, advanced a newer version with stronger language giving the Orthodox-run Chief Rabbinate full control over conversions in Israel and urging that any convert "accepts the yoke of mitzvot according to halacha."

The Knesset Law Committee on Sunday approved the bill on first reading, sending it to the full Knesset plenum, where it would require three readings and approval before becoming law.

On Sunday, The Jewish Federations of North America's President and CEO Jerry Silverman, Senior Vice President Rebecca Caspi, and JAFI Chair Natan Sharansky, along with representatives of the liberal religious streams, began a major advocacy campaign to prevent the measure from advancing. JFNA is also urging Federations to appeal to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the issue (see below).

This advocacy involves daily strategy meetings, attending the Knesset committee session, meeting with Knesset members including Rotem and speaking out publicly through Israeli and international media.

In addition, Silverman and JFNA Chair Kathy Manning, along with the JFNA Coordinating Council of professional and lay leaders, have sent Prime Minister Netanyahu two strongly worded letters urging him and members of his Likud Party to speak out publicly against the proposal.

Until now the prime minister has not done so, though he did reportedly tell The Jerusalem Post he thought the bill would not pass.

On Tuesday, Silverman, Caspi and the 125 members of the JFNA Campaign Chairs & Directors Mission now visiting Israel also met with Israel's President, Shimon Peres, about this important issue. Peres called for greater dialogue on the proposed bill so that discussions embrace both Diaspora and Israeli Jews (click here for JFNA's briefing with his remarks).

JFNA is also leading an e-mail effort among Federations and their partners urging Prime Minister Netanyahu to oppose the bill. To read more background on the conversion bill and to send Netanyahu a prepared letter (or edit the letter before sending), click here.

JFNA will continue to keep Federations informed about the conversion proposal as developments occur.


The letter JFNA suggested that should be sent to PM Binyamin Netanyahu follows:
To: Prime Minister Netanyahu
Re: Conversion Bill

Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

I am writing to you regarding the controversial conversion bill currently before the Knesset.

The language used in this bill is highly problematic. This bill raises issues about the chief rabbinate having full authority over conversions and includes new language about the stringent commitment to halacha. Finally, it changes the 62-year agreement over the Law of Return, which could in turn drive a deep wedge between the Jewish State and Diaspora Jews. This could significantly affect our ability to connect and inspire varying parts of our community around Clal Yisrael.

I know you are aware of the deep sense of concern this proposal has stirred among Diaspora Jews. If successful, this bill will damage the Diaspora-Israel relationship and create significant long-term impacts. We urge you and members of your Likud party to speak out against this legislation now, before it proceeds further.

I hope you will show your concern for the unity of the Jewish People and work with the Knesset and the leadership of the Jewish Diaspora to amend the bill in a way that is acceptable to Jews across the world.

With respect,


The APRPEH suggested letter:



B"H

Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

I am writing to you regarding the courageous effort underway in Knesset to maintain a universal standard in Jewish conversion. The bill before the Knesset is being viewed by many non-Orthodox in the United States as divisive and controversial. Some say it has the potential for alienating American Jews who have not yet realized that Halacha already prescribes only one way for someone to join the Jewish people. I appeal to you as a fellow Jew to be strong and to support the conversion bill in its current form. To not maintain the Halachic standard of conversion would be to undermine the consistency and simplicity of the only standard for conversion accepted universally by all Jews for most of our modern and ancient history. The variations that exist today in the United States for conversion, if forced upon Israel would cause severe damage to the state and to the Jewish people. These variations have contributed to a negative Jewish population shift in North America, a resistance to Jewish culture and a distancing of many Jews from the interests of Medinat Yisrael. These phenomenon have occurred in correlation with the non-Orthodox structure being the dominant Jewish force in the United States. Interestingly, those arguing against the Conversion bill are saying that its passage into law would result in those very same phenomenon. This is the best evidence as to why passage of the Conversion bill is necessary. These backwards trends must be reversed. They will only be reversed when the standards of who is a Jew are strengthened, not weakened. We Jews are rational, yet spiritual. Rationality born by convenience and access to non-Jewish culture conceived in non-Jewish religions has been winning the day in North America for far too long. As the Jewish spiritual homeland, Israel must lead the way to spiritual revival of Jewry world-wide. That effort will be enhanced, not weakened by reinforcing in law the Halachic standard for conversion. World-wide, Jews look to Israel for spiritual leadership. Failing to provide it will sanction their looking elsewhere. This is the true struggle beneath the surface of this discussion. The halachic standard for conversion is an eye-opening moment for Jews world-wide, especially for many of those in North America who have grown accustomed to creating their own standards and rules - kashering them within the structure of "movements". Israel will only garner increased respect and support, not less for telling the truth and doing what is right by the vision of our sages and prophets and in the eyes of Heaven.


With wishes of comfort in this season of national mourning,

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