Daily Alert

10 August 2010

Chief Rabbi Amar Speaks on the Conversion Bill

Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar has spoken and written in strong support of the proposed Rotem law (AKA Conversion bill). His support for the bill is based upon the idea that Olim with questionable Jewish status (or no Jewish status) will be able to work with local Rabbis under Rabbinate supervision to officiate at conversions, thus insuring that halachic standards are met for conversion in Israel. Rabbi Amar also expressed great concern that foreign intervention in Israel's internal affairs could jeopardize the effort to keep Israel a Jewish state. As posted previously on
APRPEH, American non-Orthodox interests feel threatened by Chief Rabbinate conversion supervision in Israel.

The Conversion bill has an interesting coalition of supporters in Israel. Missing in the minds of the American non-Orthodox who preach regularly on their pulpits and at their conventions (unfairly) that Orthodox (ie. Jews committed to halacha) are divisive is the fact that this bill is supported by the Orthodox political parties and secular nationalist parties in Israel. As Rabbi Amar implies, significant numbers of Russian Olim are not halachically Jewish and would be more inclined to become Jewish if the path to conversion were not stifled by red tape. Interestingly, even in the US where strong voices within liberal Orthodoxy have sought to garner publicity by advocating local rabbinical autonomy, by opposing the Rotem bill they are arguing for exactly the opposite in Israel.

Critics of the bill in the US and other diaspora communities seem to have a point that Israel is a place for all Jews and therefore they command a right to intervene in Israel's internal affairs for reasons of personal interest. However, the quote from Rabbi Amar below strongly rebuts that idea. Israel is indeed a land for all Jews. It is the Jewish homeland and as such, all Jews much seek to protect and support the land even when its government might not be all that we would like it to be. What should be consistent in the approach of diaspora Jews concerning issues in Israel is a rule that criticism is okay but pressure beyond argumentation should not be utilized.

In recent years, perhaps since the late 1980s, we saw liberalism's infectious breaking down of conventional wisdom expressed within the context of breaking Jewish consensus on Israel. This pervasive and dangerous threat of backing off of support for Israel in general, if this law were passed or that law were passed is becoming the strategy of first not last resort. It should never be an option.

The observation that consensus on Israel was breaking was made by Rabbi Zalman I. Posner in a radio interview conducted by Rabbi Jacob J. Hecht (date uncertain)
(real player format) see "Who is a Jew" Tape 4 side B (at time of posting, this audio is not working). Rabbi Posner pointed out that for the first time, during one of the previous "who is a Jew" debates, threats to cease supporting Israel or not going out of the way to support Israel within the American political context were first heard. Rabbi Posner went on to say that US pressure on Israel vis a vis the arab conflict became stronger as a result of a perception that American Jews were divided.

I find it ironic that the same Jews who loudly protest the anti-Zionism crowd amongst the charedim, are themselves, with righteous indignation claiming the possibility of deep divisions resulting from a conversion bill affecting Israelis only. "Look at what the Israeli government is doing? How could we support them?" From which camp do you expect to hear such words, Neturei Karta or the Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism? What about JFNA?

The true Jewish heart needs to stop for a moment of reflection, especially in this month of Elul to consider what sort of interests should prevail - the political and financial vested interests, positions taken that are framed within a context of egotistical minded fear of irrelevancy or true unification the Jewish people? Should there be more than one definition of Jew? Should there be people with the status of Jew in some congregations of America but not others, all the more so not in Israel? These questions require deep soul searching within. Conservativists and Reformists have built a career writing their own rules all the while claiming that ancient halachic rules cannot stand in the place of their own new and improved versions. The time has come to base decisions of status not rooted in what is seen as easy for the masses of people and convenient for their leaders but what is right for the future of Judaism and Torah.



'Diaspora Jews 'coercing the Israeli government'' - JPOST

“Israeli laws should be determined by residents of Israel who defend its security and bear its burdens,” he said. “If our Jewish brethren immigrate to Israel, we will welcome them with great joy, and then they would be entitled, as citizens, to struggle for the adoption of their perspective. Diaspora Jews who are coercing the Israeli government to drop the proposed legislation are causing great damage. The bill, within the framework of Jewish law, would expand the ambit of conversion, prevent the application of unjustified stringencies, and provide more leniency and flexibility in administration. Many Russian Israelis would benefit substantially. In fact, this legislation was proposed by Israel Beiteinu – a secular party – representing more than a million Russian Israelis,” Amar’s letter read.

NYT Letter to the editor by Rabbi Amar

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