New bill would entrench Orthodox monopoly over Jewish conversion in Israel


(JTA) — The Knesset is considering a bill that would give an Orthodox body a monopoly over Jewish conversion in Israel, and American Jewish groups across the board are unhappy.

The bill, which advanced in Israel’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation on April 22, would create an independent Orthodox authority that would control all recognized conversions in Israel. The bill is similar to one, put forth last year and then shelved following a backlash, that would have given Israel’s haredi Orthodox Chief Rabbinate control over all recognized conversions in Israel.

Under the bill currently being considered, the Chief Rabbinate would not control the conversion authority and would not have to sign off on its conversions, but would have a say in who gets appointed to its board, according to Haaretz. The bill would strip recognition from any conversions — Orthodox or not — that occurred outside of the authority’s auspices.

For the non-Orthodox denominations like Reform and Conservative Judaism, and rabbis from the more liberal wings of Orthodoxy, any move to consolidate conversions under haredi Orthodox authority in Israel threatens to sideline their influence and legitimacy.

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Israel’s Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that the state must allow Jews who converted in private Orthodox courts in Israel to gain citizenship. Reform and Conservative groups have petitioned the court to extend that right to their converts in Israel as well.

None of the bills, or the court petitions, affects Jewish conversions outside Israel. Even so, American Jewish groups have objected to the current bill, as they did to last year’s, because it sends the message that only Orthodox conversions are legitimate.

The Jewish Religious Equality Coalition, an interdenominational group of Jewish leaders convened by the American Jewish Committee, said the bill “undermines American Jewish connections to, and identification with, Israel as nation-state of the Jewish people.”

The Jewish Federations of North America told Haaretz that “This is not a compromise. We urge that the document be sent back to be redrafted with real compromise in mind.”

“We had and still have hopes for a reasonable compromise over conversion to Judaism within Israel,” Steven Bayme, national director of AJC’s William Petschek Contemporary Jewish Life Department, said in a statement. “But this proposed Bill does not do the job. It excludes the liberal religious movements, enshrines the Orthodox monopoly legislatively and will only further divide the Jewish people.”