The conversion crisis: End the religious-bureaucratic complex

by Maskil on July 21, 2008

I was pleased to see from this JTA article that Diaspora Jewish leaders are finally beginning to respond to the crisis in Israel regarding conversions to Judaism. Jewish leaders outside of Israel are understandably reluctant to intervene in something that may be considered an internal Israeli matter, but this is something that affects Jews (and in particular Jews by Choice and their descendants) everywhere.

According to the article:

Leaders of the United Jewish Communities federation umbrella organization sent a sharply worded letter to Olmert on July 9 urging him to assign his Cabinet secretary “to oversee conversion.”

In order to keep up the momentum generated by this initiative, I would like to see the leadership of all the major non-Orthodox streams of Judaism – both in the US and globally – direct similar letters to all leadership figures in Israel.

The leaders of the Conservative, Reconstructionist and Liberal/Progressive/Reform streams of Judaism worldwide should call on all the main Israeli leadership figures and offices to do their utmost to ensure that conversions performed by these streams of Judaism – both within and outside Israel – are unequivocally recognised by the Israeli authorities.

Petitions should be addressed to the President, Prime Minister, Speaker of the Knesset, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the heads of all the major non-Haredi political parties.

The leadership of the non-Orthodox streams of Judaism should actually go further than the UJC and call for all matters regarding conversion to be taken out of the dead hands of the Haredi-dominated rabbinate. There should be a complete separation between those responsible for bringing converts into Judaism – the rabbis and courts of all the major streams of Judaism, duly authorised by their own movements – and those responsible for recording such conversions for Israeli identity purposes (the Interior Ministry). The ministry should not be permitted to question the validity of such conversions on religious grounds.

A complete separation between secular and religious functions – an end to the religious-bureaucratic complex – in Israel is long overdue. All members of the non-Orthodox movements should call on their leadership to put pressure on Israel to end this anachronism, and with it the harm that it inflicts on Judaism and the Jewish people daily.

UJC, JAFI press Olmert on conversion – JTA, Jewish & Israel News

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