NEW YORK, April 26, 2018 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Jewish Religious Equality Coalition (J-REC), a wall-to-wall coalition of Modern Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist communal leaders and organizations, strongly opposes the proposed conversion bill currently under consideration by the Israeli government.
J-REC has long believed that the unofficial monopoly enjoyed by the Chief Rabbinate on matters of personal status, including conversion, undermines American Jewish connections to, and identification with, Israel as nation-state of the Jewish people. The overwhelming percentage of conversions performed in the Diaspora occurs under the auspices of Conservative and Reform rabbis, and the bulk of American Jewry identifies with those two movements. To delegitimize Conservative and Reform conversions performed in Israel is to suggest that their rabbis are not rabbis and that their Judaism is rejected by the Jewish state.
The proposed bill, to be sure, attempts to broaden conversion within Israel by extending the authority to perform conversions to Orthodox rabbis outside the parameters of the Chief Rabbinate. Although, in principle, this may appear to constitute a more inclusive measure, in practice it solidifies de jure an Orthodox monopoly over conversion. The Rabbinate has long believed that its operational control over conversion needs to be established legislatively. Moreover, the Chief Rabbinate retains its control over marriage, meaning that children of these converts may well discover that they remain ineligible for marriage, given the strictures and power of the Chief Rabbinate. Finally, we have already experienced the specter of a "blacklist" of Modern Orthodox rabbis, whose bona fides are rejected by the Chief Rabbinate.
For all these reasons, we find the proposed "compromise" over conversion to be unacceptable. We urge that the bill be shelved immediately, and that a forum for dialogue, including all major sectors of the Jewish people, be established to advance reasonable solutions, inspired by an ethos of genuine compromise, to these challenging questions of personal status.
J-REC Chair Dov Zakheim said, "The apparent concession to Modern Orthodoxy attempts only to divide Modern Orthodoxy from the Conservative and Reform movements. Moreover, given that the Chief Rabbinate retains its monopoly over marriage, the Rabbinate may well delegitimize even some Modern Orthodox conversions by refusing to marry converts' offspring."
Dr. Steven Bayme, National Director of AJC's William Petschek Contemporary Jewish Life Department, said, "We had and still have hopes for a reasonable compromise over conversion to Judaism within Israel. 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. Conversion to Judaism strengthens the Jewish people. We need a process that both facilitates conversion and recognizes diverse modes of entry into the Jewish covenant."
The Jewish Religious Equality Coalition (J-REC), created and spearheaded by AJC in 2014, is a broad-based coalition of American Jews, Israelis, and Jewish organizations dedicated to the realization of full religious equality in the Jewish state, and is mobilizing support for the creation of alternatives to the Chief Rabbinate on personal status issues.
SOURCE American Jewish Committee