One of the main points of contention between Israel and Diaspora Jewry

The “Who is a Jew” War is Back!

Join us for two upcoming webinars on the “Who is a Jew” saga, which is returning to center political and legal stage.

Aryeh Deri, source: WikipediaAryeh Deri, source: Wikipedia

Yesterday the media reported that Shas Party leader, Interior Minister Rabbi Aryeh Deri, contacted the Prime Minister, demanding to bypass the Supreme Court and enact a new “Who is a Jew” law. In doing so, Shas is returning to the very demand that contributed to the fall of the government in the past. Shas is demanding that the State of Israel only recognize Jewish conversions approved by the Chief Rabbinate. This act of religious coercion, which stands in stark contrast with Supreme Court rulings for decades, Deri calls (in an Orwellian fashion): “Mamlachti [State] Conversion”, as if the public looks to the Chief Rabbinate to lead the State of Israel and forge its policies in matters of Judaism, and as if the State of Israel must narrow its Jewish horizons and exclude anyone who does not fit the Rabbinate’s criteria. *

"Who is a Jew" has been one of the main points of contention between Israel and the Diaspora for many years, and the news released this week indicates that it will soon be returning to the legal and political battlefield in Israel. Deri and his ultra-Orthodox colleagues anticipate that a decision by the Supreme Court is expected in a series of pending petitions to recognize Reform and Conservative converts, and they want to preempt this. This is what they demanded in 2017, when they demanded legislation that would have prevented the State of Israel from recognizing conversions conducted outside the Chief Rabbinate’s auspices.

It is important to emphasize that today's ultra-Orthodox battle is not only against the non-Orthodox Jewish denominations. It is also focused on Modern Orthodoxy, which the Chief Rabbinate refuses to acknowledge as legitimate for the purposes of conversion.

Hiddush hopes that Prime Minister Netanyahu will reject Minister Deri's demand, but even if he doesn't - we expect the Alternate Prime Minister and his Blue & White Party to make it clear that they will oppose any new legislation designed to deepen religious coercion and will exercise its prerogative to veto the passage of such legislation in the Knesset.


“Who is a Jew?” Webinars

Join us in our upcoming two-part webinar on Wednesday, June 24 and Monday, July 6, 2020, which are co-sponsored by RUACH HIDDUSH (Rabbis and Cantors for Religious Freedom and Equality in Israel), J-PLAN (Jewish Pluralism Legal Action Network), and AAJLJ (American Association of Jewish Lawyers & Jurists).

Leading experts will deepen your acquintance with the age-old controversy in Israel, which has provided voluminous discussions on every aspect of the topic, from biblical to modern responsa, from sociological to political science, from law to politics, and from testing the Jewish character of the State of Israel to challenging global Jewish unity. It has proven to be an explosive topic, threatening to bring down Israeli governments from the 50's - and through to these very days.

Learn more about the rabbinic and religious background of the subject; the significance of the Chief Rabbinate's refusal to recognize lenient Orthodox conversions; Which conversions are currently recognized under Israeli law; and what the present and future legal battles entail.




* Recently, the Itim organization published data it received through the Freedom of Information Act regarding the increasing failure of the Chief Rabbinate in addressing the challenge of conversion in Israel. The number of conversions carried out under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate is consistently decreasing and does not even scratch the surface of the need.

According to the data released by Itim, there is a significant shrinking of ~24% in the total number of converts in the IDF conversion track. In 2019, 679 people took this route, compared to 897 the previous year. Also, the number of converts altogether, outside the IDF, under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate (not including Ethiopian immigrants) dropped from 1530 to 1343 (Down 12%).

What a pity that Itim seems to think that it would be enough to expand conversion options by granting authority to more lenient Orthodox City Rabbis, contrary to the position of Chief Rabbinate, rather than recognizing the need that most of the Israeli public and most of the Jewish People support: The State of Israel equally recognize conversions of all streams in Judaism.

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