Likud has accepted the demands of the ultra-Orthodox parties

“Who is a Jew” is Back!

In recent days, there have been reports in the media from the coalition negotiation rooms that the Likud has accepted the demand of the ultra-Orthodox parties to change the law in a way that will prevent those who converted in Israel outside the Chief Rabbinate from receiving recognition as Jews, even at the civil level. This is not only a change to a long-standing ruling recognizing Reform and Conservative conversions in Israel, but also a step that is directed against Modern Orthodox conversions from the past few years, which are aimed at facilitating conversions of immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

According to the reports, this is a commitment by the Likud to pass a law that was previously proposed by the Shas party, and which states that for all intents and purposes, only conversions that were carried out within the framework of the State's conversion courts, under the supervision and policy of the Chief Rabbinate, will be recognized in Israel. When the coalition agreements are revealed in a few days we will know the exact facts, but there is no doubt that the reports correspond with the growing appetite of the ultra-Orthodox parties, on which Netanyahu is completely dependent in forming the government, and the lack of voices among Likud representatives who see Jewish pluralism and religious freedom as values worthy of protection. It is important to emphasize that we are referring to Likud politicians and not Likud voters. The public opinion polls that we conduct show that the majority of Likud voters support the implementation of the Declaration of Independence's promise of freedom of religion and equality, as we have reported here more than once.

Therefore, beyond pointing out the consequences that such an amendment has on moving away from religious freedom and equality and getting closer to the Torah State model, it is important to emphasize several points:

Majority opposes Chief Rabbinate's monopoly over conversions (2022 Israel Religion & State Index)Majority opposes Chief Rabbinate's monopoly over conversions (2022 Israel Religion & State Index)
  1. Such a step is in complete opposition to the wishes of the majority of the Jewish public in Israel, including the majority of Likud voters. Only a small minority is of the opinion that Israel should only recognize conversions approved by the Chief Rabbinate, while the large majority does not see this as necessary and is divided into two approaches, those who hold that Israel should accept as Jews all immigrants of Jewish descent (even if only their father is Jewish) that identify as Jews without the need for conversion, and those who hold that conversions by any of the streams of Judaism should suffice for the State to recognize them as Jews.
  2. This step is part of the war that the ultra-Orthodox parties are waging against Reform and Conservative Judaism and is not necessarily related to the question of Who is a Jew. For the ultra-Orthodox, even a slight recognition of the liberal streams of Judaism is considered an abomination and must be fought against with every means at their disposal. This is the precise background for understanding the struggle against "The Kotel Agreement", and they do not pretend to hide it. This fact can be seen in the addition of the clause in the bill which distinguishes between conversions done in Israel and conversions made abroad and are willing to agree to civil registration of non-Orthodox conversions which were done abroad. While some have advocated for doing away with recognition for any purpose of any conversion that is not sanctioned by the Chief Rabbinate, whether in Israel or abroad, they seem to have realized that going against conversions taking place throughout the Diaspora would be going over a red line. It is extremely important that the Jewish leadership in the Diaspora does not fall into this trap, i.e., that as long as Reform converts from the US are not barred from Israel there is no need to get excited and protest. The opposite is true. This is a battle over the character and soul of the State of Israel. Therefore, there is a vital need for the Jewish leadership in the Diaspora to not only say that it sees the Jewish denominations in Israel in exactly the same way as it treats the Jewish denominations in the Diaspora. The time has come to go beyond settling for the acceptance of granting immigrant rights to non-Orthodox converts. It is necessary to demand that they be allowed to marry and start a family in Israel like any other immigrant whose Judaism is recognized by the Chief Rabbinate since the Chief Rabbinate holds the monopoly over marriage of all Jews in Israel. And if the Chief Rabbinate refuses to do so - then civil and non-Orthodox marriages should be allowed, both because it is a basic principle accepted in every democracy in the world and because the majority of the Israeli Jewish public supports this and opposes the religious coercion that prevents hundreds of thousands of Israelis from marrying according to their own wishes.
  3. As stated above, the legislation is directed not only against Reform conversions but also against modern Orthodox conversions, which the Chief Rabbinate also refuses to recognize. Just as we were successful in bringing together a significant group of Rabbis, leaders and activists from all streams to support the Vision Statement of Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State the time has come for an inter-stream partnership speaking up and advocating against legislative attempts to limit the definition of Who is a Jew.

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