Sharansky lambasts proposed conversion law as divisive
(WJC)–Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), the Israeli body in charge of relations with Jews abroad, expressed disappointment following the approval by the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee of the Knesset of a bill on conversion to Judaism. “We cannot divide the Jewish people with legislation which many in the Jewish world view as defining them as second class Jews,” Sharansky said.
“We are at the beginning of the month of Av, the time when the Temple was destroyed because the Jewish people were busy with internal fighting instead of dealing with real dangers posed by their enemies. Jews abroad are the most loyal supporters of Israel, and stand at the forefront of the fight for Israel’s image around the world. The proposed bill was supposed to have been discussed in detail with world Jewry. I hope the prime minister will send a clear message that this proposed legislation will not move forward without proper discussion and consultation with all those who feel they may be harmed by it,” Sharansky – who as a Jewish dissident was persecuted in the Soviet Union – added. The former Israeli government minister said he had received angry calls from Jewish leaders. “The meaning of this is a split between the State of Israel and large portions of the Jewish people,” he told ‘Israel Radio’.
Under the current practice, Israel recognizes only conversions performed by Orthodox rabbis inside Israel, but people converted by non-Orthodox rabbis outside the country are automatically eligible for Israeli citizenship like other Jews. Liberal Jewish denominations are concerned that the new bill, which would make minor changes in the conversion system in Israel while enshrining the control of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, could mean that immigrants who converted to Judaism with non-Orthodox denominations abroad would be denied Israeli citizenship.
Some 320,000 people who are not Jewish according to Jewish law live in Israel, most of them from the former Soviet Union countries. Though they are Israeli citizens, they cannot marry in Israel, and after their death, cannot have a Jewish funeral.
The bill’s sponsor, David Rotem, an Orthodox lawmaker of the Yisrael Beitenu party of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, rebuffed criticism of the bill, saying his goal was to make conversion easier for immigrants from the former Soviet Union countries. “This will not affect non-Orthodox conversions performed abroad. The non-Orthodox denominations have no reason for concern,” he said.
The bill still needs to pass three rounds of voting in the Knesset before becoming law, a process that will likely take months. On Monday, Prime Minister Netanyahu said that Rotem’s bill would not reach the Knesset’s floor for a vote.
, president of the Jewish Federations of North America, expressed hope following the vote that “the prime minister and the Likud will not allow such a bill to pass, as it would create a significant rift between Israel and world Jewry.” He declared: “We don’t need this divisiveness.”
Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress.