Progressive and Reform Judaism facing Orthodox Control

July 14, 2010 Agencies
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Israel is preparing to pass version three of the Conversion Law through the Knesset, effectively giving total control both in Israel and word-wide to the Orthodox leadership in determing who is a Jew.

The possibility of the bill being passed is not only ringing alarm bells to the Progressive and Reform communities, but also to organisations outside them.

Philip Chester, president of the Zionist Federation of Australia, has written the following letter to the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Natanyahu…

Dear Prime Minister

ZFA President Philip Chester

The Australian Jewish community views with grave concern and dismay the attempt to pass a 3rd version of the Conversion law through the Knesset’s Law Constitution and Justice Committee. The substance of this proposed Bill is to assign full authority on matters of conversion in Israel to the Israel’s Chief Rabbinate and thus undermine the established status quo.  In our view the passage of such  legislation would do incalculable harm to the unity of the Jewish people at a time of enormous challenges to Israel  and the Diaspora and would run counter to the Prime Minister’s own recent remarks that the proposed legislation needs to ensure the unity of the entire Jewish people .

As the Chairman of the Jewish Agency Natan Sharansky had recently stated, “the Jewish State is a state for all the Jews and the Government of Israel must balance its political concerns with the concerns of the Jewish people the world over.”  We thus entreat you to oppose the passage of this Bill which threatens to damage the fabric of Jewish Peoplehood.

Steve Denenberg

Steve Denenberg is the Executive Director for the Union Of Progressive Judaism. He told J-Wire: “The leadership of the Union for Progressive Judaism and ARZA Australia are stunned by recent events in Israel.  Just days after the World Zionist Congress overwhelmingly voted against proposed changes to the Law of Conversion and the Law of Return, MK David Rotem knowingly put forward changes that threaten to cause a massive rift in the Jewish world.  What is even more shocking is that following assurances by members of the Likud Government that the bill would not go forward, they chose not to attend the committee meeting where they could have voted it out.

The proposed changes give even more power to the right-wing Orthodox Chief Rabbi and, for the first time in history, differentiate between Jews-by-birth and Jews-by-choice.  These proposals are unacceptable to any person who cares about the unity of the Jewish world and the future support for Israel by world Jewry.”

Meanwhile, a full explanation of the ramifications of the legislation has been explained by U.S. Reform leaders.

In a statement released by the Union for Reform Judaism, president Eric Yoffie  and Chairman of the Board Peter Weidhorn have stated:

“Emergency is not too strong a word. This week, despite commitments to the contrary, the Israeli Knesset is considering legislation that would fundamentally change the Law of Conversion and further concentrate power with the Chief Rabbinate. The bill would give the Chief Rabbinate exclusive oversight of all conversion matters, putting non-Orthodox conversions performed abroad at risk, and greatly limiting the options available to Israelis and olim (immigrants to Israel) wishing to convert or in need of ‘official’ recognition. Sadly, this happened within hours of the arrest of Anat Hoffman (Director of the Israel Religious Action Center and Founder of Women of the Wall) for praying at the Western Wall with a Torah scroll, yet another reminder that non-Orthodox Jews don’t enjoy the same religious freedom in Israel that we do in North America.

It is critical that Prime Minister Netanyahu hear a loud and clear message from Diaspora Jewry that further alienation of non-Orthodox Jews goes against our deeply held beliefs in Klal Yisrael and creates a dangerous rift between Israel and world Jewry at a time when the relationship between North America and Israel is so vital. We urge you to contact the Prime Minister as soon as possible and share your concern over the future of religious freedom in Israel, the character of the Jewish State, and the relationship between Israel and the Diaspora.

The Union for Reform Judaism, along with our Reform counterparts in Israel and affiliates around the world, will be closely monitoring the legislation over the next few days. We are prepared to take any action at our disposal necessary to prevent passage of this bill.  We’ve dispatched senior members of the Union’s staff to join with Rabbi Daniel Allen, ARZA Executive Director, in Israel to personally meet with members of the Knesset and convey to them the significance of this matter.  At the same time, our Israeli and international Reform communities are mobilizing as well to convey their concern.”

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