Conversion & Controversy In Israel

Two Conservative Jews in Israel write for the Jerusalem Post:

Over 1,000 people took part in a support rally for Rabbi Haim Druckman early last month. It was the first, and certainly the largest, religious Zionist rally for an issue other than the Land of Israel.

Something, without a doubt, is happening among the knitted kipot (skullcaps) Jewish community. They sense they are fighting for house and home. The Chief Rabbinate – established by their own fathers, who also set its tone – has been grabbed away from them. The haredim are taking over! You knitted types are out. Any day now you’ll also be disqualified from testifying in religious courts.

But there’s no making light of the sense of dread among religious Zionists. They have good reason to worry. Given Israel’s current legal structure, in which religion is interwoven with politics, the revocation of Rabbi Druckman’s conversions has serious repercussions. Thousands of converts whose Judaism has been revoked will not be able to marry through the rabbinate. In other words, they will be prevented from registering their status as “married” in the State of Israel – a nation that chose to grant a monopoly to the Chief Rabbinate for every matter related to personal status.

It is tempting to needle the leaders of the religious Zionist movement by reminding them that, when the power was in their hands, they acted with the same lordship over the Conservative and Reform movements. But that is not the point. Religious Zionism has a large constituency, and its concern for the People of Israel as a whole – not just for those sporting knitted kipot – is heartfelt and genuine. We must all hope that, at this historic moment, they will act responsibly, according to the dictates of their conscience. It will require rabbinical courage to bring about the creation of religious Zionist courts that operate parallel to the Chief Rabbinate.

THE ESTABLISHMENT of a religious Zionist court that performs conversions according to its standards, and whose rabbis marry converts in adherence with the religion of Moses and Israel, would be a revolution in Israel. Early on, granted, couples married in this manner will not be able to change their martial status officially at the Interior Ministry. But when tens of thousands of couples follow suit, the law will change. Revolutions can also begin from the ground up. Today already, 20 percent of all “Jewish” couples marrying in Israel do not do so via the Rabbinate. The majority, to the dismay of all of us, do not even marry in a Jewish wedding. Modern Orthodoxy, which can amplify the outcry of “rejected” couples for all to hear, has the strength to steer this unfortunate trend in another direction.

Rabbi Barry Schlesinger is president of the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly. Atty. Yizhar Hess is executive director of the Conservative Movement in Israel.

About Luke Ford

Raised a Seventh-Day Adventist at Avondale College in Australia, Luke Ford moved to California in 1977. He graduated from Placer High School in 1984, reported the news at KAHI/KHYL radio for three years, attended Sierra College and UCLA, was largely bedridden by Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for six years, and converted to Judaism in 1993. From 1997-2007, Luke made his living from blogging. Living by Beverly Hills (, he now teaches the Alexander Technique (moving the way the body likes to move). Lessons cost $100 each and last about 45 minutes. In 2011, Luke completed a three-year teaching course at the Alexander Training Institute of Los Angeles. His personal Alexander Technique website is Luke is the author of five books, including: » The Producers: Profiles in Frustration » Yesterday’s News Tomorrow: Inside American Jewish Journalism
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