We are writing to alert you to new developments regarding the Rotem Conversion Bill issue on which you were so effective over the past several months. The matter is somewhat confusing, as there are now two bills authored by MK David Rotem related to conversion.
Rotem I is the original Conversion Bill from this summer. The Diaspora community opposed this bill which would, for the first time, grant official legislative authority for conversion to the Chief Rabbi. This unprecedented legislative grant of broad powers over conversion, a fundamental matter of Jewish identity, and one that also relates directly to the Law of Return, threatens to divide the unity of the Jewish people. In its most recent form, the bill also defines conversion explicitly according to the halakhic interpretation of the Chief Rabbinate. Such a definition would additionally obviate any aid to Israeli olim from the FSU.
A coalition of the JFNA, the Conservative/Masorti and the Reform movements strongly opposed the bill. The bill was placed under a moratorium in July that is set to expire on December 31.
At the GA held in New Orleans in November, Prime Minister Netanyahu stated that: "Any Jew, of any denomination, will always have the right to come home to the Jewish state. Religious pluralism and tolerance will always guide my policy." This assertion was generally understood to refer directly to the Conversion Bill issue.
Julie Schonfeld spoke on a panel about the Conversion Bill chaired by Natan Sharansky, click here for a newsletter article on that panel.
Rotem II - The "Rotem IDF Conversion Bill" originated over the summer as concerns emerged regarding the refusal of some municipal rabbis to recognize IDF conversion for purposes of marriage registration. In response, MK David Rotem authored a second bill which gives parallel authority to the IDF Chief Rabbi with regard to IDF conversions, making it possible for IDF conversions signed by the IDF Chief Rabbi to be fully recognized in all matters of marriage and divorce as well as citizenship.
This legislation has the broad support of Israeli society, and indeed the RA and Conservative/Masorti Movement would support it as it protects the Jewish status, for all purposes, of soldiers converted in the IDF.
This Sunday, the matter became a crisis for the governing coalition, when Shas asked that the IDF Conversion Bill not be presented to the Knesset. The Prime Minister called upon Shas and Rabbi Amar to come up with a way to accept conversions approved by the IDF Chief Rabbi, by Wednesday. MK David Rotem of Yisrael Beitenu has indicated that his party will bring the IDF Conversion Bill to the Knesset on Wednesday regardless of the outcome of negotiations with Rabbi Amar and Shas.
Concerns have been raised and have been reported on in the press that the two bills could be linked, either into one piece of legislation or in some sort of a negotiation that would put Rotem I (the original Rotem Bill, dating back to the Knesset conversion crisis of last spring and summer) back on the agenda. At the moment, all of this remains speculative, but given the nature of the political process, we want you to be aware that we are taking active steps. The coalition of JFNA, the Conservative/Masorti and the Reform Movements has been meeting bi-weekly since last summer and met this morning to discuss and plan action steps.
We are not asking for any broad based actions at this time, but want to make you aware of the situation and our active involvement in continuing to prevent the original problematic Rotem bill from passing. We will keep you updated as we have more information.
Israel Rabbinic Ruling on Renting to Non-Jews
A joint statement on this issue is presently being drafted by our Movement, but we have been asked to notify you of requests for signatures described below and want to provide you with background.
Rabbis of fifty municipalities in Israel, employed by the State, at the initiative of Rabbi Shmuel Eliahu of Safed have made a psak halakhah forbidding Jews to rent homes to non-Jews, particularly Arabs. As a democratic Jewish state, this statement contradicts the founding principles of the State of Israel.
Our colleague, Mauricio Balter, president of the Israel RA, articulated our position in the Israeli press, "It is forbidden to harm the residents that live among us. They, like us, were created in the image of God. Anyone who harms another person, Jewish or not, harms God."
A democratic state recognizes the rights of minorities including the most basic necessity of shelter. Quotes like "Racism originated in the Torah," according to the head of the Ashdod yeshivah, Rabbi Yosef Scheinen, are an anathema to the ideals of the State of Israel.
We stand in solidarity with PM Netanyahu who said that it was forbidden for such comments to be made in a democratic state, "especially in a Jewish democratic state that respects Jewish tradition and the Bible." We agree with President Shimon Peres who said, "the rabbis were generating a moral crisis that ran counter to the essence of a Jewish and democratic state, and were thereby doing great harm to the State of Israel." We applaud the investigation begun by Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein to determine whether this ruling raises criminal or disciplinary charges against the rabbis or at least whether they have violated appropriate public conduct as employees of the State.
New Israel Fund Petition
The New Israel Fund, where our colleague David Rosenn is the COO, has asked RA rabbis to sign on to a petition urging rabbis in Israel to oppose the rabbinic ruling discriminating against non-Jews.