monopoly 2017


¡¡¡¡Thankfully, the war with Hamas in Gaza is over. May it stay that way for a long time. Israel is back to brewing political stew, which presents much more uncertainty than the military challenges facing it. The news regarding the emerging alternative coalition provides a foundation for hope that another war on the brink of explosion may be prevented. By this, I mean the battle over ¡°Who is a Jew?¡± This war will hopefully be removed from the new government¡¯s agenda, at least temporarily, because the ultra-Orthodox parties will be left out of the prospective coalition. This decades-old ¡°Who is a Jew?¡± battle played a significant role in forcing Israel to go to elections for the first of four rounds (to date) in two years. It was the demand of the ultra-Orthodox parties that ¡°Who is a Jew?¡± legislation be passed by the Knesset. Readers may recall that one of the early phases of the current battle was when the government¡¯s Ministerial Committee on Legislation, in June 2017, approved surrender to the Shas Party¡¯s demand for a conversion bill, the very day the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency was to convene. That was also the day on which the cabinet decided to suspend the Western Wall agreement. What followed was unprecedented: The Jewish Agency Board canceled its festive dinner with Prime Minister Netanyahu at the Knesset! The ensuing crisis led Netanyahu to realize that there would be serious consequences to going through with the legislation demanded by Shas, and he appointed Moshe Nissim, former minister of Justice (and son of a former chief rabbi) to head a committee of one and suggest a way out of the conflict. At the time, we predicted that nothing good would come out of this process, at least from the perspective of those who seek pluralism. Indeed, as we expected, Nissim proposed legislation to preserve Orthodox control over conversions recognized by the state, though he suggested that the monopoly be slightly broadened to include some Orthodox rabbis who are more moderate than might please the Chief Rabbinate. His minor concession to Modern Orthodoxy resulted in vehement rejection by the ultra-Orthodox parties, which went back to demanding legislation to entrench sole control in the hands of the Chief Rabbinate. The whole matter became pressing in 2017 because of the impending ruling by the Supreme Court on a cluster of petitions regarding recognition of non-Orthodox conversions. Delay tactics by the government succeeded for some time. However, the Supreme Court recently handed down its landmark ruling on the entitlement of those who converted via non-Orthodox denominations in Israel to rights under the Law of Return. Immediately, another storm erupted from ultra-Orthodox circles, demonizing both the non-Orthodox movements and the Supreme Court. cnxps.cmd.push(function () { cnxps({ playerId: ’36af7c51-0caf-4741-9824-2c941fc6c17b’ }).render(‘4c4d856e0e6f4e3d808bbc1715e132f6’); });if(window.location.pathname.indexOf(“656089”) !=-1){console.log(“hedva connatix”);document.getElementsByClassName(“divConnatix”)[0].style.display=”none”;}The ultra-Orthodox parties issued an ultimatum, declaring that anyone who wanted to align with them in a government coalition would have to deliver their demanded ¡°Who is a Jew?¡± legislation to ensure that the Chief Rabbinate would enjoy exclusive recognition from the state for conversions, hence, the concern that Israel was quickly moving in the direction of another war. Hence, also, our interest in gauging public opinion regarding maintaining the conversion monopoly in the hands of the Chief Rabbinate. And what better time to conduct such a survey than around Shavuot?THE FINDINGS of a Shavuot survey by Hiddush-Freedom of Religion for Israel unequivocally reaffirm the findings of the many surveys we commissioned on this issue in previous years. Only 40% support maintaining the conversion process in Israel under the exclusive authority of the Chief Rabbinate. The majority of the public, 60%, wants to abolish the Chief Rabbinate¡¯s monopoly over the State of Israel¡¯s official recognition of conversions. Those who support removing this authority from the Chief Rabbinate are divided between those 35% who want the state to recognize all conversions conducted in Israel by the established Jewish denominations (including Reform and Conservative), and those 25% who prefer to extend the recognition of Orthodox conversions to more lenient Orthodox city rabbis.Examination of the survey findings provides some important observations: 80% of the secular Jewish public wants the abolition of the Chief Rabbinate¡¯s monopoly on conversion. Even among traditional Jewish Israelis there is a majority for taking this authority away from the Chief Rabbinate. Among right-wing voters, only 43% support leaving the authority in the hands of the Chief Rabbinate. Among voters for the other components of the potential ¡°change coalition,¡± the percentage of support for the Chief Rabbinate is, of course, much lower. For anyone familiar with the religious extremism that characterizes Israel¡¯s ultra-Orthodox political and rabbinic establishment, it is clear that if Ruth the Moabite had sought to convert today, she would have been rejected outright. Similarly, masses of immigrants from the former Soviet Union and their offspring encounter obstacles if they wish to convert. Those few who convert find themselves under constant criticism and review, which is sometimes translated into retroactively voiding their conversions on the basis of underperforming religious obligations.Not surprisingly, most of the Israeli public completely rejects religious coercion and the Chief Rabbinate¡¯s monopoly. Most Israelis want to open the gates of conversion and take the keys away from the Chief Rabbinate.The survey findings are comparable with a survey commissioned by Hiddush in August 2019, in which 62% of Israel¡¯s adult Jewish public expressed support for a change in the state¡¯s approach to conversion, as proposed in the ¡°Vision Statement for Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State¡± that Hiddush launched in collaboration with leaders and rabbis of all Jewish denominations. Among other key changes to the unholy alliance between religion and politics in Israel, this new paradigm offers the following approach to conversion: ¡°Those who wish to convert to Judaism must have the right to undergo this process with rabbis of their choice, by rabbis who are duly ordained and recognized by their respective major religious movements. These conversions must be accepted as valid proof of Jewishness by the State of Israel, even as we respect the prerogative of the different religious groups to apply their own criteria for conversion.¡± For the sake of Israel, and for the sake of the Jewish people, it is high time to go back to the core principles of Israel¡¯s Declaration of Independence, which promises religious freedom and equality for all. While a compelling cause in general, this is particularly important when it comes to the existential question of ¡°Who is a Jew?¡± Only an inclusive and pluralistic response will suffice. That is why, beyond the issues separating the political Right, center, and Left, the new emerging coalition without the ultra-Orthodox parties spells great hope. It represents wide religious diversity, without having to give in to extortion, religious coercion, the Chief Rabbinate¡¯s monopoly, and any further erosion of the delicate Israel-Diaspora bridge. Averting the impending ¡°Who is a Jew?¡± war is a step in the right direction.The writer, a rabbi and attorney, heads Hiddush ¨C Freedom of Religion for Israel.

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