Israel’s Interior Ministry has threatened a fresh controversy over who is a Jew by trying to bring conversions back under the control of the Charedi-influenced Chief Rabbinate.
Until early last year, only Israeli conversions approved by Chief Rabbinate’s rabbinic courts were recognised.
But a Supreme Court ruling paved the way for greater freedom in administering conversions, with hundreds since conducted by the modern Orthodox Tzohar organisation independently of the Chief Rabbinate’s courts.
Non-Orthodox conversions in Israel are not recognised by the state but those converted by Reform and Conservative rabbis abroad can enter Israel under the Law of Return.
Progressive rabbis have criticised the Interior Ministry’s move. Rabbi Danny Rich, Liberal Judaism’s Senior Rabbi in the UK, said: “The proposal to prevent the Israeli Reform and Masorti Movements from performing conversions in Israel is a further attempt by those who wish to see the end of Israel as a modern democratic state.”
He added: “The proponents of this bill know that, even assisted by the bias of state power and money, Israelis are not attracted to medieval and misogynist expressions of traditional Judaism.
“Liberal Jews throughout the world, including here in England, will lobby to resist this change.”
Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Senior Rabbi of the Movement for Reform Judaism, said: “Israel has a central role in the life of Reform Judaism. We are calling on the Israeli government to ensure that all Jews are able to make aliyah, regardless of affiliation or origins and that Reform conversions conducted in Israel are recognised.”
Rabbi Richard Jacobs, president of America’s largest Progressive organisation, the Union of Reform Judaism, said non-Orthodox Jews would be treated as “second-class citizens” in Israel if the proposal became law.
The Israel Religious Action Centre, the campaigning arm of the Reform movement in the country, warned that such a law would enable the Chief Rabbinate to deny recognition to diaspora Progressive conversions as well as to annul conversions of Orthodox rabbis of which it did not approve.