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Hiddush CEO Rabbi Uri Regev & Chairman Stanley P. Gold

A message from Hiddush

June 7, 2018
24 Sivan 5778

Dear Friends,

As you can read on the right, the initiative of a new state conversion bill proposed this week by former minister Moshe Nissim will not take off. We should welcome this with the traditional blessing for Bnei Mitzvah: "Good riddance". But as expected, parallel to their opposition to Nissim's proposal, the Shas party demanded that its original conversion bill be brought to the Knesset floor. The Shas bill is the same one that created this political storm in the first place and led to the creation of Moshe Nissim's committee.

We've written more than once that the storm "Who is a Jew" is about to arupt again, and this is happening at a time when the ruling party is becoming increasingly aware of the political damage caused by its repeated surrender to the dictates of the ultra-Orthodox parties (In our previous newsletter, we quoted the Likud's own Minister Akunis with regard to the ultra-Orthodox parties' draft bill). At this time, both Israel and the Jewish leadership in the Diaspora need to look at the larger picture and the grave consequences for Diaspora Jewry, including the Orthodox, which stem from such initiatives currently under discussion in the Knesset. Also, let's not forget the Chief Rabbinate, which refuses to recognize the majority of Orthodox rabbis throughout the world when it comes to conversions and their validations of individuals' Jewish identities. Those rabbis who want recognition, even if they have served as rabbis for many, many years, will be required to be reexamined by the Chief Rabbinate! This ongoing insanity has profound ramifications for Israel, affecting its security and its economy.

We at Hiddush take up the battle for religious freedom and equality on both the personal, the national, and the Jewish levels (On the right, you may read about our recent victory on behalf of a married couple that was religiously discriminated against by the Ministry of the Interior). We fight against religious coercion in the battles over "Who is a Jew" in both the legal and media arenas, along with many other organizations in Israel and around the world. It is for this reason that we established the trans-denominational network of rabbis and cantors: RUACH HIDDUSH, and we are now working to establish a new network for lawyers and legal scholars called J-PLAN (The Jewish Pluralism Legal Network). We would love for you to join these organizations, and we'd be happy to hear your ideas and suggestions to help promote the values ​​of freedom of religion and equality.


Stanley P. Gold,
Hiddush Chair

Rabbi Uri Regev,
Hiddush President


The Lesson For Diaspora Jews In Israel’s Deplorable Conversion Law

By Rabbi Uri Regev


The best that can be said about the proposed State Conversion Bill is that it is destined to be thrown away into the waste bin that Israeli politics has designated for the recommendations of committees appointed mostly to put out political fires. The proposal is not only a slap in the face, disguised with a smile, to the non-Orthodox streams, but it also angers the ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) politicians (“This will not be, we will not allow this bill to pass, there is a limit, this threatens Judaism”). This unique combination ensures a “stillbirth” for a proposal that should never have come about. Moshe Nissim, the author, himself revealed his true intentions in an interview to a Haredi media outlet: no less than this was intended to assist those in need of conversion, it is meant to block recognition of Israeli Reform (and Conservative) conversions and to preempt a Supreme Court ruling to this effect!


The necessary solution is to encourage multiple conversion options along a spectrum of channels widely accepted among the Jewish people, fitting the faith and practices of the individual converts. This is supported by the overwhelming majority of the Israeli public, as numerous polls conducted by Hiddush and others indicate. Unfortunately, rather than follow this path, the Nissim proposal preserves the Orthodox monopoly. It perpetuates the masquerade ball in which converts are pressured to fraudulently commit to halachic Orthodox observances. Moshe Nissim understands that leaving conversions to the Chief Rabbinate is a kiss of death to the expansion of the scope of conversion. Therefore, he reintroduces the concept of an exclusive “State Conversion Authority.” His proposal weakens the Chief Rabbinate’s stranglehold and enables the appointments of City Rabbis (all Orthodox) as members of conversion courts. Clearly, thinking that this will bring the necessary breakthrough is merely an illusion.

The bill erects a barrier that would prevent state recognition not only of Reform and Conservative conversions performed in Israel, but also of conversions done via ultra-Orthodox courts and recently established independent Modern Orthodox courts. The proposal includes a misleading clause, according to which it would be presumably possible to continue registering Israeli Reform and Conservative conversions in the population registry, but it is doubtful that with this bill, the legal basis upon which this was done in the past would remain.

Nissim attempts to present his initiative as an olive branch to the non-Orthodox streams whose ire regarding their conversions brought about his committee in the first place. In truth, the olive branch is merely a plastic replica. Worse yet, it’s an attempt to “divide and conquer.” Nissim apparently believes that if he maintains the recognition of non-Orthodox conversions performed overseas, and throws the Movements a bone in the form of symbolic representation on the Conversion Authority, then they will be willing to ignore the blocking of non-Orthodox conversions in Israel.


Hiddush on the battlefront:
What's in a Name?

Hiddush recently won a battle on behalf of a husband who wanted to change his surname to that of his husband's: "Cohen". His request was initially refused by the Ministry of the Interior because his is a same-sex marriage outside the auspices of Orthodox religious Jewish law. However, Israeli law regarding name changes is abundantly clear. Upon Hiddush's appeal to the authorities, the Ministry reversed its decision and permitted the husband's name change. Still, we will not rest until this illegal policy is changed for ALL Israelis!

This national embarrassment is a reoccurrence of a case regarding the refusal of the Interior Ministry's Population Registry to allow a name change request of a partner in a common-law marriage because her partner's name was Cohen (the priestly clan). They were illegally told that either they marry according to halakha, or else they must bring an affirmation of the request from an Orthodox rabbi.

Hiddush challenged this illegal policy, and we were responded to: "Oops. This was the unauthorized action of a local clerk." We further demanded that the correct, legal rules be disseminated to all the branches of the Population Registry. We were told that this would be done.

Lo and behold, we were contacted by another common-law couple! This time it was a same-sex couple. After living together for four years, they had entered into a surrogacy agreement, and they wanted their family to share one name… but one of the partners bears the name Cohen. When they turned to another branch of the Population Registry, the senior clerk threatened to have them forcefully evicted!

We sent a letter to the authorities at the Ministry of Interior, Population Registry and the Attorney General demanding that this request be carried out and that the Ministry’s guiding document be changed to reflect the law. Whether a man changes his name to a woman's or vice-versa, whether an Arab changes their name to a Jewish name or vice-versa, these must be respected. Nevertheless, the Ministry of the Interior continues to bow illegally to Orthodox rabbinic dictates!

Clearly, justice was on our side. We are very happy for the Cohen family to have received justice, but we will not settle for this resolution of the individual case - we demand that the policy be changed for all Israelis.

Hiddush in the Media

The Lesson For Diaspora Jews In Israel’s Deplorable Conversion Law BY RABBI URI REGEV, The Forward, June 5, 2018

Chief Rabbis Vow to 'Bury' New Plans to Reform Conversion System in Israel , Haaretz, June 4, 2018

Both Haredim, Reform to Fight Israeli Conversion Proposal, The Jewish Voice, June 6, 2018

Haredim, Reform both say will fight conversion proposal, J-WIRE, June 4, 2018

Israelis Balk At Input From U.S. Jews: Survey, The New York Jewish Week, May 30, 2018


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