Revolutionary conversion ruling?
In a few days, as the Knesset returns from its summer recess, we should all be expecting the resurgence of the "Who is a Jew" battle. A hint as to its urgency could be heard in an interview that MK Rabbi Gafni gave regarding the declaratory ruling of the Jerusalem District Court, which ordered the Interior Ministry to register a woman who converted via an independent, Orthodox rabbinical court as 'Jewish' in the civil registry.
MK Gafni declared: "The Court decision will have no significance. We strongly oppose it, and immediately after the holidays we will take care of fixing it!"
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“Revolutionary ruling on conversion,” read the top headline of a leading [Hebrew] Israeli newspaper last week. The article described a decision by the Jerusalem district court that ordered the Ministry of the Interior to register as Jewish a woman converted by a Modern Orthodox rabbinic court, operating outside the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate. This dramatic top headline was matched by another in the Ashkenazi Haredi party’s newspaper “Yated Ne’eman” titled: “Egregious breach in the walls of conversion.” The truth is more complex. This ruling is neither revolutionary, nor an egregious breach. At the same time, one cannot underestimate the importance of this development and what is yet to unfold.
The conversion was conducted by “Giyur K’Halacha,” a Modern Orthodox conversion court network. Driven by a sense of mission and urgency, they launched an alternative avenue for conversion. They were reacting to an increasingly fundamentalist and rigid Chief Rabbinate, whose sponsored conversions do not even reach the rate of natural growth of non-Jewish family members of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. These individuals are usually eligible for Israeli citizenship based on paternal Jewish lineage, but since their mothers are not halakhically Jewish, they too are not considered Jewish. Current official numbers quantify them at more than 350,000, and through birth and additional aliyah — this number grows by approximately 8,000 a year. While these men and women perceive themselves and are viewed by those around them as Jewish, the state does not recognize them as such, and they are registered as “others.” More severely, they are denied the right to legally marry in Israel, for the Rabbinate refuses to marry them, and in Israel (in contrast to every other democracy in the world), there is no civil marriage alternative.
The court’s ruling applies only in the civil arena. Thus, because the Chief Rabbinate (which controls marriage of Jews in Israel) does not recognize her conversion, she is not considered Jewish for purposes of personal status; therefore, she cannot get married legally in Israel.
This ruling is made possible due to the fact that there is no law (still, thank God) granting the Chief Rabbinate exclusive authority over conversion. Since the 1960s, the Supreme Court has consistently ruled that the Chief Rabbinate has neither monopoly nor special privileges regarding the civil aspect of “Who is a Jew.” Israel’s politicians, on the other hand, keen on buying the votes of the ultra-Orthodox parties almost at any cost, submit to their extortionist dictates. These politicians make sure that the state’s legal representatives obstruct (as much as they can] the path for (even civil) recognition of these conversions.
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'Liberals in the Likud' faction
favors religious freedom
The national radio reported today on a gathering of the "Liberals in the Likud" who were addressed by Minister Ofer Akunis (Likud). He was recorded stating the following: "The Surrogacy Law that distinguished between men and women is a disgrace... to the National [Likud] Movement.
We have already emphasized the fact that the clash of religion and state, as the elections near, will continue to play a key role in public political discourse. We've presented the finding from the 2018 Israel Religion & State Index that 57% of adult Jewish Israelis said that a party, which commits to advancing the principles of religious freedom and equality in the Knesset and Government, would be more likely to receive their votes.
Today, we have seen another reminder that this observation refers not only to the opposition parties and left-wing voters, but also represents a growing trend within the Likud governing party itself. The national radio reported today on a gathering of the "Liberals in the Likud" who were addressed by Minister Ofer Akunis (Likud). He was recorded stating the following: "The Surrogacy Law that distinguished between men and women is a disgrace... The Surrogacy Law is a disgrace to the National Movement [namely: the Likud]." Akunis also similarly referred to the pressure to stop railway maintenance and repair work on Shabbat and Mini-Market Law, which were approved by the Knesset in recent months, saying, "We do not represent the Gur Hassidic Dynasty in the Government. This is done excellently by Deputy Minister Rabbi Litzman. We with our thirty MKs, much to one's regret, don't do this [meaning: represent our constituents]... This must be spelled out from within the Party as well."
This indicates that a previous strong statement of this Minister on a related matter (the military draft of yeshiva students), which we reported on in May was not a one-time outburst, but rather a consistent outlook regarding the pitfalls of the Likud's continued submission to the demands of the ultra-Orthodox parties. It should be noted that the "Liberals in the Likud" is a caucus within Likud established in 2013, whose mission is to "advance the liberal values, individual freedoms, and free market in the Likud in particular and in the country as a whole." They specifically include "freedom of religion and conscience" as part of a long list of caucus principles that they uphold.
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Hiddush in the Media
Israel Reflects Ahead of Jewish New Year, i24, Sept. 5, 2018
Israelis want American Jewish help in promoting religious pluralism, study finds, The Times of Israel, September 7, 2018
Israelis want American Jewish help in promoting pluralism, Jewish Community Voice, September 12, 2018