Parashat Tazria Metzora Torah Reading: Leviticus 12:1-15:33
About a month ago, I sent an e-mail out to all of you informing you of the possible introduction of a bill to the Knesset. This new legislation, referred to by the name of the bill's architect Knesset Member David Rotem, would roll back the clock on all the achievements we have made for Reconstructionist, Reform and Conservative conversion rights in Israel: not only losing recognition for Reconstructionist, Reform and Conservative conversions in Israel, but even completely redefining who is a Jew. From now on the power to perform conversions would rest solely with the Chief Rabbinate - which only recognizes Orthodox conversions.
Many of you responded by writing to Israel's Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, protesting this legislation . . . and many of you forwarded my e-mail to others so that they could add their voices to our expressions of concern. This legislation has the potential to seriously damage the relationship between the American Jewish community and Israel, as well as threatening the spiritual and religious freedom of thousands of Israelis.
On the eve of Israel Independence Day, which we will be celebrating this coming Monday evening and Tuesday, I wanted to share with you an update and I wanted to thank you.
As a result of the strong feelings expressed by so many, including many of you, the bill in the Knesset which would have affected conversion and the Law of Return has been sidetracked, at least for now.
Our Masorti/Conservative community, along with our peers in the Reform movement, took the lead in identifying the problems, and then the Jewish Federations of North America, the American Jewish Committee and others weighed in very forcefully. Credit goes to all, though it is a pity we even have to wage such battles.
MK Rotem stated the bill would not be acted upon last month. He also said that on any issues involving conversion or the Law of Return, there would be consultation with Diaspora Jewry.
While the most objectionable provisions of the proposed legislation, which treat converts differently from those born as Jews, may be dead, we still need to be alert to provisions that would further enhance the power of the State Rabbinate. Masorti/Conservative and Mitkademet/Reform leaders in Israel believe this fight is very far from over.
Now that the Knesset is back from it's Passover recess, we need to continue to monitor this situation carefully. Thank you for responding so effectively last month. I hope there will be no need to ask you to raise your voices again, but, unfortunately, I cannot promise that this is the case.
Rabbi Amy Levin
has been Torat Yisrael's rabbi since the summer of 2004 and serves as President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.