Reaffirming Religious Pluralism in Israel


During this past week, Prime Minster Netanyahu decided to resubmit the conversion bill to the Knesset for a second and third reading. While the exact language of the bill is as yet unknown, it is clear that Prime Minister Netanyahu has bowed to the pressure of the ultra-Orthodox establishment which wants only to preserve its own power at the expense of the well being of the Jewish people.

We are disappointed that the government, instead of blaming the Chief Rabbinate for its extremism, has rewarded it. Despite the willingness of the Reform and Conservative movements to consider substantial concessions in support of a comprehensive solution, the Rabbinate rejected it out of hand. Now the Government is moving toward codifying ultra-Orthodox demands.

Reform Jews the world over feel betrayed by the actions of the government of the State of Israel which has demonstrated its insensitivity to the religious concerns of a majority of world Jewry.

During this past year, our Reform Jewish community participated in the work of the Ne'eman Commission in good faith. While we were hopeful that the Ne'eman Commission would achieve its mandate to find an equitable and just solution to the issue of conversions in Israel, the Chief Rabbinate's rejection of the Commission's efforts led to the current crisis.

The government is now demanding that the Reform and Conservative movements withdraw their litigation, although the truth is that both movements suspended litigation for almost a year. We announced that we would consider alternatives if the Chief Rabbinate agreed to work with us. Instead of sitting down together with us, ultra-Orthodox spokesmen rejected the Ne'eman Commission and hurled vituperative, hate-filled accusations against us.

It now appears that establishing the Ne'eman Commission may simply have been a device to buy time and deceive world Jewry. It should now be entirely clear that Minister Ne'eman was disingenuous when he announced repeatedly that the Commission successfully resolved the conversion crisis. Nothing is resolved.

At its core, the conversion crisis is a struggle to determine who decides for the Jewish people: will it be the ultra-Orthodox fundamentalist minority, or the entire Jewish community, including the majority of the Jewish people who love Israel and believe in tolerance, pluralism and democracy? The Reform movement has repeatedly stated that it will accept no legislation which continues or codifies the Orthodox establishment's monopoly over issues of personal status in Israel-including conversion.

As Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, President of the UAHC noted, "This latest action adds special urgency to our Pilgrimage to Israel. We are confident that our meetings with the citizens of Israel will reveal their support for our position. We believe it is a shame and a disgrace that the Government of Israel has chosen to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Jewish State by doing what is certain to tear apart the Jewish people." It is therefore imperative that we do all we can to prevent the passage of this unfortunate legislation.

Therefore be it resolved that the Union of American Hebrew Congregations:
Urgently calls on members of the Knesset to refrain from passing this legislation which clearly would do severe and possibly irrevocable harm to the unity of the Jewish people and the civil rights of Israeli citizens; and

Calls on Jewish Federations, the Conservative movement and all of our friends to support the effort to halt passage of this divisive bill, and to support our work on behalf of tolerance and religious pluralism in Israel.

Furthermore, we reaffirm the resolution of the 1997 UAHC General Assembly regarding religious freedom in Israel which read, "We strongly urge the government of Israel to end the religious monopoly of the State Rabbinate and to extend equal recognition and support to all streams of Judaism. We call upon the Government of Israel to recognize the variety of expressions of Judaism in the Jewish state and the world. The rabbis and cantors of the Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist Movements must not be excluded from full religious functioning in the State of Israel.