Preserving Jewish Unity

Opinion

By Jerry Silverman

Published July 21, 2010, issue of July 30, 2010.
  • Print
  • Share Share

In recent days an intense but familiar battle has challenged the Jewish community in Israel and the Diaspora. It’s not about the threat of a nuclear Iran, tensions in U.S.-Israel relations or the plight of Gilad Shalit. This time the conflict lies within — timely given the period of Tisha B’Av and our focus on how infighting has threatened the Jewish community through the ages.

Today Jews in Israel and the Diaspora are embroiled in a fierce debate about the very nature of the Jewish state. The debate concerns a bill by David Rotem, a Knesset member from the Yisrael Beiteinu party, to change Israel’s conversion policies. Rotem wanted to give Israel’s municipal rabbis the ability to perform conversions, hoping to allow hundreds of thousands of Russian immigrants who are not considered Jewish according to Halacha to convert more easily. Rotem’s passion to tackle this issue is laudable.

At the same time, however, Rotem added provisions seemed designed to satisfy other government coalition partners, by handing the Orthodox-run Chief Rabbinate full authority over all conversions in Israel for the very first time. Further, the bill also mandates that all converts agree to take upon themselves all of Jewish law in order to convert. Finally, the bill, if enacted, could end up threatening the eligibility to become Israeli citizens of some immigrants who have converted to Judaism.

These proposals soured what could have been a positive bill. Worse, they would erode the legal and religious status quo in Israel, set a dangerous precedent of recognizing in law an Orthodox religious monopoly over conversion and send a terrible message that would disenfranchise non-Orthodox Jews worldwide and tear a deep rift between Israel and the Diaspora.

These threats boil down to a vital and even existential question: Does the Jewish state belong to all Jews?

The debate, however, has already created at least one positive outcome. The bill has galvanized a broad coalition of opposition that reaches from religious and political leadership in Israel to the halls of Congress. The Jewish Federations of North America, as the voice of North American Jewry, became deeply involved because we were concerned that Diaspora Jews faced becoming alienated from Israel.

In the past days and months, we partnered in an intense advocacy campaign against the bill with the Jewish Agency for Israel, the Conservative and Reform movements, as well as a number of Orthodox rabbis and groups.

We were very encouraged by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s strong statement against this bill and his commitment to engage in a full dialogue before any further legislation is presented to the Knesset. Similarly, President Shimon Peres declared his opposition and stated that the unity of the Jewish people was critically important. Natan Sharansky, the Jewish Agency’s chairman, has spoken out forcefully and inspired us as we worked together intensively on this issue. We were also joined by a very large number of party leaders, ministers and members of Knesset from a wide range of political parties, including almost all the representatives from Kadima and Labor.

As we have since this debate erupted, we will continue to work to engage all parties in a dialogue, and to find a compromise that satisfies all concerns — while still preserving the essential unity of the Jewish people.

And in the days ahead, we will recall the very words of Israel’s 1948 Declaration of Independence, which pledged to solve the problem of the Jewish people’s homelessness “by re-establishing in Eretz Israel the Jewish State, which would open the gates of the homeland wide to every Jew.”

Jerry Silverman is president and CEO of The Jewish Federations of North America.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.