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!
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • 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.