Some folks around here may recall our lengthy discussion after Bronfman told the world that Jews need to be more inclusive of other Jews.
Today, the Supreme Court of Israel, in a breathtaking ruling that turns the status quo on its head, essentially agreed, by ruling that it is possible for non-Orthodox converts living in Israel to take steps that allow them to entirely avoid the conversion system controlled by Israel’s (Orthodox controlled) Chief Rabbinate, and yet still be considered Jewish under Israeli law and particularly for the purpose of meeting the requirements of Israel’s Law of Return.
The Court’s decision was not well received by certain parties in Israel:
Shas Party leader Eli Yishai described it as an “explosives belt that has blown up, causing an identity terrorist attack against the Jewish people.”
And in an odd twist reminiscent of the way a certain guest here on Jewlicious has been speaking to me recently,
MK Uri Ariel (National Union) said the court had undermined its legitimacy to rule in matters of state and religion. “The judges proved that they don’t understand the first thing about the Jewish religion and gave the stamp of approval to strange cults.”
The original petitioners were individuals living in Israel for a while who had been converted in Israel by Conservative and Reform rabbis. Since the state of Israel and Chief Rabbinate as the representative of the state in matters of conversion reject conversions by these movements, Israeli residents and citizens who have converted within non-Orthodox movements were unable to be considered Jewish for the purposes of meeting the requirements of the Law of Return. These individuals then traveled abroad and received conversion by these movements in foreign countries and immediately returned to Israel as Jews applying for citizenship status under the Law of Return. They thought they would be able to do this because Conservative and Reform conversions conducted abroad are recognized in Israel so as not to anger and alienate the majority of non-Israeli Jewry.
Israel’s Interior Ministry rejected their requests. The petitioners along with a couple of Jewish organizations went to the courts and today signifies their victory over the government of Israel. It means that you can be converted in Israel by a Conservative or Reform rabbi and under the auspices of those movements, travel to Canada or another country, have a rabbi there sign off on the conversion, and return to Israel and be recognized as a Jew among Jews.
Needless to say, the Orthodox are about to use their leverage in the government to establish some new law that undermines this ruling. It also means, sadly, that we will be hearing more about how Israel’s excellent judiciary and Supreme Court are somehow removed from the Jewish people and have no real authority. For the Conservative and Reform movements, this is a day of celebration and they are about to launch petitions for the court to consider allowing all conversions in Israel to apply equally regardless of the movement which conducts them.
“It isn’t at all clear why recognition of conversions conducted abroad must be restricted to those converts who want to join the community that converted them,” wrote Barak. “Why isn’t it enough to guarantee that the conversion procedures applied to those who want to bind themselves to the Jewish nation but don’t want to join the community, be exactly the same as it is for those who want to convert and join the community? What is so special about the act of joining the community? Why isn’t it enough that the convert wants to join some other recognized Jewish community abroad and then come to Israel? And why should we withhold recognition of a conversion conducted in a recognized Jewish community abroad, when the convert wants to join the Jewish people in Israel?”
“The Jewish nation is one…It is dispersed around the world, in communities. Whoever converted to Judaism in one of these communities overseas has joined the Jewish nation by so doing, and is to be seen as a ‘Jew’ under the Law of Return. This can encourage immigration to Israel and maintain the unity of the Jewish nation in the Diaspora and in Israel.”
Supreme Court President Aharon Barak
Edit: …On the other hand, the very same rabbinate angry about this Supreme Court decision, is happy to send emissries to India to convert the “Bnei Menashe” community and then bring them to Israel.
The Bnei Menashe community consists of close to 7,000 members of the Kuki-Chin-Mizo tribe, which lives in northeast India near the border of Myanmar (formally Burma). For generations they kept Jewish traditions, claiming to be descended from the tribe of Menashe, one of the ten lost Israeli tribes that were exiled by the Assyrians in the eighth century B.C.E. and have since disappeared.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the tribe’s members converted to Christianity, but about 30 years ago, some of the community began moving back to Judaism and set themselves apart from the rest of the tribe.
A number of researchers who visited the group over the years got the impression that their traditions are authentically Israelite in origin. Two genetic studies carried out over the past year have attempted to examine the issue.
The DNA on the male side does not match, and the DNA on the female side apparently had some matches with descendants of “Middle East descent.”
In other words, these are the first Palestinians to enjoy the fruits of conversion. 😉