In a searing Op-Ed in Israel HaYom, newly-appointed head of Masorti’s Jewish Pluralism Watch, Sharon Banyan Primor, writes about the threat to Jewish continuity in Israel and beyond from the rigid control of the Chief Rabbinate over conversions. She wrote her opinion after participating in a heated discussion about conversion in the Committee for Special National Initiatives and Jewish Religious Services, chaired by MK Yuilia Malinovsky (Israel Beityenu).
She writes: “The numbers presented in the same meeting should shock all the organizations that espouse transparency and purity: starting in 2014, the number of converts has dropped by half. The percentage of those who finish the conversion process has dropped from 60% to 24%…What is surprising are the data from conversions in the Reform and Conservative streams…these conversions are seeing a steady rise.”
She continues: “The numbers…left no room for doubt: the Chief Rabbinate continues to close the doors to the Jewish people and – more than any other institution in the Jewish world – keeps people away from Judaism, whether they were born to a Jewish parent or whether they opt to join us. This is what happens when Orthodoxy, the third-largest stream in the Jewish world, retains unlimited power.”
Banyan Primor points out, there are Jews raised and living as Jews in Israel, serving in the army and paying taxes. But when it comes to marrying, they may be in for a rude surprise, they “are not Jewish according to Jewish law…The stories shared in the committee meeting about conversion, the humiliations, the exhausting process that does not always end with the coveted certificate, say it all. This whole process must be dismantled and rebuilt.”
The recent JPW newsletter reports on comments made by other lawmakers regarding the monopoly on conversion in Israel.
MK Rabbi Gilad Kariv (Labor): “Half a million citizens are the sons and daughters of the Jewish people and most Jews accept them as such. It is the rabbinical establishment that loses out and is becoming irrelevant to 80% of the Israeli public…We have missed the boat – most of the adult population in Israel will not convert because the conversion system wants them to be ultra-Orthodox before they are Jewish.”
MK Yorai Lahav Hertzanu (Yesh Atid) who plans, with his partner, to use a surrogate to have children says: “My children will be as Jewish as I am. Judaism does not belong to anybody. Israel was founded so that every Jew and Jewess can live here according to their conscience.”