Tish B'Av
As Tisha B'Av approaches, we bring you an update on the Rotem Conversion Bill being discussed in Israel's Knesset, and the fight for religious pluralism in Israel.
Member of Knesset, David Rotem
MK David Rotem
Inside the Law & Justice Committee, July 12th, 2010

Law & Justice Committee
What the Jewish Press have to say ...

Last week, Ha'aretz reported that Prime Minister Netanyahu won't let the bill come in front of the Knesset for a final vote. The paper also hi-lighted claims from opposition Kadima that Likkud MKS purposely were absent from the Law & Justice Committee vote. Read the full article here.

Jerusalem Post
The Jerusalem Post also carried the story, highlighting the responses from Jewish Agency Chairman, Natan Sharansky as well as Jerry Silverman, President of the Jewish Federations of North America, who both felt that the Rotem Bill would create huge divides between Israel and the rest of the Jewish world. Read the full story here.
Jewish Agency Chairman, Natan Sharansky

Natan Sharansky
Anat Hoffman is arrested following the Women of the Wall's Rosh Chodesh prayer group

Anat Hoffman is arrested
Arrested last year, Nofrat Frenkel - read her full story and the press articles which followed.

Nofrat Frenkel
Tisha B'Av - sadness then AND now
Tisha B'Av, which begins tonight, is the saddest day in the Jewish calendar. In 586 BCE, the first Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, starting the first Jewish diaspora. Six hundred and fifty six years later, in 70 AD, the Romans destroyed the second Temple on the same date, scattering the Jewish people once more from the Holy land. One thousand, nine hundred and forty years on, Tish B'Av marks a sad period in Jewish history, not only as we remember the destruction of two Temples, but also as we witness a potential increase in the unfair stronghold that the Orthodox and ultra-orthodox Jews have in Israel.
Jewish tradition teaches us that our enemies prevailed at the time of the destruction of the Temples, because the Jewish people were not united; instead consumed by sinat chinam - a baseless hatred. Let us not fall victim to this same baseless hatred again, and come together to fight against this unfair bill.
This special report gives you background on the Rotem bill, and information on what is being done to prevent its passage through the Knesset. Please distribute this report to your friends, your family, and your community, and take the opportunity to tell Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu what you think.
If Masorti Olami and MERCAZ Olami, can help you in any way with this fight, please feel free to contact me.
Wishing shalom le kol Yisrael,
Rabbi Tzvi Graetz, Executive Director
What is the Rotem Bill ?
MK David Rotem, of the Yisrael Beiteinu party is promoting a reform of the Law of Return which would make the law applicable only to people born to a Jewish mother and those who have undertaken an exclusively Orthodox conversion. This would broaden the power of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel by authorizing Chief Rabbinate-appointed municipal rabbis to carry out conversions, and marriages for the converted. Under the guise of helping address the conversion problem for olim (immigrants) from the former Soviet Union, the bill would grant legal standing to the control of the Chief Rabbinate and would, additionally, discriminate against Jews By Choice in terms of rights under The Law of Return.

The Conversion Bill has been heavily criticized by various religious groups in both Israel and other countries. The Masorti movement as well as the Reform movement in Israel and around the world heavily object to the bill's further centering of religious power to the hands of the predominately-Orthodox Chief Rabbinate of Israel, discriminating against converts from Conservative/Masorti and Progressive Judaism, and potentially alienating non-Orthodox Jews in the diaspora.

Efforts by opponents to stop the passage of the bill in the Israeli Knesset escalated on Tuesday, July 13, 2010 after the bill was submitted to the Knesset's Law and Justice sub-committee for consideration. It was later accepted by this committee and must now receive three readings in the Knesset plenum for it to become law.

Reform and Conservative Judaism rabbis have expressed deep fears over the bill, which they feel will increase the Orthodox and Haredi movements' hold over the conversion process of immigrants and residents in Israel and further solidify power in the hands of the pro-Orthodox rabbinate. Progressive movements fear that this will also impact the access to citizenship by individuals who undergo non-Orthodox conversions outside of Israel and wish to make aliyah (immigrate to Israel).

What is being done to fight the bill ?
The Masorti/Conservative movement in Israel and around the world is rallying support against the bill. Along with the Reform/Progressive movement, the campaign is growing in size and weight, and many significant politicians in Israel have expressed their disapproval for the bill.

Chairman of the Jewish Agency, Natan Sharansky attended the Knesset committee hearing last week, and spoke out against the bill, insisting that it will create irrevocable damage to the relationship between Israel and Jews of the Diaspora.

The Masorti Movement in Israel has sent a clear and impassioned message to all of its supporters in Israel and around the world, showing the bill to be bad for the Jews. In a joint statement last week, Emily Levy-Shochat and Yizhar Hess stated, "Disguised as a means to give further authority of conversion to municipal rabbi's, the bill reinforces the monopoly which the Orthodox stream currently holds on conversion in Israel. It also discriminates for the first time in Israel's legal history between those Jews born to a Jewish mother, and those who converted to Judaism." To read the full statement from the Masorti Movement in Israel, click here. Following last month's meeting of Israeli President, Shimon Peres and Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, Executive Vice President of the Rabbinical Assembly, and other Masorti movement leaders, the Masorti movement in Israel sent a letter to the President telling him that the bill is "a real and immediate blow to one of Israel's most important and strategic assets - its bond with American Jewry". The letter went on to urge him to "use your position and stature, your influence and the moral tone which only you possess, to come out against the rift that is being created." Click here to read the full letter.

Many high-level and important political meetings continue to take place in Israel. The United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism and the Rabbinical Assembly are working together with the Masorti Movement in Israel to defeat the bill. USCJ International Executive Vice President, Rabbi Steve Wernick, said last week, "The primary focus of our efforts now must be on Prime Minister Netanyahu. Because he is the leader of the government a clear and public statement by him in opposition to this bill is essential.  His continuing to avoid a position amounts to tacit approval."  

LATEST NEWS : In a statement from the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday, it was made clear that he will oppose the proposed conversion bill and will try to reach an agreement to have the proposed bill removed from the Knesset's agenda. Failing that he will call upon the Likud faction and other coalition members to oppose the bill. The Prime Minister's Office has received more than 50,000 emails on this subject, at least 20,000 originating from the Masorti Foundation's website.
What about the struggle at the Western Wall?
Another burning issue on the religious pluralism agenda, relates to Women of the Wall. Founded in 1988, Women of the Wall, organize women's prayer groups at the Kotel on Rosh Chodesh. The group prays in a traditional service, and includes women reading from the Torah and wearing tallit, tefillin, and kippah. According to an opinion issued by the government, women are not allowed to pray in groups, touch a Torah scroll, and wear religious garments. The battle over this position has been fought in the Supreme Court, while Women of the Wall continue to meet monthly, with negative and often violent responses from ultra-Orthodox men and women. The Police are often involved, sometimes arresting those seen to transgress the laws of the Kotel. Click here to read an article in last week's Jerusalem Post following Rosh Chodesh Av, or click here to read the full story of Nofrat Frenkel, arrested last November.

Last week several Masorti Rabbis from Israel and North America attended a special meeting at the Knesset to discuss the Rotem Bill as well as the ultra-Orthodox monopolization of the Kotel (Western Wall). Among the group was former MERCAZ Olami President, Rabbi Vernon Kurtz. In a statement to the press on this issue of the Western Wall, the Masorti Movement in Israel said, "The Western Wall belongs to the entire nation of Israel. The haredim have expropriated the wall for themselves and changed it from a national monument to a synagogue that is managed according to fundamentalist views."
How you can make a difference ?
  1. Read this report, and pass it on to all of your friends, family and community members. Don't let Jewish people who support a pluralistic and open approach to Judaism allow this issue to pass by without them knowing.
  2. Make your opinion known - send an email to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu via the Masorti Foundation's simple online form at http://www.masorti.org/email/form-letter.html or contact your local Israeli Ambassador. If you have any relationships with Israeli politicians, contact them, and let them know what you think. Again, don't let this issue pay you by without voicing your protest.
  3. Bring this issue to your synagogue / kehillah /chavurah - make sure people know about it. Use this report to stimulate discussion, and suggest that youth and adult education groups discuss it.
Joining this campaign against the Rotem Bill is an issue of Jewish conscience - don't let it slip by without acting.
After returning from a trip to Berlin, Germany, Dr David Breakstone comments on the divisive nature of the Rotem Bill
David BreakstoneIn his mo
Masorti Kindergarten in Berlin
Masorti Kindergaretn in Berlin
st recent Jerusalem Post column (Keep Dreaming: Notes from Berlin), our International Vice President and Vice Chairman of the WZO, Dr David Breakstone reflects on the paradox between the blossoming of Jewish communal life in Germany, compared with the polarization of Jewish life in Israel and the Diaspora that the Rotem Bill will cause.
To read his article on the Masorti Olami website, click here.