Shabbat Candlelighting 8:54 p.m.                                                Friday, July 16, 2010/5 Av 5770

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Proposed Conversion Legislation in Israel Causes Controversy
Jewish communities around the world have become concerned over new legislation proposed in the Israeli Knesset that would give the Chief Rabbinate control over the conversion process - a power that the rabbinate has not had before. The bill could also affect how conversions conducted outside of Israel are recognized by the State. This has raised significant concerns in diaspora Jewish communities, particularly across North America.

The sponsor of the bill, MK David Rotem, is motivated by the desire to streamline the process for many thousands of Russian immigrants who have faced difficulties in going through conversion to resolve their Jewish status. Despite extensive efforts by diaspora leaders to consult with Rotem and other supporters of the legislation to encourage more consultation with diaspora communities before moving forward, the bill was passed in committee this week, and Rotem is pressing for the series of readings in the Knesset that are necessary for passage of new legislation.

Top leadership of the Jewish Federations of North America, along with leadership of the Reform and Conservative movements, have been actively advocating with Rotem, the prime minister, and other Israeli political leadership to slow the process down to facilitate the opportunity for consultation that the diaspora communities have been seeking. Our Federation joined in that effort and sent a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu.

The issues around conversion are sensitive issues, and there are no easy answers for how to balance the needs of individuals and families affected with those of Israel's religious establishment. However, the greatest risk posed by the current legislation is that it could provoke schisms in the Jewish world that would be dangerous for Israel and for Jewish communities in the diaspora. For that reason, it would be best to proceed slowly and thoughtfully, and with a great deal of consultation with all the parties that are potentially affected.

For background about the issue see Yair Ettinger's piece from the Israeli daily newspaper, Ha’aretz. If you want to add your voice to the many others reaching out to Prime Minister Netanyahu, click here to send a letter electronically.

Shabbat Shalom!

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