Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Israel, Conversion and Orthodoxy - a quick take

I was asked to write a post for another blog, and I have no idea if it's what they're looking for, so I don't know if it will go up. So, I thought I'd just post it here, too. It's a bit more strident than I might usually be - I don't know if that's because of the topic, my mood or the speed with which I wrote it. But, hopefully it's interesting, too...


As you may have heard by now, a new agreement has been reached on the controversial conversion bill which has been capturing many headlines in Israel. Actually, no substantial agreement has really been reached; everyone's just agreed to stop the legal proceedings, and try some dialogue, instead. But, that's not a bad start.


There's a lot to be said about this, and if I really get going, I'll probably never stop. So, let me just try and keep this simple, and make one point. As a Reform Rabbi, I don't really expect the Orthodox to accept my conversions. I don't really expect the Orthodox to accept my form of Judaism as valid. I understand that part of orthodoxy is, very often, not accepting other visions. That's true of all orthodoxies—not just Jewish orthodoxy. Don't get me wrong—I certainly don't accept that there is only one way to be Jewish. I'm not Orthodox, in any sense of that word! But, if someone else wants to be orthodox, in the most exclusionary sense, that's not my problem. They have the right to be “as orthodox,” and as non-pluralistic as they want to be.


But, Israel isn't Orthodox. Israel is Jewish. It's the homeland of the Jewish people. All of them. It's my homeland, too. And I won't accept anyone trying to institutionalize, in any form, or in any legal code, that their version of Judaism is better, or more official, or more correct, than mine.


Your synagogue is your synagogue. If you want to keep me out, then that's your right. But Israel is not your country. It's ours. You don't have to like me, you don't have to approve of me. But you don't have a right to keep me out, or tell me that my version of Judaism isn't legal there.


Reform Judaism is Torah-true Judaism. The fact you disagree with that, doesn't make it any less true. And it’s time to stop using the Israeli legal system to make a point that most of the Jewish world doesn't believe, anyway.




James said...

Succinct and well put.

I hope that everyone involved in the moratorium is acting in good faith. The non-Orthodox petitions that are pending for the High Court around this matter make strong cases against the ideology behind the new conversion bill and the excesses that have taken place by the radical Orthodox elements when dealing with non-Orthodox (or even not-Orthodox-enough) conversions. It’s hard to see them not being pushed forward, but if a compromise could be reached that satisfied the majority of both sides it would be quite an accomplishment.

Harold said...

It is true that Israel is for all Jews. But those of us who live here, and are directly affected by legislation (and vote Knesset members in or out)have more of a stake and more of a say. Right now, there are only about 5,000 Reform Jews in Israel (and about as many Conservative Jews). If a significant number of Reform Jews actually made aliyah, things would like very different on this side of the ocean. Alas, their influence will always be limited from 6,000 miles away.

Rabbi Jason Rosenberg said...

Harold - your comment is undoubtedly true. But, that's a practical matter. It speaks, very well, to the question of how we could make pluralism a reality in Israel.

But, practical or not, my point still stands. Even if there were fewer Reform Jews in Israel, I still stand by what I said!