Bryan asks me if there's anything to tell about MK David Rotem's proposed law to sort out the issues of conversion to Judaism in Israel. This is a fiendishly complicated story that has been festering since the early 1950s at latest, and will continue to fester well beyond the late 2050s, there's no doubt about it. The story is an expression of the unresolved issue of Jewish identity: an issue which has been open since the 18th century won't go away because the Knesset passes a law.
Yair Ettinger, a competent journalist at Haaretz (there are some of those) has a good summary of the issue here. For those of you who haven't been following the story these past 50-some years, Ettinger's article will probably be only mildly helpful, but it's not a bad place to start.
My two bits about the story are as follows:
1. David Rotem is from the mostly anti-Orthodox Israel Beiteinu (Avigdor Lieberman's party). He's an unlikely person and it's an unlikely party to get American Jewry in an uproar - but that's what seems to be happening.
2. The problem Rotem wishes to solve is the 300,000 non-Jews who have moved to Israel since about 1990, mostly from the former Soviet Union, along with their Jewish family members. They are culturally Israeli Jews, but not halachically, and this causes problems.
3. The direction Rotem suggests going in to resolve the matter is - more or less - to enhance the ability of the state- rabbinate to do conversions. His reasonable assumption is that if lots of state-employed rabbis will have the authority to do conversions, most of them local, municipal rabbis, they will, and the problem will go away. At the moment, only a limited number of rabbis can do conversions.
4. The impediment Rotem is trying to get rid of is the Haredi rabbis, who are not interested in lots of secular Russian Israelis becoming secular Jewish Israelis. Don't ask.
5. It is fascinating, and very revealing, that Rotem's constituents wish the rabbinate to convert them. After all, they could just as easily have chosen to campaign for Reform and (American-style) Conservative rabbis to do so: but they didn't. For whatever reason, they have accepted the position of secular Israelis, that the synagogue they don't go to (because they're secular) is an orthodox synagogue. Fascinating, not obvious, and worthy of additional investigation.
6. In spite of the context, America's Jews or at least their spokespeople are in an uproar: by vesting the authority to do conversions solidly on the state-employed rabbis, a step meant to push the haredi rabbis out of the picture, Reform and Conservitive rabbis will also be pushed out. Funny, isn't it? I expect no-one ever foresaw Reform and Haredi rabbis uniting against the (sort of) modern orthodox ones. But as I said, the Jewish world is a tricky place, and never ever boring.
7. The whole thing probably isn't worth the effort. Netanyahu has apparently stopped the process, and it may well stay stuck for the next generation or three.
Personally, I'd say that any Israeli who lives here speaks Hebrew serves in the army and pays taxes, should be given a little slip of paper saying they're Jews. I've got 2nd cousins in the USA who know nothing from nothing about Judaism and care less, but they're Jews, and these folks aren't? Huh? But that's just me.