Thursday, July 22, 2010

Immediate vs Potential Threats

Israel Harel is to Haaretz as David Brooks is to the New York Times: a moderate right-wing columnist there to prove the paper's diversity. In today's column he puts his finger on a fundamental part of the Conversion Law uproar: That the law is intended to rectify a real problem, in which the Haredi monopoly over conversions is blocking hundreds of thousands of Israelis from becoming Jews. Should it pass, it might well make it harder for some future legislators to achieve what isn't in the cards anyway at the moment, namely the legal recognition of Reform and Conservative conversions for the purpose of marriage in Israel.

Unfortunately I lack the time to study the present issue, to talk to some of the main figures, to read the relevant material beyond the draft law itself - which is an anodyne document that may or may not have serious implications, which may or may not happen. What is clear to me, however, is that the proposed law will not effect the Law of Return nor the current interpretation of it which recognizes Reform and Conservative conversions for the purpose of immigration. That interpretation stems from a ruling by the Supreme Court, and Rotem's law doesn't effect it - indeed, it doesn't even mention it. It's not about that issue at all.

What is also clear to me, having observed Israeli society for more than 40 years, is that no law could ever force the 40-60% of Israelis who will never accept Reform conversions, to accept them. Were such a law to be passed, the orthodox of all strands, probably backed by a large chunk of Mizrachi secular Israelis, would set up unofficial registries of Jews and marry their children only according to them, thus in effect splitting the Jewish people. I'm not saying this would be nice, or justified, but it would be the reality. That's the reason it hasn't been mooted since the mid 1970s, when Gideon Hausner destroyed his party by insisting on an earlier version of such a law. (No, you've never heard of the party. It's been gone, ever since).

Essentially, therefore, the opponents of David Rotem's law are demanding that hundreds of thousands of Israelis remain in limbo now and for the foreseeable future, so as not to endanger the chance for future legislation that will not happen in our lifetimes, and were it to happen would tear us apart.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Yaacov,

The schrill tone coming for Jewish leaders in America has been totally out of proportion. Your post does a good job of putting things in perspective.

What has been interesting is that at no point have the US Jewish leaders attempted to make their case in Hebrew, they just shout from the op-ed page of the NYT.

Is this in part a result of a taboo broken by Jstreet? Or just worrying signs of what is to come?


Anonymous said...

I won't have free time for reading and posting over the next few days. I haven't even read Yaacov's 2 previous posts yet. So hear is my last 2 cents for the next few days.

1) There is a PhD thesis in all of this.

2) To my mind, this is all about money. The rabbinic system is corrupt, and no one is willing to talk about the its inherent hypocrisy.

3) This law won't really change anything, other than to institutionalize what already exists. I don't think it will significanly increase the number of converts. Ultimately, I think it would end up giving more power to the haredim. However, it will probably pass and we'll get over it in the US.

4) The number of US Jews disinterested in Israel will continue to grow, without or without this bill.

5) The RefCon (I like this neologism) Movements have the right war but the wrong battle. I support pluralism, but that is another topic altogether.

6) Finally, the great irony here is that the majority of Israelis are like the majority of Jews in the US in practice. Outside of the Orthodox community and a small number of Jews who are committed to the various other flavors, the majority of don't give a rat's butt about Judaism or practice. When a Jew says I am "Reform" or I am "Conservative," he is not saying "I understand the philosophical underpinnings of these movements and believe them to be a correct and legitimate interpretation." He is saying, this is the type of synagogue/rabbi I go to for life-cycle events, and maybe on RH/YK. A person might say he is one or the other depending on how important if Jewish ritual or identification is to him. This again is a topic for another time.

I have a really great joke about the different movements. Yaacov, maybe right before Purim, you can set up a comments thread for jokes!

Until next week everybody. Have a good shabbat.


Anonymous said...

PS. I look forward to seeing everyone's comments. Thank you, Sylvia and Yaacov, for your answers.


Anonymous said...

OT but too sweet to waste

Tony Judt has an interview in Prospect. I hope that this time I can resist reading it but I enjoy the picture Tony as Che which to my eyes also shows his embrace of the woman as not quite comfortable neither in comrade- nor in any other style.
Maybe his whole stuff boils down to that Israeli women didn't appreciate his whatever?


NormanF said...

Agreed. I wrote about this earlier and noted this proposed law does not change anything in the legal sense about Diaspora Jews. No one in Israel is going to accept non-Orthodox conversion abroad. That is a settled issue. What the bill under consideration would do is make it easier for large numbers of non-Jews in mixed marriages, particularly Russians, to become part of the Jewish people. Who would it harm if they were converted IN Israel according to accepted Orthodox procedure? No one in America as far as I can tell. And condemning hundreds of thousands of non-Jews living in Israel with their Jewish spouses to a permanent limbo on the off-chance that Conservative and Reform Jews in America might get their foot in the door in Israel some day, doesn't sound just or fair to me. And in a generation or two, when even abroad nearly all Jews will be Orthodox, it strikes me as a debate essentially about a future in the Jewish World: a non-Orthodox one that is never going to happen. No law in Israel or the absence of one, will ever ensure it.

Shlomo said...

"And in a generation or two, when even abroad nearly all Jews will be Orthodox" this is blunt disrespect and zynical approach of Kol israel arevim seh laseh and yachad shivtey Israel in one sentence.
Even if one agrees to your opinion in a larger demographical and statistical context, it still means spit on the jewish world or right into their face, as we representatives of the "REAL" or to say "emessdige" judaism aka "Yiddishkeit" will only guard the heritage which anyway will be lost by all your offsprings.
We speak here about assertiveness and embracing "the other" even if it a wrong dower.

To give this into the hands of a corrupt, unatractive, truth despising and insulting, halachah counter carrying, disfunctional , burocratic entity like the Chief Rabbinate is a ghettoesk mood of thinking.

Joe in Australia said...

What has been interesting is that at no point have the US Jewish leaders attempted to make their case in Hebrew [...]

Heh. Hehe. Hehehe. You do realise that there is a very good reason for this, don't you? The number of US Jewish leaders who could make their case in Hebrew, or even order a soda in that language, is probably pretty small.

Avi said...

The conversion row is a lethal sideshow set up by Lieberman to damage Bibi in revenge for slights in the past and to act as a diversion for when he finally gets indicted. It is a cynical act by a highly cynical man and his blind followers.

I do not think that some of the commentators here have an appreciation of quite how damaging the whole question is to the attitude of American Jews to Israel and also for many local Jews to how the government handles such issues.

It is reflection on the incapability of people to respect the views of others. There is no such thing as monolithic Judaism. The question is also one of respect. For the past 300 odd years, the more traditional Jewish groups have nothing but contempt for the more liberal Jews.

This "in your face" attitude is exemplified by the attitude of the now haredi Chief Rabbinate. Even the National religious community is beginning to wake up and see that their power base has been sold away from under them.

The anger of the non Orthodox American Jews is real and the only reason it has been ignited at this stage is due to the pyromaniac attitude of Lieberman and those who support him with their eyes wide shut.

BTW, the case is being made in Hebrew too, by those same people and those of us who live in Israel.

Barry Meislin said...

That was a most interesting post.

Though how would you explain that one of Lieberman's main policy platforms is the implementation of civil marriage in Israel?

Lee Ratner said...

NormanF, the Orthodox have been predicting that within a generation or two, every Jew would be Orthodox since the late 19th century. It hasn't happened then and isn't going to happen now.

Most Israeli Jews are going to remain relatively secular and there is not going to be a mad rush to Orthodoxy. They aren't going to stop having children. Nor are large numbers of non-Orthodox Jews outside of Israel going to convert or disappear. Plus many Orthodox Jews will eventually get tired of the restrictions that Orthodox Judaism places on them as happened in the past and secularize.

Your Orthodox triumphalism is rather misplaced.

Jon said...


I was very happy to see my own views confirmed by your post, in addition to your insight into the split this would cause in Israeli society. Good call!

But so far, everything I've read has disappointed in that no one seems to have noticed Conservative and Reform's financial interest in turning this into an issue - their constituents want to see them standing up for their rights in general, and in particular in Israel where they're "de-legitimized," and when they see their leaders in the news doing exactly that, they are inspired to make donations. The exact details of the law or anything like that are basically irrelevant, as long as Israel can be put into the box of "de-legitimizing Heterodoxy" and their leaders into that of "seeking social justice for the underdog Conservative and Reform in Israel." So far, it seems to have worked extremely well.

Jon said...

Lee, as usual, you place your hopes before reality. And reality is that in Israel, the haredi and dati birthrate is like triple the secular birthrate (as it is, true secular Israelis are no longer a majority in Israel by any means), and that in America, the Reform and Conservative intermarriage rate is FAR higher than the Orthodox - and again, the Orthodox birthrate doubles their's. (I'm not exactly sure on the statistics, but I'm confident that I'm not getting them too wrong for my point to survive.)

Not Orthodox said...

NormanF could plausibly argue that within a generation or two most non-Orthodox Jews will assimilate, intermarry, become atheist or humanist, or otherwise abandon Judaism.

Outside of Israel, he may be right.

Anonymous said...

If David Brooks is considered to be even moderately "right wing", then I'm Minnie Mouse.