The current Knesset is striding toward winning the title of "the people who have done the greatest damage to Israeli society since the founding of the state." Its members pass an abundance of strange and hasty laws, and though most are not enforced, the very fact of their legislation ruins everything that moves.
Take the new conversion bill. One bright hot morning, MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu ), after a few phone calls and failed attempts at compromise, passes a bill that returns the authority to convert to the Chief Rabbinate.
Candidates for conversion, he has made clear, will be able to choose "soft" neighborhood rabbis who will not make trouble. This will shorten the excruciating obstacle course hundreds of thousands of immigrants have to go through on their way to becoming Jews.
This of course, is an old-new trick. Just like the previous trick - which allows non-Jews under rabbinical law to marry only one another - it provides an instant solution to the racist friction between Yisrael Beiteinu's not-Jewish-under-rabbinical-law voters and the party's Jewish-under-rabbinical-law voters, who don't want the former as neighbors in their West Bank settlement.
And of course this solution, like its predecessor, creates more problems than it solves. It is not by chance that American Jews - most of whom are Conservative, Reform and secular - feel cheated. In their eyes Israel is declaring that a Jew, especially anyone entitled to Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return, is now exclusively someone whom the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate, which toadies to the ultra-Orthodox "Torah sages," has decided was born a kosher Jew or has "converted in accordance with rabbinical law" in its version.
The Jews of the Untied States are so angry that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apparently will have to smooth some edges and arrange a compromise between them and his coalition, which has again decided to act silly while he snoozed. But even if the new law becomes a dead letter, the damage has been done. Israel has once again been revealed as a closed and racist community that turns its back not only on the world but also on Diaspora Jewry by allowing its character to be shaped by an extremist and marginal group within the broad sea of Judaism throughout the generations.
Someone has to explain to the Jews of the world that they can start thumbing their noses at Israel's laws and certificates. This is because an impressive circumvention of religious conversion is underway as the government and Knesset become more and more separatist and fundamentalist. It's what Prof. Asher Cohen has defined as "sociological conversion." Professors Zvi Zohar and Avi Sagi have described it as a process with its beginnings in the words of Ruth the Moabite: "Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God."
In this process, joining the social and communal identity takes precedence over joining the cultural-religious identity. Individuals (Jethro, Ruth, Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Akiva ) and groups (Edomites, Romans, Khazars, Berbers ) have always joined the Jewish people and assimilated into it in a process totally unrelated to the Orthodox establishment's torture and brainwashing.
This is also the case today. Half-Jews and non-Jews, children of immigrants and children of migrants, children of South Lebanon Army fighters and children of collaborators - all of them light candles and bless the challah at their kindergartens at the kabbalat Shabbat, the ritual that ushers in the Sabbath. They eat matza alongside bread and pita during Passover, decorate their Christmas trees, enlist in the Israel Defense Forces and fight in Israel's wars. Society is indeed crumbling into sectors, and the desire to preserve the original culture and language is more fervent than ever. But the Israeli-Jewish identity is strong, and immigrants have a great desire to become part of society.
This complex reality is determining new, open and broad definitions of what it is to be Jewish and to be Israeli. Between these definitions and those of the rabbinate's ethnic purists gapes a deep abyss.
This is exactly what is worrying Orthodoxy, which is refusing to give up its strangling hegemony. It is getting weaker as hundreds of thousands of citizens refuse to play in its court. They aren't converting, marrying, divorcing and dying according to its rules. And right now a purportedly secular party comes along and in complete alienation from the local and international situation reappoints the rabbis as the sentries of a Judaism whose definitions no one in the world accepts, with the exception of those knowingly coerced into it here.
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