U.S. Reform Jewish Leader Slams Israel Over Move to Reject non-Orthodox Conversions

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A candidate for conversion sits before a special conversion court in Jerusalem.
A candidate for conversion sits before a special conversion court in Jerusalem.Credit: Haaretz

WASHINGTON - The Reform Jewish Movement, the largest Jewish movement in North America, criticized on Tuesday new legislation proposed by Israeli Interior Minister Arye Dery that would reject all non-Orthodox conversions in Israel. 

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said in a statement that Dery's proposed legislation is another step toward creating an Orthodox monopoly on Judaism in Israel that treats non-Orthodox Jews as second-class citizens. 

Jacobs issued his statement on the same day a hearing was scheduled on a petition submitted by the Reform and Conservative movements to Israel's Supreme Court to recognize their conversions in Israel. The movements petitioned the court after it handed down a ruling in March 2016 to recognize private Orthodox conversions undertaken in Israel. 

Dery’s proposed bill, which is meant to circumvent the March 2016 ruling, would deny citizenship under the Law of Return to Jews converted in Israel by Conservative, Reform or privately run Orthodox rabbinical courts. 

Jacobs called the proposed legislation “a danger to the unity of the Jewish people” as it sends an insulting message to non-Orthodox Jews in the Diaspora that Israel will only accept them “if they submit to the Orthodox monopoly.”

Jacobs said that his movement urges Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the rest of the Israeli government "to reject this attempt to bypass the country’s Supreme Court and, in doing so, to send a clear signal to the majority of Jews in Israel and around the world: that the joy of Judaism is not a wholly owned subsidiary of the Chief Rabbinate."

Two months ago, Jacobs and a delegation from his movement met with Netanyahu in Israel and warned him that the Israeli govenrment's policies on issues important to non-orthodox Jews in the United States, such as the delay of the Western Wall compromise, are causing damage to Israel's relationship with the U.S. Jewish community.