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Joint Statement on Israel Conversion Bill

In response to a proposed measure by the Israeli government on conversions, the Jewish Religious Equality Coalition (which counts RRC/JRC and the RRA as members), issued a formal statement of opposition, found below. News coverage of the proposed law can be found at the New York Jewish Week: Bitter Response Here To Proposed Conversion Bill.

Jewish Religious Equality Coalition (J-REC) strongly opposes a bill proposed by the Ministry of the Interior, which would nullify Israel’s recognition of Reform and Conservative conversions performed in Israel, as well as overturn Israel’s High Court ruling requiring the Ministry to recognize Orthodox conversions performed by private rabbinic courts. The proposed measure calls for recognizing legally only conversions performed by the Chief Rabbinate and the rabbinical courts of Israel.

The bill was introduced by several Knesset members, and aims “to establish that conversion conducted in Israel is recognized in law if it is conducted by the state conversion system, and no legal validity will be given to a conversion conducted in Israel not by the state conversion authority.”

The proposed bill contradicts the March 2016 High Court ruling allowing non-Israelis living in Israel who convert in private Orthodox rabbinical courts to be eligible for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return.

Reform and Conservative conversions conducted in Israel are already recognized by the Interior Ministry for the purposes of registration as Jewish in the Population Registry, but not for the purpose of obtaining Israeli citizenship.

“Passage of this discriminatory bill would be another major step backwards in securing Jewish religious equality in the Jewish state,” said J-REC Chair Dov Zakheim. “Israel needs additional measures to ensure that all expressions of Judaism, not just those acceptable to the Chief Rabbinate, are treated with dignity and respect, and that the path towards Israeli citizenship is open to those who convert outside of the Chief Rabbinate.” 

Addressing a Knesset Diaspora Committee meeting in January, Zakheim and other J-REC leaders expressed the need for greater Jewish religious equality in Israel in order to protect the Israeli-Diaspora relationship. “Eighty-five percent of our community is not Orthodox, and because they’re not Orthodox, neither they nor their rabbis or leaders are recognized officially by the rabbinate of this country,” said Zakheim, pointing to issues of marriage, divorce, conversion, and burial.

J-REC is committed to working with partners across all movements of Judaism, both in Israel and in the Diaspora, to stop this proposed bill that would limit religious freedom in Israel and weaken its democratic values. In sum, the proposed legislation signals that Israel is unsupportive of Reform and Conservative/Masorti Jews worldwide and many Orthodox conversion practices as well.

The Jewish Religious Equality Coalition (J-REC), created by AJC in 2014, is a broad-based coalition of American Jews, Israelis, and Jewish organizations dedicated to the realization of full religious equality in the Jewish state, and is mobilizing support for the creation of alternatives to the Chief Rabbinate on personal 

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