Home  Principles & Statements  Positions of the ACJ  Articles  DonationsAbout Us  Contact Us  Links                                         

Reform Rabbis Fight Israeli Efforts To Ban Conversions By Non-Orthodox Jews

Allan Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
January-February 1997

Fifty American Reform rabbis visited Israel in January to build support for the local Reform movement and to oppose efforts by the Israeli government to outlaw Reform and Conservative conversions performed in Israel.  

The Los Angeles Times (Jan. 26, 1997) reported that, "The American rabbis embraced new converts to Judaism, and they held a prayer service at the Old City’s Western Wall. The 50 religious leaders even sat down with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu . . . Their pilgrimage would seem to have been the perfect visit to the Jewish homeland were it not for the fact that the rabbis are Reform Jews. The conversions they perform are not recognized by Israel’s highest religious authority, and their prayers for equality have yet to be answered by the Jewish state. On the contrary, the leaders of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA) met with Netanyahu to oppose his govern-ment’s move toward legislation that would for the first time explicitly ban all non-Orthodox rabbis from performing marriages, burials and conversions in Israel."  

The Reform leaders told Netanyahu that they want to see the liberalization of a "medieval" status quo, not legislation for the 21st century that would define them as "second-class Jews." Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch, ARZA executive director, stated: "We expect the government of Israel to oppose legislation whose purpose and effect would be to split world Jewry. The government should not be involved in codifying second-class status for non-Orthodox Jews."  

Rabbi Hirsch, pointing out that the vast majority of American Jews are not Orthodox, told Prime Minister Netanyahu: "If you have the Jewish state sending the message that you (Reform Jews) are no exactly equal here . . . if you say, ‘Continue lobbying for us, continue your tourism, but don’t bring us your religious sensibilities,’ well it doesn’t take much for Jews to disengage."  

The Los Angeles Times reported that, "The Americans came face to face with the inequality issue . . . when ultra-Orthodox Jews shouted insults at them as the men and women prayed together at the Western Wall, in violation of Orthodox custom. ‘You women are impure and evil spirits,’ shouted one Orthodox Jew after the rabbis prayed in the plaza."  

Of the proposed legislation, which seems likely to be approved and is supported by Mr. Netanyahu, Rabbi Hirsch declared: "This destroys the very basis of the relationship between Israel and the Diaspora, which Jews took seriously." (The Forward, Jan. 24, 1997)  

< return to article list
© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.