Eretz Israel is our unforgettable historic homeland...The Jews who will it shall achieve their State...And whatever we attempt there for our own benefit will redound mightily and beneficially to the good of all mankind. (Theodor Herzl, DerJudenstaat, 1896)

We offer peace and amity to all the neighbouring states and their peoples, and invite them to cooperate with the independent Jewish nation for the common good of all. The State of Israel is ready to contribute its full share to the peaceful progress and development of the Middle East.
(From Proclamation of the State of Israel, 5 Iyar 5708; 14 May 1948)

With a liberal democratic political system operating under the rule of law, a flourishing market economy producing technological innovation to the benefit of the wider world, and a population as educated and cultured as anywhere in Europe or North America, Israel is a normal Western country with a right to be treated as such in the community of nations.... For the global jihad, Israel may be the first objective. But it will not be the last. (Friends of Israel Initiative)

Monday 19 July 2010

For Zion's Sake! Drop Rotem's Bill!

In 1970 Israeli Chief Justice Shimon Agranat observed: "The goals of aliya and the ingathering of the exiles obligate us to see the term 'Jew' as a secular concept.  We need not be exacting in checking the Jewish origins of immigrants so long as they do not totally lack such origins".

Given the realities of Soviet society, many of the olim who arrived from the USSR over subsequent decades had just one Jewish grandparent - and not always the correct one, for purposes of Halachah.   At present, with 300,000 Soviet olim unrecognised as Jews by the Orthodox Israeli rabbinate and thus unable to marry in Israel, regulation of their status is a pressing necessity.

But the Conversion Bill that Israel Beiteinu MK David Rotem managed to push through the Knesset Law Committee by one vote last week is, in a nutshell, mad, bad, and dangerous to do.  In empowering only rabbis sanctioned by the Chief Rabbinate it discriminates against non-Orthodox rabbis.  While it might not directly threaten the right of return of non-halachic Jews in the Diaspora, it is an unjust and provocative piece of legislation that could well be the thin end of the wedge.  It threatens to alienate a significant component of the non-Jewish world - the non-Orthodox element - at a particularly gruelling time for the Jewish people, a time when, more than ever, all Israel must be responsible for one another.

It also insults the memory of those non-Orthodox Jewish lay and religious leaders who have played a mighty role in the Zionist movement.  I'm thinking of such people as the great Rabbi Stephen Wise in America; of Eva, Marchioness of Reading, who was raised an Anglican, but rediscovered her Jewish roots during the Nazi era, joined the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in London, and became Vice-President of the Zionist Federation in the UK; and of Rabbi Herman Sanger, the remarkable refugee from Germany who headed Temple Beth Israel in Melbourne, Australia, and kindled within it his own love of Zion.  Sanger's biography has recently been written by his distinguished successor in the pulpit, Rabbi Emeritus John Simon Levi, whose own passion for Israel has been palpable and influential. 

Why should a person who has not even been raised as a Jew, but happens to have been born of a Jewish mother - such as the British actor Stephen Fry, who  seems to sign every "As-a-Jew" statement condemnatory of Israel going - have more claim upon Israel than the sons and daughters of mothers who converted through non-Orthodox batei din?  I'm sure there must have been a number of such offspring in Temple Beth Israel's Netzer movement over the years - and if the Netzer movement isn't imbued with an infectious all-pervasive Zionist spirit, then I don't know what is.

Orthodox ... Conservative ... Reform ... Liberal.  We all belong to K'lal Israel.  Medinat Israel must not cast any of us asunder.  For Zion's Sake.  And for ours.


  1. I am not sure that you understand the bill. See for analyis.

  2. Thanks for your comments.
    Thanks, too, for the link. This bill doesn't affect the Law of Return, but I do worry about it encouraging a change in that law in the future.


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