Michael Boyden

Conversion to Judaism in a Jewish State

It is high time for a complete reassessment of how people convert to Judaism in Israel.

The conversion process as we know it today is entirely a Diaspora creation and reflects a reality totally different from that in which there is a sovereign Jewish State.

There is no clearer evidence of that fact than what is related in the Babylonian Talmud, tractate Yevamot 47a, which is the classical halachic source for the conversion process. There we are taught that should a person wish to convert to Judaism, he should be told that we are a persecuted people. “If he responds by saying: ‘I am unworthy’, he should be accepted immediately and taught a few of the … mitzvot“.

Not only is that approach far more lenient than that practised by Orthodox rabbinic courts today, but it is also irrelevant to our situation today.

We have established a Jewish homeland, and those who have chosen to join us should be welcomed and not made to feel that they are second class citizens.

This is particularly true of a significant proportion of the immigrants from the former Soviet Union – some say 300,000 – who became Israeli citizens under the Law of Return because, for instance, they had a Jewish father or grandparent, although they themselves were not considered halachically Jewish. We in the Reform Movement refer to them as mi-zerah Yisrael (of Jewish ancestry).

If they have thrown in their lot with the Jewish People, send their children to our schools, serve in the IDF and enjoy the advantages and pay the price of living in a Jewish State, then they should be considered as being part of our People just like the “mixed multitude” (Exodus 12:28) who left Egypt with the Israelites and received the Torah at Sinai.

The inability of the Orthodox rabbinate to recognize that times have changed has not only distanced many from Judaism but has also sabotaged any possibility of ensuring that we in Israel shall be one people.

About the Author
Made aliyah from the UK in 1985, am a former president of the Israel Council of Reform Rabbis and am currently rabbi of Kehilat Yonatan in Hod Hasharon, Israel.
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