The Ticking Clock: Conversion Crisis
Update June 1998
It has been some time since the Neeman Committee recommendations for a compromise solution on conversion were published, and there has been no sign of progress towards acceptance of the proposals from the Israeli Rabbinate. This was the condition upon which the Reform and Conservative movements had agreed to call a moratorium on all litigation to the Supreme Court on behalf of their converts; they have now decided to press forward in order to obtain results.
The foreign-born adopted child of an Israeli couple was refused conversion by the Israel [orthodox] Rabbinate, so the parents applied to the Masorti [Conservative] Movement where they completed the procedure. The Ministry of the Interior rejected the application to register the child as Jewish in the parents identity papers and the case has now been brought before the Israel Supreme Court. [It is to be recalled that the Supreme Court has recently ruled that certain areas are in the authority of the Legislature.]
In direct response, the ultra-orthodox parties have reintroduced a new Conversion bill onto the Knesset agenda, in order to legally establish halachic conversion as the only state-recognised conversion in Israel. This would apply to registration at the Ministry of Interior and the Rabbinate for purposes of personal status. The actual details of the text are unknown, but it is presumed to be similar to the previous bill, which was withdrawn when the Neeman Committee began its work to find a compromise solution.
The bill is being supported by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu under the terms of his government coalition agreements, but Opposition leader Barak declares that it has little chance of being passed on its first reading and views this as an unwise and divisive political move.
The Reform and Conservative movements are canvassing broad-based support in North America, Israel and elsewhere to protest the proposed legislation, which they view as coercive, provocative, divisive and undemocratic.
- Explore recent developments, analyze their constituent factors;
- Anticipate outcomes and evaluate their impact.
This is a "Colloquium", a simplified simulation of an exposition of arguments and search for coalition and compromise, which we recommend as more constructive than an unstructured discussion or assignment to define alternatives. Minimum 16 participants - maximum 32. Time: 2-3 hours or 80 minutes and 60 minutes.
Please do not use current appeals for support appearing primarily on Reform & Orthodox websites, or other Jewish lists, before the simulation - although they would be useful for the review after the simulation.
Copies of the key cards for the various movements in Judaism from "More on the Conversion Controversy" from the website.
Review of the main points of the Neeman Committee Proposals from the website.
Copies of the above update
Posterboard markers; stationery requisites; tape etc.
Internet access to websites, printer & photocopier.
Participants to the Colloquium: (More info about these figures can be found at The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs Web Site)
- Yaakov Neeman, Minister of Finance and Chair of the Neeman Committee;
- Representatives from the Reform and Conservative Judaism Movements;
- Representative from the Israel Chief Rabbinate;
- Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Prime Minister and Chairman of the Likud Party;
- Ehud Barak, Israeli Opposition leader and Chairman of the Labor Party;
- Avraham Burg, Chairman of the Jewish Agency;
- Eli Suissa, Israel Minister of the Interior and representative from the ultra-Orthodox parties in the Knesset;
- Elyakim Rubinstein, Israeli Attorney General, on behalf of the Israeli Judiciary.
1 . The moderator reads the first paragraph to the entire group of participants and reviews what the group knows about the antecedents to the current situation.
2 . Documents from the previous website files in the series can be distributed for study.
3 . The rest of the update is presented to the group; establish with the group the main "actors" involved. Explain that while they may have sympathies for certain positions, one should attempt to view other perspectives and seek alternatives, for which it is recommended that the group participate in a simulated Colloquium.
4 . Divide participants into 8 sub-groups and allocate separate discussion areas around the room, preferably with a small table for each. Each group now clarifies its position on the latest developments.
Ask each group to appoint a spokesperson and prepare a two-minute statement on what would be a desirable outcome from their point of view and why.
5 . The moderator opens the Colloquium, asking the speakers to come forward in front of everyone else and requesting that the floor allow all the groups to present their statements with decorum.
6 . After speakers have completed this round, the moderator calls for some more substantial thinking if the issue is to be resolved and the eight sub-groups are reformed:
Each group now has 5 minutes to prepare a verbal response to the following questions - they may choose a new spokesperson to present them in the Colloquium: On what do you base your position? How does your position affect Israel and world Jewry? Is your position democratic? Are you prepared to consider alternatives?
7 . Bring the entire group together again as panel and audience. Yaakov Nemans role is now to note down any points or proposals for the minutes from the following proceedings and to resume them verbally after it takes place in the following format:
Each spokesperson presents responses and then the moderator opens the debate to the floor, allowing participants to put questions to speakers and debate the statements made. No floor speaker is allowed more than 1 minute; panel speakers can also be limited to 2 minutes per reply.
If the debate becomes raucous, the session should be called to order or a recess called for private discussion. The Colloquium then resumes with the reading of the main points raised.
Groups are now requested to examine all these points in and draft one or two alternatives to resolve the current situation. Another spokesperson has the honor of presenting them to the Colloquium.
9 . The Colloquium hears and notes the proposals. It may also debate them. The moderators may choose to allow a free vote on the proposals if they wish or may explore the existence of a consensus for any of the proposals.
10 . Review:
- The endpoint positions of individual participants, as opposed to their initial attitudes;
- What has been learned and how effectively;
- Other documents found online, if there is time to do so;
- Spend some time discussing how closely this Colloquiums proposals match reality;
- Discuss realistic outcomes and their consequences.