The Current Debate about Israeli Legislation on
One activity, Three options
1. Use newsclips or news articles if participants need an introduction to the issue. Ideally - if participants are aware of the current debate - proceed immediately by asking what has happened.
2. Divide into four groups, or multiples of four groups. Each group moves into a separate area and receives one card with a term to define as it is understood in the Diaspora and in Israel. The definitions should be written down in a few sentences underneath the term.
The four terms on the cards are:
Note on the definitions: the first 3 are streams of contemporary Judaism; the fourth can be either a non-stream or can be extended to refer to the movement for Secular, Humanistic Judaism.
Participants' key cards can be found by clicking on each card shape.
Moderators' data on intermarriage [outmarriage] can be found in the following pages:
3. Regroup: have each group read out its definition and state whether the term is understood differently in Israel and the Diaspora. When all the definitions have been presented, ask for any additional clarifications and aim for a group consensus on how we understand these terms, using key cards. You may also explore how each stream sees themselves and how we see them if you have time!
4. Proceed to one of the 3 activity options below.
Last year, the Israel Supreme Court ruled that conversions to Judaism [see Bagatz versus Badatz] - whether Reform, Conservative or Orthodox - were equally valid whether performed in Israel or abroad, and that converts were to be registered as of the Jewish community by the Ministry of the Interior unless Knesset legislation provided otherwise.
The country went to election in May and many parties, including Yisrael BeAliyah, supported the call for acceptance of non-Orthodox conversions in Israel [as opposed to conversions abroad, which have been accepted for some time].
Now the Knesset has passed the first reading of a Bill to authorize only Orthodox conversions in Israel, with a comfortable majority. Yisrael BeAliyah prefers to find rabbinical solutions rather than make waves; both major parties are split over the issue and major figures absented themselves from the plenum during the vote. Shas and other ultra-orthodox coalition partners threatened to leave the government if the Bill was not passed yesterday. In actual fact, with the passing of the Bill to the Knesset Law Committee, it may well never emerge for a second reading - and this may all turn out to be a storm in a teacup, however genuine the controversy, and irrespective of the real need to address the issues involved.
Avraham Burg, Chairman of the Zionist Executive and the Jewish Agency, expressed his deep concern over the impact of such legislation: not only on the Israeli public and many applicants for conversion from the CIS, but also on the ties and dialogue between Israel and the Diaspora communities, particularly in the US where the non-orthodox streams of Judaism represent the majority - and consequently Israel's backbone of support, whether affective, financial or political.
Will there be a crisis?
The majority expression of Jewish life in the United States, in particular, is within the Reform movement; its members constitute the majority across the spectrum of Jewish life and enjoy a democratic autonomy in issues of membership, conversion, education, community life.
They, together with the Conservative movement, have a considerable following in Israel and wish to welcome applicants for conversion under their own auspices. As the 1950 Law of Return stands, this should not present a problem - except that the power to make decisions on personal status is enshrined in law as the role of the Israel Chief Rabbinate.
Is this anti-democratic or even unconstitutional?
Traditionally, a Jew is someone born of a Jewish mother or a person who has converted; the Reform movement accept patrilineal inheritance, but the Israeli Law of Return does not.
Meanwhile, the entire Jewish world is devastated at the inroads on the community made by outmarriage. The majority of children from inter- or out-marriages in the Diaspora do not grow up as Jewish, and of those who do, few receive a Jewish education. Conversion is a compelling argument.
Orthodox Judaism hesitates to convert applicants, particularly outside Israel. In Israel, the policy is slightly more flexible for serious applicants, but the regulations are stringent, the process demanding...
For the US-based Reform movement, conversion has long represented the dream of inclusion of new participation and a resolution of the immediate problem for a mixed couple.
What are the purpose and nature of conversion?
Option I: Structured Discussion
This format will be suitable for college students and adults, as well as informal settings with older teenagers.
Option II: Values Clarification
This is for moderators experienced in this system who wish participants to draw individual conclusions on the Israeli and general issues, from which they lead into personal and group implications. We therefore provide only a guide to the exercise sequence. It is also suitable for senior high school age.
Option III: Formal Debate
The issues mentioned below can be provided as a guideline for preparation, as can the background text, news articles and newsclips.
There are several possibilities which will open a broad discussion of all the issues in a formal debate:
This house believes that:
Background Discussion: The Issues