Zionism Must Reject Ultra-Orthodox View on Conversion

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In this op-ed, which was originally published in Haaretz, IDI Research Fellow Yair Sheleg decries the ultra-Orthodox refusal to alter standards for conversion to Judaism in recognition of the fact that for many Israelis, Jewish identity is not only an expression of religious observance but also of identification with Zionism and Jewish culture. He argues that the current approach, in which the rabbinate examines the attitude of conversion candidates towards the observance of religious commandments instead of their intention to join the Jewish people, causes serious injustice to thousands of people who wish to live as Jews and raise Jewish children in Israel.

 "The conversion scandal has hit new heights in recent weeks, with the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox declaring war on Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's approval of the army's conversions. But what is particularly shameful about this story is the silence of Israel's secular majority. 

This silence does not stem from the perception that conversion is a matter of halakha (Jewish law ), in which secular Israelis purportedly have no say. Secular public figures are quite capable of raising their voices (though not enough) against the injustices of the rabbinical courts when it comes to divorce. That means the source of this apathy is not the halakhic irrelevance, but the human irrelevance: Members of the secular elite need the rabbinate from time to time for the purpose of divorce, but not for conversion.

 It is important to understand that beyond the basic fact that the ultra-Orthodox attitude toward converts causes serious injustice to thousands of people who want to live as Jews and raise their children that way, this attitude also symbolizes the ultra-Orthodox challenge to the very essence of the Zionist enterprise... "  

Read the full article on the Haaretz website

Yair Sheleg is a Research Fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute who is conducting research as part of IDI's Religion and State project.