Tensions Persist Over Israel’s Conversion Bill

March 17 2022

The Knesset was scheduled to vote this month on legislation that would revamp national rules regarding Jewish conversion. That vote has now been put off until the start of its summer session in May. As David Isaac reports, “the delayed vote represents the latest in a series of efforts to resolve religious disputes through political means,” particularly regarding standards of kosher certification, prayer at the Western Wall, and conversion.

The “conversion system” bill, submitted to the Knesset plenum on March 7 for a first reading that didn’t happen, calls for allowing city rabbis to establish their own conversion courts. . . . Currently, there are about ten official conversion courts, all under the guidance of the chief rabbinate, which is under the sway of the ultra-Orthodox. There are also some private, independent courts.

“What we are trying to achieve is the decentralization of the power of the chief rabbinate,” said Tani Frank, director of the Center for Judaism and State Policy at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, which was involved in drafting the conversion bill. . . . The hope is that by expanding the number of conversion courts, those who want to become Jewish will have a better chance of finding more lenient rabbis, according to Frank.

Frank goes on to state that, if the bill were passed, it would mark

“the first time that the government of Israel [made] a law that deals with conversion. It was never done before, and although it doesn’t necessarily directly deal with the conversion of foreigners—of people outside of Israel—it does have an impact on the general question of who is a Jew and who can convert.”

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Read more at JNS

More about: Conversion, Israeli Chief Rabbinate, Judaism in Israel

Will Costco Go to Israel?

Social-media users have mocked this week new Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich for a poorly translated letter. But far more interesting than the finance minister’s use of Google Translate (or some such technology) is what the letter reveals about the Jewish state. In it, Smotrich asks none other than Costco to consider opening stores in Israel.

Why?

Israel, reports Sharon Wrobel, has one of the highest costs of living of any country in the 38-member Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

This

has been generally attributed to a lack of competition among local importers and manufacturers. The top three local supermarket chains account for over half of the food retail market, limiting competition and putting upward pressure on prices. Meanwhile, import tariffs, value-added tax costs and kosher restrictions have been keeping out international retail chains.

Is the move likely to happen?

“We do see a recent trend of international retailers entering the Israeli market as some barriers to food imports from abroad have been eased,” Chen Herzog, chief economist at BDO Israel accounting firm, told The Times of Israel. “The purchasing power and technology used by big global retailers for logistics and in the area of online sales where Israel has been lagging behind could lead to a potential shift in the market and more competitive prices.”

Still, the same economist noted that in Israel “the cost of real estate and other costs such as the VAT on fruit and vegetables means that big retailers such as Costco may not be able to offer the same competitive prices than in other places.”

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Costco, Israel & Zionism