Tensions Persist Over Israel’s Conversion Bill

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.”

Read more at JNS

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

How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus