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.”

Read more at JNS

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

How Israel Can Break the Cycle of Wars in Gaza

Last month saw yet another round of fighting between the Jewish state and Gaza-based terrorist groups. This time, it was Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) that began the conflict; in other cases, it was Hamas, which rules the territory. Such outbreaks have been numerous in the years since 2009, and although the details have varied somewhat, Israel has not yet found a way to stop them, or to save the residents of the southwestern part of the country from the constant threat of rocket fire. Yossi Kuperwasser argues that a combination of military, economic, and diplomatic pressure might present an alternative solution:

In Gaza, Jerusalem plays a key role in developing the rules that determine what the parties can and cannot do. Such rules are designed to give the Israelis the ability to deter attacks, defend territory, maintain intelligence dominance, and win decisively. These rules assure Hamas that its rule over Gaza will not be challenged and that, in between the rounds of escalation, it will be allowed to continue its military buildup, as the Israelis seldom strike first, and the government’s responses to Hamas’s limited attacks are always measured and proportionate.

The flaws in such an approach are clear: it grants Hamas the ability to develop its offensive capabilities, increase its political power, and condemn Israelis—especially those living within range of the Gaza Strip—to persistent threats from Hamas terrorists.

A far more effective [goal] would be to rid Israel of Hamas’s threat by disarming it, prohibiting its rearmament, and demonstrating conclusively that threatening Israel is indisputably against its interests. Achieving this goal will not be easy, but with proper preparation, it may be feasible at the appropriate time.

Revisiting the rule according to which Jerusalem remains tacitly committed to not ending Hamas rule in Gaza is key for changing the dynamics of this conflict. So long as Hamas knows that the Israelis will not attempt to uproot it from Gaza, it can continue arming itself and conducting periodic attacks knowing the price it will pay may be heavy—especially if Jerusalem changes the other rules mentioned—but not existential.

Read more at Middle East Quarterly

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israeli Security, Palestinian Islamic Jihad