Representatives from Orthodox Institutions in America Protest Conversion-Reform Efforts in Israel

April 6 2022

This week, representatives from several prominent Orthodox and Zionist organizations—including Rabbi Binyamin Blau, the president of the Rabbinical Assembly of America—met with Israel’s minister of religious affairs, Matan Kahana, to discuss his proposed reforms to Israel’s conversion process. Ultimately, as they explain in an open letter, they were unable to support Kahana’s legislation in its current form.

Like Minister Kahana, we recognize a real and serious problem facing Israeli society. Hundreds of thousands of non-Jews have come to Israel from the former Soviet Union and become citizens, serve in the IDF, attend schools, and integrate into Israeli society. Yet despite their contributions to Israel’s security and economy, they cannot benefit from certain rights available to Jews. Their children are growing up Israeli and intermarrying with Jews.

These are serious challenges, but we are concerned that Minister Kahana’s proposed reforms—including the decentralization of Israel’s conversion courts, as well as the resultant lack of transparent standards—will not solve these difficulties. They will instead create another, equally severe, set of problems. We are also concerned that his proposals sideline Israel’s chief rabbinate.

The costs are potentially very significant. The proposal to decentralize conversion authority to local rabbinical courts will result in different—and perhaps contradictory—standards of conversion being used in different locales. Those converted by more lenient standards will not be accepted as Jewish by others, creating two communities that cannot marry each other, thus dividing Israelis even more.

Israel should learn from our experience in the U.S. Less than twenty years ago, any rabbi in America who so wished would perform conversions according to his own standards. The result was a complete lack of trust and transparency regarding the halakhic quality of those conversions, necessitating individual investigation. . . . The [Israeli] rabbinate’s imposition of a minimum standard contributed greatly to the successful establishment of the Rabbinical Council of America’s “GPS network” of Orthodox conversion courts, . . . maintaining a specific standard for conversion that has significantly improved the trust and transparency of American conversions.

Read more at Times of Israel

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


Israel Is Courting Saudi Arabia by Confronting Iran

Most likely, it was the Israeli Air Force that attacked eastern Syria Monday night, apparently destroying a convoy carrying Iranian weapons. Yoav Limor comments:

Israel reportedly carried out 32 attacks in Syria in 2022, and since early 2023 it has already struck 25 times in the country—at the very least. . . . The Iranian-Israeli clash stands out in the wake of the dramatic events in the region, chiefly among them is the effort to strike a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and later on with various other Muslim-Sunni states. Iran is trying to torpedo this process and has even publicly warned Saudi Arabia not to “gamble on a losing horse” because Israel’s demise is near. Riyadh is unlikely to heed that demand, for its own reasons.

Despite the thaw in relations between the kingdom and the Islamic Republic—including the exchange of ambassadors—the Saudis remain very suspicious of the Iranians. A strategic manifestation of that is that Riyadh is trying to forge a defense pact with the U.S.; a tactical manifestation took place this week when Saudi soccer players refused to play a match in Iran because of a bust of the former Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Suleimani, [a master terrorist whose militias have wreaked havoc throughout the Middle East, including within Saudi borders].

Of course, Israel is trying to bring Saudi Arabia into its orbit and to create a strong common front against Iran. The attack in Syria is ostensibly unrelated to the normalization process and is meant to prevent the terrorists on Israel’s northern border from laying their hands on sophisticated arms, but it nevertheless serves as a clear reminder for Riyadh that it must not scale back its fight against the constant danger posed by Iran.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Saudi Arabia, Syria