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.

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Conversion, Halakhah, 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