©2010 By David Talbot
I thought about this subject for a long time. There is a place in this world where religious intolerance has been abolished. All faiths are accepted here, even atheists have a home. People of all faiths are free to worship as they please, and all those who seek citizenship may come in peace and earn their place in society. That is, all but Reformed or Conservative Jews.
Is it an Arab country? No, it isn’t. Is it a Communist country? No, it isn’t. It is Israel, the Jewish Homeland where Jews from the world over, regardless of level of observance, or affiliation, have had a “Right of Return-Aliyah,” fast-track to citizenship. That is, until I learned of a new law being pushed through the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) in the current session.
Keep in mind, Israel is a religious democracy. For religious purposes, in Israel, the Orthodox Chief Rabbi’s of the two main branches of Judaism (Ashkenazi and Sephardic) set the standard for who is a Jew, and other Jewish policies and observances. For immigration purposes however, the Israeli Supreme Court has ruled that anyone recognized by any of the world-wide movements (Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform) is a Jew and has a right to be an Israeli citizen. (Note: Understanding the technical differences between each movement is too lengthy for this forum.)
What is the practical consequence of this difference of opinion between the Chief Rabbi’s and the world-wide authorities? Simple. Israel has no civil marriage or divorce. The rules for marriage and divorce are left up to the Chief Rabbi’s. If a person is member of the Conservative or Reformed movements, they have two options. They can convert to Orthodox (A fairly lengthy process), or they can fly over to Cyprus, and get married, or divorced, there (Why Cyprus? It’s closest to Israel).
Now there is a second consequence of this conflict of ideologies. Immigration to Israel and the “Right of Return.” Here’s where the new law will affect many, my wife and I included.
In order to claim the “Right to Return”, one must prove they are Jewish, thus possessing a right to immediate Israeli citizenship. This new law, if passed by the entire Knesset, will change the standard defining a Jew to the Strict Orthodox standard, removing the right to return to all, except, Orthodox believers.
For most people, this is “Ho hum, who cares?” The answer is the demographics of the Jewish population in Israel and in the United States. I’d estimate that 90% of the Jewish Community in the United States is affiliated with the Reformed Movement. Imagine the effect on 5,000,000 people suddenly being told they are not Jewish enough to be Israeli’s. But, Jewish enough to support the Jewish State emotionally and financially. Of course, with a total population of 15,000,000 Jews world-wide, this internal conflict isn’t going to make front page news anywhere, except Israel, New York City, Miami, Chicago and Los Angeles.
But for this writer and his wife, one of whom is a Reform Movement convert, it shakes our belief system and not is a subtle way. All of a sudden we’re second class after nearly a lifetime of considering ourselves equal in all aspects of Judaism. I hope the Knesset fails to approve the new law on the first reading and we may continue with our plans to immigrate to Israel, this year. If it passes, our dream of a lifetime may become a nightmare.
Anyway, that’s my opinion. What’s yours? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.