Conversion to Judaism In Israel

The Israeli cabinet approved a new law that would enable easier conversions to Judaism, a move advocates hope will encourage hundreds of thousands of “religionless” Israelis to become Jewish.

In a movement to make conversion to Judaism more accessible for so-called “religionless” Israelis, the Israeli cabinet passed a new law concerning conversion that affects a large and growing number of Israelis who immigrated to Israel following the Law of Return. There are at least 330,000 Israelis that have the lineage to qualify them as Jewish, but are still considered Israelis under the parameters of Jewish law.  The new law’s passage has been hailed as good news for the people who have essentially been considered second-class citizens since immigrating to Israel.

Courts Not Happy With New Regulation

Not everyone is so pleased with the new law, though. The Central Rabbinate has seen its power decreased through the solutions offered by national-religious leaders, which serve to settle more power on municipal chief rabbis and give them the ability to conduct conversions, effectively approving more conversion courts, of which there are only four.  These four courts have been criticized as too stringent and are overseen by the Chief Rabbinate, who is ultra-Orthodox.  Critics maintain that the extreme stringency discourages those who might otherwise convert to Judaism.  The new law would give every Israeli city the power to set up a conversion court, headed by the chief rabbi of that city.  Each of these courts would be subject to conditions placed upon them by the Chief Rabbinate.  For its part, the Chief Rabbinate has not agreed to be subject to the new law and has deferred its discussion of its intentions to a later date.

The chairperson for Israel’s Jewish Agency, Natan Sharansky, has commented on the new law, iterating its importance for the Jewish community in successfully absorbing and integrating immigrants to Israel.  He calls the law a “welcome development” for drawing potential converts from both near and far.

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