Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that Reform and Conservative conversions made in Israel for the purpose of the Law of Return must be recognized by the state. Finally, after 15 years of petitions on the subject, and after about 10 rejections, the decision was made!
“Who is a Jew?” is a hot topic in Israel, and indeed there are myriad opinions depending on who you ask. However, the Chief Rabbinate’s definition is very much clear, and for long it was this interpretation that actually mattered as whoever didn’t match the ultra-Orthodox criteria of giyur didn’t qualify for Aliyah.
It means the world to Reform and Conservative Jews who have sought recognition from the Jewish home; at last doors are starting to open for Aliyah. The court’s decision was welcomed by many, as it could also strengthen Israel’s ties with the Diaspora, especially in North America. There are many, although, who are outraged by such a move, namely the Orthodox community.
The chief rabbi of Rishon LeZion said in response: “What the Reformers and Conservatives call ‘conversion’ is nothing but a falsification of Judaism, which means bringing thousands of Gentiles into the people of Israel.”
The Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel also commented, saying: “Those who converted to Judaism in a Reform conversion and the like are not Jews and no decision made by the Supreme Court will change this fact. It is unfortunate that the court in its decision approves the flooding of the State of Israel with immigrants who have nothing to do with Judaism. Every citizen of Israel should ask himself on this sad evening, how is the State of Israel a Jewish state when every foreigner can be a citizen of the State of Israel?”
The monopoly over the determination of one’s Jewishness lies in the hands of one small group of people – the Haredim. Their monopoly over the issue didn’t just anger immigrants from the former Soviet Union, of whom many are required to go through demeaning questioning and genetic testing, but their tight grip on the Ministry of Interior has stifled the ingathering of many Jewish believers in Jesus. It is safe to say that they are scared, as this risks diminishing their authority, power and influence.
The ultra-Orthodox political party United Torah Judaism (UTJ) posted a video as part of their election campaign that caused an outcry among many. The video shows various dogs apparently representing Reform Jews and said, “In the Supreme Court, this is a Jew.”
Opposition leader Yair Lapid responded angrily on Twitter: “My father once told me that there was a large sign in the parliament in Budapest: ‘No entry for Jews and dogs.’ Antisemites of all generations have always compared Jews to dogs. Now United Torah Judaism has joined them. Disgusting.”
Yisrael Beiteinu head Avigdor Liberman also tweeted a response: “In United Torah Judaism there is no Judaism and no Torah. Only a strong Yisrael Beiteinu will ensure that a government is formed here without the ultra-Orthodox parties.”
In another video, by Shas (the other ultra-Orthodox party), the word ‘Reform’ replaces the word ‘Jew’ in the anthem and then reads: “Do not let the Supreme Court destroy our Jewish state.”
As the Haredim fire at their religious competitors, they didn’t miss an opportunity to shoot at the military conversion program. During an online conference hosted by the Kippa website and the Itim Institute, Member of Knesset Yitzhak Pindros of UTJ shocked some of his Orthodox colleagues by saying, “Any woman who converted in the IDF conversion program is a shiksa. If someone marries her – the father should sit shiva.”
As clearly shown here, this is a sensitive issue, and many Haredim deem the situation as a spiritual catastrophe, no less. There are many secular folks who oppose this decision as well, and believe that the current way is how things should stay, as the ultra-Orthodox are the gate keepers of… well, orthodoxy. Messianic Jews in the Land oppose the rabbinical definition of Jewishness. Believers strive for a more biblical way of conducting their lives, and according to Scripture the way to determine if someone is from Judah, Benjamin, Levi or Israel in general is through the father; patriarchal, not matriarchal.
Today, Messianic Judaism is looked at as a Christian denomination (as ruled by the Supreme Court). My hope is that the discourse of Jewish spirituality will be open to the public and not imposed by a minority with a fringe opinion, and that Jewish believers in Jesus will gain more support and acceptance in the eyes of more and more Israelis. As Judaism could be painted not with one set of colors, but many (as the Talmud says, there are 70 faces to the Torah), so the Jewish figure of Yeshua could finally emerge in the Israeli landscape.