Rabbi Stern makes an important point in advocating that the moderate Orthodox stop relegating a monopoly to the haredi over religious policy in Israel. They certainly should help Yisrael Beiteinu’s efforts to fast track conversions in Israel for the 300,000 Russian immigrants whose fate is intertwined with the Jewish State, even if they have not been given a chance to undergo formal conversion to Judaism. I am reminded of the tragic story of Sgt. Nikolai Rappaport, a Russian immigrant and IDF soldier, who was killed a number of years ago by a blast of Hezbollah shrapnel. He was shipped home to Russia for burial. Ostensibly it was to allow his (non-Jewish) mother to be present at the funeral. However, if his family had wanted to bury him in Israel, they could not have done so in a Jewish cemetery.
That is why conversions in Israel are not just an Orthodox problem.
What “radical” step is Yisrael Beiteinu taking? What has generated such objections among the haredi? To allow all municipal rabbis to conduct conversions, something that Yisrael Beiteinu MK Rotem says the Chief Rabbinate once permitted but then restricted. Rotem would also expand the authority to conduct conversions to rabbis in moshavim and kibbutzim. These are all Orthodox rabbis, the only rabbis officially recognized as such in Israel.
Over five years ago (Feb, 20, 2002) the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the Interior Ministry to register as Jews any Israeli citizen who had been converted by the Conservative or Reform Movements in Israel or abroad.
That decision did not require the Religious Ministry to recognize such converts as Jews for religious purposes such as marriage or burial. The great injustice to klal Yisrael (the unity of the Jewish People) is the failure of the Orthodox world to accept Conservative and Reform conversions when the halakhic requirements of conversion–immersion in a mikveh and, for males, ritual circumcision or the taking of a drop of blood for those already circumcised–are followed.
Some of the controversy over conversion in Israel is over who can be recognized as a rabbi (and which Jewish movements can be recognized as legitimate expressions of Jewish identity and observance). Some of the controversy is over how observant the potential convert must be to be accepted into the Jewish community. Unfortunately, efforts to constitute a joint, inter-movement conversion institute in Israel have been stymied by the same haredi intransigence. that is throwing a road block up for Yisrael Beiteinu’s efforts to help the Russians.
Within this context, MK Rotem is not trying to rock the boat as much as get it unstuck from its logjam. In the meantime, hundreds of thousands of Russian Jews-in-waiting, as well as others, will continue to suffer in identity limbo.