This past week the Israeli political party Yisrael Beiteinu once again tried to introduce legislation that would ease up the conversion process in Israel. The proposal, like all other such initiatives, will inevitably be shelved by the right wing religious establishment and their political proxies. Which means, roughly 300,000 Russian Jews will continue to be viewed as pariahs by Israel’s religious establishment. Or put another way, though 300,000 people are willing to serve in the army and give their lives for the Jewish people, these haredi and religious Zionist rabbis will not recognize them as Jews–go figure? So it’s come down to this: the Russians versus the Chief Rabbiniate.
It no longer amazes me how Israel allows its minority fundamentalist haredi population to determine the most pressing of identity issues. Neither am I surprised that the haredim do everything in their power to ensure that their narrow reading of Judaism trumps the pressing needs of world Jewry. All that is old news and can be explained by simple economic and political concerns. However, what does continue to surprise me are those in the Modern Orthodox community who still claim to believe in a concept of klal Yisrael (Jewish peoplehood), who have no nothing to gain by throwing their lot in with these religious fanatics, yet sit on sidelines while the haredim dictate the spiritual face of world Jewry.
In recent years there has been some push back on the part of a new generation of Modern Orthodox rabbis in Israel and abroad. The young and charismatic Rabbi Benny Lau critiqued his uncle Chief Rabbi Lau for not doing enough to change the chief rabbinate during his time in office. Others in the group Tzohar have withstood all kinds of threats by standing up to other extreme rulings issued by the chief rabbis.
For years now legislation like the type being proposed by Yisrael Beiteinu has been put on the table. But the Russians will loose to the Haredim if they dont get outside help. Ultimately, the only thing that will change the status quo will be an internal revolution on the part of orthodox rabbis who will have the guts to stand up for the Jewish people. Short of that, the religious tyranny will continue in the holy land.