How Do the Issues in the Conversion Controversy Relate to Israel?


Publication Date: July 2009

Publisher: Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

Author(s): Daniel J. Elazar

Research Area: Culture and religion

Keywords: Religious Denominations; Political Behavior; Diaspora relations; Conversion

Type: Other


The present controversy over non-Orthodox conversions to Judaism in Israel is a serious flashpoint in Israel-diaspora relations, particularly in relations between Israel and U.S. Jewry. For Israelis, on the other hand, it is a secondary issue even for those concerned about the power of the ultra-Orthodox in the Jewish state. This is partly because very few Israelis are affected by the conversion issue. Even those families of Russian Jewish olim (immigrants) that contain non-Jewish members have not shown great interest because most have not shown real interest in conversion to Judaism in any form. The issue is further neutralized by the very different understanding of Judaism held by Israeli Jews in contrast to American Jews. Finally, although the problem today is a real one because of the great growth of the issue among diaspora Jews, in Israel it is altogether a new issue since the Conservative and Reform Jewish presence is not only minuscule but relatively recent since the Six-Day War. Given all of this, the proposals of the Neeman Commission to resolve the problem have much to recommend themselves, even if they do have the character of squaring circles. This is not without precedent since the Zionist enterprise from its first has involved the critical squaring of circles at important junctures, despite the perceived incompatibility of the positions of different sides. There is no reason why a similar effort should not work in connection with the conversion issue.