Myths and Facts About the Conversion Law

Many American Jews are concerned about the possibility of a change in the law regarding conversions in Israel. Much of the concern relates to fears that non-Orthodox Jews maybe in some way delegitimized by any change. Some Reform and Conservative Jews also object to the ostensible monopoly over religious affairs (including issues relating to marriage and divorce as well as conversion) enjoyed by the Orthodox. The following points were issued by the Israeli government on the narrow issues directly addressed by proposals to change the conversion law, which do not relate to all the issues that have provoked recent upheaval in Israel-diaspora relations.

The Israeli Government is not taking the conversion issue

In an unprecedented step, Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu brought together Reform, Conservative and
Orthodox leaders to form a committee headed by Finance
Minister Yaakov Neeman. The Neeman committee, which
began its work in June 1997, has held over 50 meetings
and heard testimony from numerous religious and
communal leaders and experts in an attempt to find a
recommendation that would avert the need for the
Conversion Law.

The Neeman committee is continuing its work for
an acceptable solution on the issue of conversions
performed in Israel. A second committee was established
to address the issue of the conversion of infants adopted
abroad. This committee has succeeded in formulating
recommendations which were agreed upon by all parties
concerned. It is hoped that the success of the second
committee will serve as a harbinger of unity and

As Prime Minister Netanyahu said in a speech to
the General Assembly of the Council of Jewish
Federations (CJF) on November 16, 1997, “I do not
believe that this issue can be resolved through litigation or
legislation. We would rather have neither. What we need is
an agreement among the religious leaders of all the parties
involved… We are determined to reach a consensus.”

Passage of the Conversion Law would mean that people
who undergo Reform and Conservative conversions
abroad would from now on be considered second-class
Jews in Israel.

Reform and Conservative conversions performed in
communities outside Israel are currently recognized by the
Israeli Government and would continue to be recognized
even if the bill were to become law. The proposed law
relates only to conversions performed in Israel, and not to
those carried out elsewhere. If the Conversion Law is
passed, it will not alter the recognition that is granted to
conversions performed outside of Israel.

The Conversion Law would disenfranchise Reform and
Conservative Jews outside of Israel.

The sole objective of the proposed law is to preserve the
status quo in Israel, which has been accepted by every
Israeli Prime Minister since David Ben-Gurion after the
founding of the State in 1948. Cases pending before the
Israeli Supreme Court could alter the status quo with
regard to conversions performed in Israel. The proposed
Conversion Law would codify existing practice. It does
not question or cast aspersions upon anyone’s Jewishness or commitment to Israel, nor is it intended to do so. Israel
remains the homeland of the entire Jewish people,
regardless of their religious affiliation. As Prime Minister
Netanyahu said in his November 1997 speech to the CJF,
“No one, nobody, can deprive a Jew of his Jewishness…
There can be no such thing as a second-class Jew. Every
Jew is a legitimate Jew. Period.”

Source: Israel Government Press Office