Israel Puts off Decision on Judaism-Conversion Bill

Article excerpt

Deferring a likely showdown with U.S. Jews, the Israeli government shelved a controversial bill Sunday that would have formalized the Orthodox monopoly on conversions to Judaism in Israel.

In exchange, Reform and Conservative leaders - whose groups represent most U.S. Jews but are small in Israel - agreed to postpone a court battle to gain more recognition in Jerusalem until a permanent compromise is worked out.

"In the spirit of openness, I hope that we will be able to see this through, so that Jews everywhere will feel they are recognized as Jews and not as second-class citizens," Conservative Rabbi Howard Markose said. In a letter to Reform and Conservative leaders, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the deal as "an important step in which Israel and Diaspora Jewry will work hand-in-hand to preserve Jewish unity through mutual respect." The so-called "conversion bill" would have formalized the existing Orthodox monopoly over conversions to Judaism in Israel, but conversions performed by rabbis outside Israel would have continued to be recognized. The bill was pushed by Orthodox parties, which comprise a third of Netanyahu's governing coalition. Orthodox groups also have sole authority over marriage, divorce and burial for Jews in Israel. The bill recently passed the first of three required readings in parliament - enraging Israel's small Reform and Conservative movements, who saw it as an attempt to delegitimize their beliefs. …