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Shine a Light: Advancing Progressive Values in Israel this Hanukkah. Night 2—The Conversion Bill

About The Author

Chelsea Feuchs

Chelsea Feuchs is the Communications and Social Media Associate for ARZA, the Association of Reform Zionists of America. After studying for a year in Israel as a Dorot Fellow, she now works and lives in New York City.

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This Hanukkah, ARZA is working to shine a light on several challenges facing progressive Judaism in Israel. We do so with the intention to generate greater understanding, to increase the investment of Reform Jews in the Jewish State, and to center a connection to Israel in our communities. Each night for eight nights, check in with us to learn more about pressing issues and to advocate for equality, pluralism, and democracy in Israel.

 

During Hanukkah, we learn about the story of the Maccabees. We are told that this righteous group of Jews resisted the forces of assimilation to assert their own religious identity. When we are children, the Maccabees are presented as heroes, examples of what it means to take pride in who you are. While this account is true in many ways, there is a more nuanced version to consider in which our famed heroes are presented as less sympathetic zealots. After the Maccabean revolt succeeded and The Temple was rededicated, some of the more warmongering revolutionaries insisted on continuing to fight. What began as a movement for religious freedom soon left its leaders clamoring for more power, not only through conquering more land, but also through forcibly converting other peoples.

All this to say that Hanukkah has a complicated connection to issues of power, coercion and conversion. These issues have taken on new forms in the Land of Israel today. While the ruling parties of today are not focused on forcible conversion, they are pursuing a policy against their fellow Jews that is problematic and coercive. Ultra-Orthodox political parties proposed a law to grant the Haredi Chief Rabbinate total authority over Jewish conversions in Israel. This Conversion Bill aims to delegitimize Reform, Conservative, and even Modern Orthodox rabbis, and the Jews by choice in their communities.

Our rabbis are driven by a desire to serve am Yisrael (the People of Israel), and are steeped in a love of Jewish learning and tradition. Our congregations celebrate ancient rites of passage, observe rituals in inspiring ways, and dedicate time to text study. In short, they do what Jewish communities have done for the Jewish people throughout our storied history. They also welcome newcomers and Jews by choice into our tradition in legitimate ways. There is no reason to doubt the commitment of our leaders or any of our community members, or to deny them recognition and respect in the Jewish State.

In opposing the Conversion Bill, we call on Israel to fulfill the promise enshrined in her Declaration of Independence: 

“The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions”

Let this be a moment for Israel to live up to her highest ideals. Let this be a moment to more fully understand the choices of our ancestors, and to choose a more accepting path. Let this be a moment to dedicate ourselves to creating a wholly just and inclusive Israel.