Who is a Jew

The most divisive and important issue in the Jewish world today. 

There is currently a bill before the Knesset in Israel relating to conversion that will have momentous consequences either way, depending on its passage.   I personally have mixed views on the matter, leading me to the conclusion that it is not entirely impossible for Israel to have a political solution to a religious matter.  There can be a solution that conforms to halacha and at the same time does not monopolise the Ultra Orthodox Rabbanit.  However it is not the place of myself or any other Diaspora Jew to be dictating to Israel how to manage its Governance and legislative program.

What dissapoints me is the lack of awareness, the level of apathy, and the level of ignorance within Diaspora communities in relation to Jewish identity.  I have not seen any informed or objective coverage that strikes at the heart of this issue.  I was particularly dissapointed that last weeks Maccabean contained three articles on this topic, all of which posited positions against the Conversion Bill.  There was no objective coverage, and nothing to clarify that the unity of the Jewish people will not be irrepairably destroyed by clearly assigning control processes over legally recognised conversions to Judasim withinside Israel.

Then I came across a situation here in Australia, very common, whereby a Jewish relationship will never be able to be consecrated in accordance with the law of Moses and Israel (i.e  – recognised by the Orthodox Rabbinate).  These matters are complex constructs of Halacha, involving issues of divorce, descent, and conversion authority.  In this situation, the relationship is between an Orthodox convert and a divorced Cohen. What we need to understand is that no amount of empathy in the world will be able to overcome the statutory structure of halacha with respect to Jewish identity.  The Rabbi’s in our generation are not entrusted with the capacity to modify halacha, rather to uphold it through interpretive means.  There are situations in which Judaism will reject reformist platforms.  However, let’s be clear.  This is not the same issue as the beating drum of Diaspora protaganists who call for pluralism at the expense of Judaism.  There is a political issue, and a religious issue.  Fighting the relgious issue with a political device is counterproductive, and exposes the worst shortcomings of Diaspora Jewry today. 

It is a disgrace that some Diaspora communities are promoting the Rotem Conversion Bill as one that impacts the Diaspora.  This legislation does not change the definition of Who is a Jew for the purpose of the Law of Return.  It does however assert authority within Israel over matters of Jewish tradition that are critical to the Jewish people. 

The Muquata make the point well.     Outside of Israel Judaism is a religious expression, that occasionaly has an expression of nationalism tacked onto it when convenient.  Within Israel, Judaism is foremostly a national expression, that is for much of the population fully and seamlessly integrated into their daily lives through religious expression.  For the most part, the balance of the Israeli population, whilst not religiously observant, are respectful of the traditional values upon which their Country was established. 

It is a shame that such a large section of Diaspora Jewry are rapidly losing their ability to connect to Jewish nationhood and its unique unwaiveable foundations.

Returning to my opening statement – Israel, and Israel alone can manage its religious dilemmas through national solutions.  The Diaspora is monolithic in this respect.  We can deal with our issues of Jewish identity through religiously based community structures.   However we are limited to this level of thinking.   Jewish Nationhood is an ideal to support (one that is very achievable to actualise), but not a political reality in a day of life of the Diaspora Jew.  That is not necessarily “wrong”, and certainly doesn’t preclude Jewish identification.  However we do have to realise that it is a constraint when it comes to resolving matters of religious dilemma. 

Turning our religious differences into a political football and kicking them into the legislative assembly of the State of Israel is not conducive to the type of Israel-Diaspora relationship that we should strive toward.   Yet this is precisely what Benjamin Netanyahu, an unwilling arbiter of this matter, now has to contend with. 

We may not be able to resolve this issue from the shores of Western Australia.  However it is a matter that we should be aware of, informed about, and that we should have the capacity to discuss in an objective and constructive matter.

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