Ultra-Orthodox Rabbis May Soon Be Given Control Over Defining Who Is Jewish in Israel

Alana Newhouse has an interesting op-ed in the New York Times about a move in the Israeli Knesset that would give the Orthodox rabbinate control of all conversions in Israel. The authority (extending to matters of all Jewish births, marriages and deaths) would allow ultra-Orthodox (or Haredi rabbis) to define who is Jewish under standards that could exclude a significant portion of the population.

The legislation is the work of David Rotem, a member of the nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party. Newhouse quotes Rivkah Lubitch, an Orthodox woman who is a lawyer in Israel’s rabbinic court system, as stating:

“Even if you didn’t go to register for marriage, and even if you didn’t go to a rabbinic court for any reason, and even if you didn’t pass by a rabbinic court when you walked down the street — the rabbinic court can summon you, conduct a hearing about your Jewishness and revoke it,” she wrote. “In effect, the entire nation of Israel is presumed to be Not-Jewish — until proven otherwise.”

This is another example of the perils of entanglement of temple and state. It would be a move likely to magnify tensions with the American Jewish community which has long had conflicts with narrow definitions of who is Jewish.

Source: New York Times

39 thoughts on “Ultra-Orthodox Rabbis May Soon Be Given Control Over Defining Who Is Jewish in Israel

  1. A paralell comparison,”whos a crook and whos not”

    NY governor signs law limiting stop-frisk database
    Jul 16, 2010 11:14 AM AP
    : NY governor signs law limiting stop-frisk database.

    Map data ©2010 – Terms of UseMapSatelliteHybridNEW YORK (Map, News) –
    Gov. David Paterson has signed a law that prevents New York City police from keeping personal information in a database about people who are stopped and frisked but not charged.

    The law was signed Friday. Critics have said information from such stops can lead to future police suspicion and surveillance.


    A hot topic here on the east coast.

  2. I am not sure of the issue here, Israel has always been a theocracy. Even though equality is guaranteed by law, other laws codify religous and cultural discrimination.

  3. Actually, Israel has never been a theocracy. The definitoin of who a Jew is was purely secular (and still is, I think), and the purpose of Zionism was purely secular: to give Jews a homeland where they would be safe from anti-semitism.

    (The anti-semitic definition of who a Jew is is secular too.)

    Nearly all “ultra-orthodox” schools of Judaism opposed the founding of the state of Israel on religious grounds, with only a few exceptions. It’s only over time that this has changed. And because of the Israeli Parliamentary system they have a lot of political power. This despite the fact that, on the ten=point scale of religious insanity they turn it up to 11.

    One of the original founders of the pro-zionist ultra-orthodox movement was Rabbi Kook. And that name says a lot.

  4. Buddha,

    Bzzt, Cthulu isn’t a god so much as alien being. Now the mad demon Sultan that pipes in the center of the universe, THERE’S a god.

  5. “The catholic church is not that liberal in Latin America since the pope squashed the “liberation theology” movement.”

    Nope. The Liberation Theology is a more a radical than a liberal movement, but Oscar Romero is still very popular, and most of the Bishops are very liberal. Don Evaristo Arns of São Paulo is a very good example. One of the reasons that the Tradition, Family, and Property organization was founded was because conservatives thought that the Brazilian Church was too liberal for them.

    It´s also true that the Argentinean Catholic Church is more conservative than in the rest of the Continent, but besides things like Abortion and Gay Marriage even Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires is very liberal.

    By the way, the *only* position where the Catholic Church disagrees with the public opinion and managed to win is… the death penalty, very popular among the public in most countries. Abortion is very unpopular according to the polls, gay marriage is not very popular too.

  6. Assuming this comes about, what would it do to American governmental support of Israel when it disavows its own citizens?

    What rights a protections would be left to the newly non Jewish? Do they get kicked out of Israel, maybe move to the illegal settlements in Gaza to be starved with the Palistinians?

    This would be like apartheid to the 10th power.

    It actually is howingly ironically funny, except there are real people being hurt by a sort of religious autoimmune disease.

  7. “In effect, the entire nation of Israel is presumed to be Not-Jewish — until proven otherwise.”

    I wonder if Ms. Lubitch is related to AZ Governor Jan Brewer??

  8. mr. ed.

    Since you are so well informed, please cite the bible verse which says Christians need Israel (I guess to “launch” from) during the rapture.

    …okay, I’ve stopped laughing at your comments….


  9. @Yissil

    There is nothing secular about Israel, its policies are closely tied to a religion.

    Presently, an Orthodox rabbinical council decides who is Jewish for marriage purposes in Israel. This council refuses to honor Reform and Conservative conversions performed outside Isreal. Interfaith marriage is illegal. Non-Jewish citizens are routinely discriminated against, such as not being able to own land. Although everybody can vote, the governemnt has made an effort to counter the population growth by non-Jews.

    You can call it theocracy light if you wish but it is still a theocracy. The nation promotes Judism. It is no different than many Mulsim countries that allow other religions yet its policies are closely tied to a theology and theocratic council.

    BTW, Hebrew is not the only semitic language, so is Arabic.

  10. ishobo: Well, as you say, “Presently, an orthodox rabbinical council decides …” Empahasis on presently. This is a recent development, which demonstrates the increasing influence of religion in Israeli life, which demonstrates that the influence used to be very small.

    There is lots of discrimanation against “non-jews” (especially if by non-jews you mean Israeli arabs) but “Jew” in this sense has nothing to do with religion.

    That’s the whole point of the article. Giving Rabbis more power to decide who is a Jew would be another huge blow against the traditonal non-religious character of the definition of who is a Jew and, for instance, therefore automatically entitled to Israeli citizenship.

    There are a lot of things to condemn Israel for, but being a theocracy is not one of them. Yet.

    I used to know a guy from Ethiopia. He spoke Amharic. That’s a semitic language too.

  11. @Yissil

    Did even bother to read what I wrote? You are ignorant on Israel’s policies and laws. It is not a recent development, it has been this way for decades. The above article is about extending the council to include all manner of determination. Just like the law on equality, Jews are more equal than non-Jews and Orthodox Jews are even more equal. Again, non-Jews cannot legally marry Jews in Israel. A Jew who voluntarily changes their religion is not considered a Jew according to the law of return, and that rule has been on the books since the 70s. That is not secularism.

    Emil Fackenheim, who lives in Israel, had his Orthodox conversion in Toronto 30 years ago ruled invalid by the council in early 2009. The judge came to that conclusion after questioning him about his level of observance and his record of attending synagogue. That is not secularism either.

    The whole point of the law of return is to keep Israel Jewish (religion).

    You need crack open a book and get educated.

    “I used to know a guy from Ethiopia. He spoke Amharic. That’s a semitic language too.”

    My point was that Jews the world over have co-opted anti-semite to refer to anybody that is against Jews.

  12. This is an internecine fight that has been going on in Judaism since at least the late 19th Century when they began debating zionism. Ashkenazi Jews are discriminatory towards the others, and has always been thus. http://zope.gush-shalom.org/home/en/channels/avnery/1260658441/


    This is why many Jews felt national or political zionism was so dangerous to jews.

    It all comes from the same place, but the palestinians are on the bottom.

  13. this entire problems could be solved by adding a single word. Instead of letting the ultra-orthodox rabbis decide who is Jewish, they could be entitled to decide who is an orthodox Jew. Israelis in general do differentiate between ultra-orthodox, orthodox, traditional or secular Jews.
    Why on earth should ultra-orthodox Jews have the exclusive right to determinate who has the right to be part of any other Jewish subdivision?

  14. And the Ice Man gets to determine who lives and who does or putting Jeffery Dalhmner in charge of Day Camp.

  15. The Haredi Rabbi’s idea is divisive. Do we learn from history? Divisiveness weakens the family and brings in an opportunistic outsider. That is how, so long ago, we lost Jerusalem and how Rome took over the Israelites.
    There is no Jewish Pope, thank God. There is no group of Jews who have the last word on recognizing what makes a Jew, Jewish.
    Israel has the love and support of many kinds of jews. Was it not the secular Jews who were instrumental in the formation of Israel, out homeland?
    Stop this hair splitting and let there be peace in the family.

  16. I all the time used to study paragraph in news papers but now as I am a user of internet so from now I am using
    net for content, thanks to web.

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