Good News / Bad News
The good news is that the Israeli Supreme Court, sitting as the High Court of Justice, last week ordered the Israeli government to allocate funds to institutions affiliated with non-Orthodox streams of Judaism who perform conversions
The court heard a petition which was filed by the Movement for Progressive Judaism, which specializes Reform conversions. The MPJ argued that the Absorption Ministry has discriminated against it in its stringent criteria that it uses to determine who is entitled to monetary grants. The state's grant policy is more lax when dealing with private bodies that perform Orthodox conversions, the movement told the Court.
The Israeli state currently allocates lots of money to conversion institutes. Among the large number of new immigrants who arrived in the country during the 1990s, mostly from the former Soviet Union, many had disputed Jewish status . And despite holding Israeli citizenship, it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of these immigrants are not considered Jewish by religious law.
The court has now ordered that the state cannot shut out non-Orthodox groups from the pool of money that it allocates for conversion.
This is good because it promotes religious pluralism in Israel, and dents (slightly to be sure) the coercive power of the Israeli Orthodox.
So whats the bad news?
In its reasoning the court wrote:
"All streams of conversion have the same purpose - the cultural and spiritual incorporation of Israeli citizens and residents into the society and community in Israel,"
Huh !!?? The purpose of conversion is the incorporation of citizens !! I thought it was the incorporation of people into the Jewish People, regardless of where they choose to live. And does this imply that you have to be Jewish to be fully an Israeli citizen? (Well it obviously does, so that is a rhetorical question.)
This is the danger of declaring that Israel is officially and legally a Jewish State. Jewishness becomes conflated with Israeliness and Israeliness with Jewishness.
So is it any wonder that Israel's Arab citizens - 20% of the population and growing - are becoming increasingly alienated from the state (rather then increasingly integrate, which had been the earlier trend.) And is it any wonder that anti-Zionism often slips over into anti-Semitism, when the Israeli Supreme court itself declares there is no difference between Jewishness and Israeliness.
This is bad for Israel and bad for Judaism.