The past few days have been difficult for Diaspora-Israel relations based on two actions by the Government of Israel that threaten to undermine the special relationship between the State of Israel and world Jewry:
· The Government’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved a proposed law that threatens the status quo on conversion to Judaism and dramatically expands the authority of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate.
· The Government suspended its January 2016 historic decision to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel (Western Wall).
These legislative actions (explained in more detail below) represent a severe challenge to Jewish unity. Jewish Federations have long played a central role in combating previous efforts to pass harmful conversion legislation that would disenfranchise significant groups within Jewish communities around the world and in Israel.
At a time when the State of Israel looks to our communities as strategic partners in combating the de-legitimization of the Jewish State, these Israeli Government actions complicate this task.
Earlier this week, an Israeli Cabinet committee advanced a bill that would further empower the country’s haredi Orthodox Chief Rabbinate. The measure declares that the rabbinate is the only body authorized by the government to perform conversions in Israel.
Defenders of the bill say it consolidates the conversion system in Israel and safeguards its integrity. But the bill has enraged non-Orthodox Israelis and American Jews who see it as a betrayal of Jewish pluralism. While the bill does not apply to conversions performed outside of Israel, Jewish leaders fear it will impugn the validity of more liberal streams of Judaism worldwide.
J.J. Goldberg in The Forward wrote, “The conversion measure has no direct connection to American Jews’ advocacy of religious pluralism in Israel. American Jewish organizational leaders have been pressing for Israeli recognition of conversions performed by Reform and Conservative rabbis. The Israeli liberalization that is targeted for rollback ended the monopoly of Israel’s Haredi-controlled Chief Rabbinate and allowed would-be converts to seek out more permissive or liberal-leaning Orthodox rabbis, but still excluded non-Orthodox rabbis.”
This bill gives the Chief Rabbinate authority over all official conversions in Israel. The bill would prevent Israel from recognizing non-Orthodox conversions performed in Israel. I want to reiterate that the bill would not affect conversions performed outside of Israel. However, there is concern of a domino effect that could lead the rabbinate one day to extend its reach across the ocean.
This morning, following pressure from the American Jewish community, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced a six-month delay in the conversion bill to seek a compromise between ultra-Orthodox leaders and American Jewish leaders.
The Western Wall measure is in regard to building a non-Orthodox prayer space at the Wall. The JTAreported that the agreement, which was passed by the Cabinet in January 2016, has three components. First is a physical expansion and upgrade of the non-Orthodox prayer section south of the familiar Western Wall plaza. Second is the construction of a shared entrance to the Orthodox and non-Orthodox sections. Third is the creation of a government-appointed, interdenominational Jewish committee to govern the non-Orthodox section.
Sunday’s decision leaves in place the physical expansion of the prayer site while suspending the creation of the interdenominational committee. Netanyahu’s haredi partners objected to the idea that the committee amounted to state recognition of non-Orthodox Judaism.
With the controversy over the committee frozen, a government official said the actual building at the site can start unhindered and will even be expedited.
As has been reported, Prime Minister Netanyahu put narrow coalition interests above the wider needs of the Jewish people. Leaders of Jewish Federations, the Reform and Conservative movements, AIPAC, the Jewish Agency for Israel, and other leading Jewish organizations have been in Israel expressing their concerns and rebuke of these issues directly to the Prime Minister and other members of Knesset. This is a situation where politics cannot be a higher priority than unity and statesmanship.
Here are also multiple articles and op-eds you may wish to read:
On the local front, one of the major issues our Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) has been focused on is protecting services for seniors and people with disabilities. We have fought hard to protect Medicaid funding for Oregon’s most vulnerable populations, as well as support funding for home- and community-based service options.
The JCRC strenuously opposed any cuts and reduction of Medicaid reimbursement rates for nursing facilities, which, in our community, would significantly impact the Harold Schnitzer Center for Living (Cedar Sinai Park). As has been reported, Oregon currently faces a $1.6 billion shortfall for the 2017-19 budget cycle due to higher Medicaid expansion under the ACA, increased PERS costs, and ballot measures that passed in the 2016 election.
House Bill 2391, a key piece of legislation that creates $670 million dollars in new revenue, passed both the House and Senate over the last two weeks. Commonly known as the “Provider Tax,” the legislation increases an assessment on urban hospitals’ net revenue to 6% and places a 1.5% tax on insurance premiums. The money covers the cost of the 350,000 additional people who now are eligible for health insurance created through Medicaid expansion and ensures the most vulnerable Oregonians have health insurance. Also, the Medicaid reimbursement rates for nursing homes should remain flat.
Thank you to those in our community who contacted their representatives. We are grateful that this bill passed and will maintain support for our seniors.
I felt this week it was important for me to provide you with an update on these important legislative issues, both in Israel and local, and make sure you know that the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland is working on our community’s behalf.
Please enjoy the start of what promises to be a beautiful summer.
Shabbat shalom and have a wonderful and safe 4th of July.