Converting to Judaism is not something to be taken lightly. Unlike other religions, Judaism is very picky about who it lets in through the door. At least Orthodox Judaism is. And rightly so.
However, the conversion process in Israel in recent years has become an insurmountable obstacle for many. The problem is exacerbated given the fact that hundreds of thousands of ex-Soviet Jews who emigrated to Israel in the 1990s are not Halachically Jewish. Many of them need to go through a conversion process in order for them to be recognized as Jews by the Chief Rabbinate (and to get married to other Jews). This problem – which arose, ironically, under the lax watch of the ultra-Orthodox party Shas at the Ministry of Interior at the time – needs a solution. These people are full Israeli citizens who need to be brought into the fold.
Yesterday, a group of Zionist-Orthodox rabbis announced they will perform conversions according to the Halacha in their own rabbinical courts. These conversions will not be recognized by the Chief Rabbinate (and therefore by the State), but the rabbis hope that their initiative will eventually put enough pressure to make these conversions legal.
The Chief Rabbinate, in this and in other areas, has distanced itself from most Israelis. In fact, it’s a Rabbinate for the few. The ultra-Orthodox don’t obey its rulings; they have their own rabbis. The secular majority certainly doesn’t pay much attention. And now the only sector who was loyal to the Rabbinate has made a significant step in distancing itself from it. Other initiatives, for example in the area of Kosher certifications, are additional small steps in the direction of rendering the Rabbinate irrelevant.
Hopefully these are the first steps in the direction of what should really happen: a separation of State and Religion. For almost seven decades now the Jewish Religion has been a lowly adjunct of the secular state, deriving its authority from people and bodies who do not believe in it. For too long Israelis have equated Judaism with the warped views of an ultra-Orthodox minority, causing immeasurable damage, perhaps an irreversible one. It is high time that Judaism reclaims its true position, as it has for almost 2,000 years, and once again becomes a guiding beacon for Jews everywhere. Not because it is imposed on them, but because they choose to follow it.