Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Israel's Last Law: Who's a Jew, Who's Not a Jew

The Last Law

The last law the Knesset will apparently legislate during 2010 is meant to regulate the Giur process in the IDF. It would have been difficult to imagine a better symbol for the sad state of the Israeli society. This law and the ongoing struggle around it touches the heart of the problem: a group of regular people defining themselves as chosen and basing that on a Book that states otherwise.


Ruth is a key figure in the Old Testament. The book named after her tells the story of a Moabite woman which marries an Israelite. Following his death in Moab (on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea), she decided to return with Naomi – her mother in law – to Bethlehem. When Naomi tells her to go back to her home – after all she has no more sons to offer to Ruth – the last says: “Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God” (Ruth 1:16).

With this answer, Ruth became the most famous “giyoret” ever. The masculine form of this word – namely “ger” - means “stranger” but is kept by Pharisaic-rabbinical Jews for converts to Judaism. The process is thus known as “giur,” which ironically means “becoming a stranger.” This is a subtle reminder that Pharisees never truly accept converts; as a matter of fact, converts cannot marry with orthodox Jews.

Bethlehem doesn’t make a lucky appearance in Ruth’s story. By later marrying Boaz, Ruth became one of the ancestors of King David and thus also of Jesus. This was God’s way to remind us His message was meant for all regardless our ethnic background. Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” Considering this, the issue of “giur” was to become a major problem for Israel.

Giur in Israel

As extensively commented in The Cross of Bethlehem, one’s rights in Israel depend on his – or hers – religion and ethnic group. These are listed by the Ministry of Interior, which defines one religion as per the religion of his parents. Changing that is almost impossible. Even if a formal change would be ruled by the court, the records would be kept. Moreover, the ID number would continue to reflect the opinion of the Ministry of Interior and not the will of the individual. Without a Constitution to defend them, basic human rights are systematically abused by the Israeli administration.

The only giur accepted in Israel is the one performed by Orthodox Jews via the Chief Rabbinate. Reform and Conservative converts are not recognized, unless they converted outside Israel. The main groups passing through the Orthodox process – which includes body mutilation for men – are Russian and Ethiopian people that arrived to Israel during the late 1980s and the 1990s. Many of them choose to pass the event during their service in the IDF. Why? Simply, it’s easier there. Military rabbis are less strict. “I order you to be a Jew!” they say and it’s done. Well, almost so.

That’s the problem the Knesset is trying to solve nowadays. Shas – the main Sephardic Orthodox party in Netanyahu’s coalition – wants the process to become stricter, as in its secular counterpart. Yisrael Beiteinu - Avigdor Lieberman’s party and also a coalition member – wants to ease the process, since the converted soldiers are an important source for new settlers in the West Bank. Netanyahu has become a sterile mule trapped between an unholy alliance between Zionists and Pharisees.

Would the new law favour Pharisaic Shas or Ultra-Nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu? It doesn’t matter, Israel would remain a highly racist society.

Source article can be found here.

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