Home  Principles & Statements  Positions of the ACJ  Articles  DonationsAbout Us  Contact Us  Links                                         

Conversion Crisis Will Cause $100 Million Drop-Off In American Giving To Israel, Reform Leader Warns

Allan Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
January-February 1999

Early in January, leaders of Reform and Conservative Judaism held a press conference in New York City and predicted a $100 million drop-off in American Jewish philanthropy to Israel if the Knesset passes two bills that would restrict the privileges of their movements.  

The Forward (Jan. 8, 1999) reports that, "The prediction came at a fiery press conference...by Reform and Conservative leaders, who vowed to bar from their synagogues in America any Israeli lawmakers who vote for the final version of a bill restricting Reform and Conservative conversions in Israel. The reverberations are spreading to the largest American Jewish charity, the United Jewish Appeal-Federation of North America,which incurred the wrath of a key Orthodox leader by appearing to side with the Reform and Conservative movements in the fight. The dispute could flare into a full-fledged rupture in the relationship between Israelis, who are mainly Orthodox or secular, and Jews in America, who largely identify with the Reform and Conservative movements."  

The president of the Reform movement’s Union of American Hebrew Congregations, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, said that if the laws pass, Israel’s next prime minister will be "greeted with hostility and with demonstrations from a very, very angry American Jewish population." He said the Orthodox chief rabbis and their political allies were trying to vilify the Reform and Conservative leaders. "Somehow, we’re the Satans of the Jewish world," he said.  

Stephen Wolnek, president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, said: "We’re outraged. If those in power in the State of Israel wish to spit in our eye, they must expect that there will be a reaction."  

The president of the United Jewish Appeal, Richard Wexler, warned against allowing the dispute over the rights of the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel to affect charity. He said he agreed with the Reform and Conservative leaders "that this is a time for tolerance and democracy," and said he expected leaders in Israel to speak up for these values.  

Asked if he was siding against the Orthodox, Mr. Wexler said, "The Orthodox in this country have been the beneficiaries of pluralism and democracy here. I’m not opposed to Orthodoxy. I’m opposed to those who are opposed to pluralism and democracy."  

Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch, executive director of the Association of Reform Zionists of America/World Union, said that if the bills pass in Israel, "This special relationship that American Jews had with the State of Israel will be tarnished. I think we’ll see an immediate decline in American philanthropic giving to Israel." He speculated that the annual dip would be $100 million.  

On Jan. 26, efforts by the Conservative and Reform movements to gain official recognition in Israel suffered a setback when the Israeli Parliament passed a bill intended to bar non-Orthodox Jews from the country’s powerful religious councils. The New York Times (Jan. 27, 1999) reports: "Leaders of the small Conservative and Reform movements here, who have been chipping away at the Orthodox control of religious affairs in Israel, warned that the legislation would cause a rift with Jews abroad, most of whom are not Orthodox."  

Rabbi Ehud Bandel, president of the Conservative movement in Israel, stated: "I am deeply concerned that this legislation will alienate diaspora Jewry, two thirds of the Jewish people, from the State of Israel. The Parliament has said that there is only one legitimate Judaism in Israel: Orthodox Judaism."  

Israel’s Sephardic Chief Rabbi lashed out at the Reform movement, saying it had led to the loss of more Jews by assimilation than in the Holocaust. "We know that the one—way street sanctioning assimilation is the Reform system, the Reform conversion, the Reform synagogue," said the rabbi, Eliahu Bakshi-Doron.  

< return to article list
© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.