Who is a Jew ?
By Shahar Ilan
A bill to recognize as Jewish those in Israel with a Jewish father and a process of secular conversion will be discussed today by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation. Meretz-Yahad Chairman MK Yossi Beilin proposed the bill, which is the first time a political party has sought to intervene in the question of who is a Jew in this way, and he says he believes the committee will vote it down.
Beilin's bill would amend the registration law for the Population Registry and for identity cards, but has no effect on the Law of Return, granting of citizenship or immigrant benefits.
The proposal states that "for the purposes of the Population Registry Law and all registration or legal certificate," an individual will be considered Jewish if at least one of his or her parents is Jewish or he or she joined the Jewish religion in a religious process or has joined the Jewish people in a non-religious process and has linked his or her fate with the Jewish people, and is not a member of another religion."
Beilin says the amendment will mean that 300,000 Jews from the CIS who at present are not considered Jewish will be able to register as Jews is they so desire. "In a world of DNA, it is so old-fashioned to talk about a chain of motherhood," says Beilin. If people see themselves as Jewish, and certainly if one of the parents was Jewish, he adds, why should the state define them as not Jewish?"
Beilin's bill does not change the present situation, but rather would anchor in law a series of High Court rulings on the matter.
Beilin's idea of secular conversion, which he first raised in 1999, involves joining the Jewish people by means of activities in the Jewish community and maintaining a Jewish lifestyle. Committees would be established to determine what demands would be made of those who wished to join the Jewish people, Beilin proposes, "such as elementary knowledge of Hebrew and checking there are no extraneous interests." Beilin said the central consideration in accepting people to Judaism by means of secular conversion would be a family tie to Jews.
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