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Israeli rabbis demonstrate against conversion legislation

JERUSALEM, Jan. 30 (JTA) — A dozen Israeli Reform and Conservative rabbis chained themselves to benches outside the Interior Ministry to protest a pending bill on conversions. The protest, which attracted a great deal of local media attention, passed peaceably Thursday. Einat Ramon, a rabbi and spokeswoman for the Masorti/Conservative movement in Israel, said the protesters had chosen the ministry “because this is where people receive their identity cards, where people are registered as Jews.” The pending legislation, which is expected to win Cabinet support, would affirm the Chief Rabbinate’s control over all conversions to Judaism in Israel and ban non-Orthodox conversions. The battle over who has the legal right to perform conversions in Israel is part of a larger campaign by Reform and Conservative Jews to win recognition for their movements in Israel. Ramon said the chains “were symbolic of the way Reform and Conservative rabbis, institutions and converts are chained in Israel.” “Our converts are recognized everywhere except Israel,” Ramon said. The rabbi added that even though many Orthodox Jews shouted at the protesters, “a lot of people also expressed their support.” Earlier in the week, a delegation of 50 American Reform rabbis met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to lobby against the pending conversion bill.