Poll: Israelis view non-Orthodox converts as Jews

Jerusalem, Israel - A majority of Israelis regard non-Orthodox converts to Judaism to be part of the Jewish people, according to a survey published Monday, putting the general public at odds with religious authorities.

The survey, conducted for Israel's Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, found that 63 percent of respondents believed those converted by non-Orthodox rabbis should be regarded as Jews. Some 30 percent believed they should not.

The Shiluv pollster questioned a random selection of 507 Israelis and gave a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.

The issue came to the fore in July with attempts in Israel's parliament to pass a law that would have tightened the Orthodox-run rabbinate's control over conversions. The restrictions have angered the Reform and Conservative movements, which have large followings overseas but are relatively small in Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intervened and forced a compromise to "preserve the unity of the Jewish people."

According to the Orthodox interpretation of Jewish law, only a person born of a Jewish mother or converted according to Orthodox procedure can be considered Jewish.

The bill touched on a deepening rift between the world's two biggest Jewish communities, as American Jews are increasingly influenced by intermarriage and loosening ties to tradition, while religious life in Israel has become dominated by the strict Orthodox establishment.

The poll also found that 68 percent of Israelis said Diaspora Jews who intermarried should be regarded as Jewish, while 21 percent said they should not.

Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein said he hoped the findings of the survey would bring the two communities closer together.

"Maybe following this in the political system, we can convince more people that whoever chose to go through a conversion in their community overseas in a Reform or Conservative manner and chose to join us here, we should choose to bring them closer and not push them away," he told Israel Radio. "If we want to bring about unity ... we should not boycott or strong-arm anyone."

Under the current practice, Israel only partially recognizes conversions performed by non-Orthodox rabbis inside Israel, while those converted by non-Orthodox rabbis outside the country are automatically eligible for Israeli citizenship like other Jews.