Israeli Divorce Spurs Debate Over Who Is Jewish

By Kate Rockwood,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 30, 2008 7:29 PM CDT
Ultra-orthodox Jewish men pray at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site. While Israel's government is trying to bolster its Jewish population through conversion, others argue it dilutes the faith.   (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
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(Newser) – A divorce ruling in Israel has thrown thousands of Jewish conversions into question and sparked a debate over who is really Jewish, the Washington Post reports. Ultra-Orthodox rabbis, who frame one side of the dispute, refused to let a Jewish convert divorce last year, saying she was never married because she did not observe Jewish law. "I was in shock," she said. "I couldn't believe it."

On the other side are secular Jews and Zionists who see the Arab population rising west of the Jordan River—and are eager to offset it by allowing more converts. Some are calling for more lenient marriage courts, but ultra-Orthodox power has risen with political alliances and high birth rates. In their ruling on Yael, the Israeli wife, they warned against "letting into the vineyard of the Jewish people these total non-Jews." (Read more Jewish stories.)