spiritual concerns.nDemographics is on the side of the Haredi. Alone amongnIsraeli Jews, in obedience to those much-disparaged biblicalninjunctions, they have large families; nine children is notnuncommon. Today Jews making aliyah, immigrating tonIsrael, are mostly Orthodox; they believe God requires themnto live in the land he gave their people. Those leaving (thennation lost 21,000 in 1988) are secularists, whose noblestnmotivation is the desire for a comfortable standard of living.nThe socialists who settled Israel had a pioneering spirit.nToday, idealism is found primarily in the religious community,nwhich alone offers a compelling reason to accept thensacrifices inherent to living in a state under siege.nRabbi Yitzhak Peretz, leader of Shas (the SephardicnTorah Guardians party), attributes the growing attraction ofnOrthodoxy to “the general disappointment over the moralncondition of Israeli society. The religious are not plagued bynemigration, drugs, crime, and suicide. This makes peoplenthink and brings them to vote for religious parties.”nLike the conditions of their political ascendancy, thenOrthodox agenda is widely misrepresented. Its positionnon amending the Law of Return, which permits any Jewnimmigrating to Israel to automatically apply for citizenship,nwas not accurately reported. It is, the line goes, an Orthodoxnpower grab, an effort to delegitimize Gonservative andnReform Jews.nTo be precise, the issue is not who is a Jew, but who is anconvert. (Not even the most pious Orthodox rabbi wouldndeny the Jewishness of the most’ assimilated Jew.) Thenproblem stems from the corruption of the conversionnprocess by the modernist branches of Judaism. The Orthodoxnseek to amend the Law of Return to limit its applicationnto those born Jewish, or individuals who have undergone annauthentic conversion.nFor 3,500 years the definition of Jewishness was wellnestablished: a Jew is the child of a Jewish mother or one whonconverts to Judaism hallachically (in accordance with Jewishnlaw). Those accepted for conversion must manifest a sincerencommitment to join their destiny to that of the Jewishnpeople. (The desire to marry a Jew was never considered anvalid reason for conversion.) There followed an extendednperiod of intensive study. The potential convert had to agreento live according to the dictates of the entire body of Jewishnlaw.nIn the past generation. Reform Judaism (and to a lessernextent the Gonservative movemerit) took upon itself tonamend a process traditional Jews consider divinely ordained,nhence immutable. Reform Judaism’s response to burgeoningnrates of intermarriage was to facilitate conversion by thenGentile spouse. Many of the historic requirements fornconversion were discarded, including, in many instances,ncircumcision for men and immersion in the mikvah — ritualnbath — for women.nSome of these conversions approached Las Vegas weddingsnin their seriousness and attention to detail. (The latenRabbi Emmet Allen Frank of Miami advertised eight-hournconversions.) The Orthodox consider such ceremonies ansham. They are concerned about maintaining the historicnunity of the Jewish people, and worry about a time whennsome Jews won’t be able to marry others ostensibly of theirnfaith, due to questions about the validity of an ancestor’snconversion.nAs an Israeli rabbi explained it to me, since the state hasntaken it upon itself to pass on who is a Jew, that decisionnshould at least be based on Jewish law.nAnother area of controversy concerns the. application ofnthe Sabbath laws. Again, the Orthodox are cast in the role ofndespots seeking to make the rest of the nation conform tontheir level of observance. The Haredi believe they arenmerely protecting their way of life in the face of a secularistnonslaught.nThey point to the status quo agreement, an accordnbetween David Ben-Gurion and the leaders of Orthodoxynat the founding of the Jewish state. To secure their supportnfor statehood, Ben-Gurion promised to preserve the religiousnstatus quo, including the cessation of public transportationnand closing of businesses and places of entertainmentnon the Sabbath, in those communities where the customnthen was observed. The Orthodox never pushed for Saturdaynclosing laws in secular cities like Tel Aviv. But sincensecularists have begun to press for Sabbath movies andnshopping in Jerusalem, religious Jews feel their activism isnjustified.nThere are interesting parallels between the politicizationnof Orthodoxy in Israel and the rise of the religious right innAmerica. Like their fundamentalist counterparts, the Haredinwere essentially apolitical until threatened by an antireligiousnethos. In the US, it was the attack on tax exemptions fornchurch schools by officials of the Carter administration thatnanimated the Ghristian right.nTo be precise, the issue is not whonis a Jew, but who is a convert. The Orthodoxnseek to amend the Law of Returnnto Hmit its appHcation to those bornnJewish, or individuals who havenundergone an authentic conversion.nWhat formerly was disdained as too worldly was soonnperceived to be a matter of grave importance. Everyngovernment system must reflect someone’s values. If biblicalnmorality is confined to the precincts of church and synagogue,nsociety eventually will be dominated by secularistndogma.nFor the Orthodox, a Jewish state that denies Jewish lawnseems an absurd contradiction. While accepting the pluralisticnnature of Israeli society, the Orthodox believe that innessential areas the legal code must reflect Torah values.nBesides amending the Law of Return and enforcing Sabbathnclosing laws, this would include tightening restrictionsnon abortion and reinstating the ban on homosexual conductnthat was repealed last year.nFor their part, nonreligious Israelis need the idealism andncommitment of the Orthodox. For a nation beset withneconomic problems and foreign challenges, Israel’s religiousnright provides a sorely needed raison d’etre. <^nnnJUNE 1989/23n