The Conversion Crisis:
The Current Debate on Religion, State and Conversion in Israel

Introduction
Pre-State Jewish Life
Creation of the State of Israel
Testing the Principals
The Conversion Crisis
1995 - Present
Future Challenges


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Pre-State Jewish Life

Under the rule of the Ottoman Empire (1517-1917), the religious communities in Palestine operated under the so-called "millet system," whereby each religion determined issues of personal status such as marriage, divorce, burial and inheritance according to its own religious practices. Under this system, the Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities established religious councils, generally appointed by the Ottoman government.

Under the British Mandate (1917-1948), Ottoman religious community policy continued. The Jewish community of Palestine was headed by a Rabbinical Council, led by Sephardic and Ashkenazic chief rabbis, who were elected by an assembly of rabbis and lay people. The Council in turn appointed members of rabbinical courts throughout the country. Under Ottoman and then British rule, Rabbinical Councils were comprised solely of Orthodox clergy. Marriage, divorce, and other issues of personal status were determined strictly on the basis of halacha (Jewish law).

It is important to note that while the Conservative and Reform movements in Europe and North America were enjoying tremendous growth during this period, these movements had little or no presence in Israel until the 1960s. In pre-State and early-State years debates on religious issues were between Orthodox (Zionist and non-Zionist) and secular.

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