Contemporary Jewry

, Volume 33, Issue 3, pp 217–240 | Cite as

A Jewish State? Controversial Conversions and the Dispute Over Israel’s Jewish Character

  • Netanel FisherEmail author


The purpose of this article is to outline the ideological and theological controversy over the issue of conversion to Judaism in Israel that has remained on the agenda of the Israeli public discourse since its founding (1948). Through an analysis of the viewpoints of three central political and religious leaders on this issue, this article aims to demonstrate that beyond fierce political debate, the disagreement lies within what each leader views as adequate interpretations of Jewish history and religion in the modern State of Israel. This comprehensive dispute illustrates that the three sides cast the meaning of Israel’s basic character differently—as either a Jewish secular nation-state, a Jewish religious state, or rather a combination of the two. Thus, the controversy over conversion highlights the fact that Israel has not yet succeeded in forming a consensual conception of its definition as a “Jewish state.”


Politics and religion Modern Israel Historical models of conversion to Judaism Religious and national conversion A Jewish state 


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology, Political Science and CommunicationThe Open UniversityJerusalemIsrael

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