Shlomo Moshe Amar (Hebrew: שלמה משה עמאר; born in 1948) was the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel and the Rishon LeZion from 2003-2013. His colleague was Rabbi Yona Metzger, the former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel.
Rabbi Amar was born in Casablanca, Morocco and immigrated to Israel in 1962 at age 14. He is a close associate of the spiritual leader of the Shas Party and former Sephardi Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Before his appointment as co-Chief Rabbi of Israel Rabbi Amar had served as the head of the Petah Tikva Rabbinical Court. He was elected chief rabbi of Tel Aviv in 2002, the first sole Chief Rabbi of the city.
Work with "lost tribes"
In 2002 Amar was sent by then Interior Minister Eli Yishai to Ethiopia to meet with the Falash Mura community, a group of Ethiopian Jews whose ancestors converted to Christianity. He subsequently recommended that they undergo a conventional conversion to Judaism, which provoked an angry reaction. Later in 2003, as Chief Rabbi, he reversed himself, saying that anyone related to a member of Beta Israel through matrilineal descent qualified as Jewish and should be brought to Israel by the government (and then undergo a formal conversion ceremony after a period of study). In January 2004, following the recommendations of the Knesset and the Chief Rabbis, Ariel Sharon announced a plan (still largely unimplemented) to bring all of the Falash Mura (presently close to 18,000) to Israel by the end of 2007.
Civil marriage proposal
Amar made news in September 2005 when he told a Shinui MK that he was willing to support civil marriages for non-Jews and people who are unaffiliated with a religion. Amar pointed out the difference between his idea and that of his predecessor, Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron, who had proposed civil marriage for anyone interested in 2004. Amar's plan, by comparison, would only apply to the marriage of non-Jews with each other. Amar stated that his suggestion was designed to solve the problem of Israel's 300,000 religionless, non-Jewish immigrants, many from the former Soviet Union who claim Jewish identity and citizenship, but whose Jewish status may not be accepted by Orthodox standards and the Chief Rabbinate. Amar called on representatives of the non-Jewish immigrants to discuss the matter with representatives of the rabbinate.
In a letter to the Muslim scholar Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar criticized Benedict XVI's remarks on Islam, writing: "our way is to honour every religion and every nation according to their paths, as it is written in the book of prophets: 'because every nation will go in the name of its Lord.'" He later told Benedict that it was his duty to spread the message that the Jewish people belong in the Land of Israel.
Amending the Law of Return
In November 2006 Amar submitted a draft bill to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that would remove the conversion clause from the Israeli Law of Return. This would prevent converts from all streams of Judaism, including Orthodox Judaism, from having automatic citizenship rights in Israel, and restrict the Law of Return to applying only to Jews by birth whose mothers were Jewish. This also affects potential immigrants who are descended from only one Jewish parent or grandparent, not all of whom would be accepted as Jewish under Orthodox law. See also: Matrilineal descent and Who is a Jew?
Amar said in interviews that the bill was designed to prevent "a situation where there are two peoples in the State of Israel." Amar said the Law of Return's inclusion of converts had turned the conversion process into a political rather than religious exercise, and that many people were converting for immigration purposes, not out of sincere religiosity. Amar suggested that an alternative could be that converts, upon arriving in Israel, went through a naturalization process via the Citizenship Law. The bill also gives rabbinic courts and the Chief Rabbinate sole authority over conversions.
Amar said that the bill was partially written in response to the Israeli Supreme Court deliberating a dozen petitions by the Israeli Reform movement to allow Reform converts to stay in Israel. Jews converted under Reform or Conservative auspices abroad have been accepted under the Law of Return since 1989, but the 2006 case deals with conversions that occurred in Israel. Amar argued that if the Reform converts were permitted to stay in the country, they would eventually become frustrated with their inability to marry Jews (as the Chief Rabbinate would not recognize their conversions as valid) and this would lead to them marrying non-Jews, which would polarize the state.
Amar received some criticism from the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel and America, and various Israeli politicians and government figures, including Menachem Mazuz, Yossi Beilin, and UTJ MK Avraham Ravitz, who said he did not believe Amar's bill, if passed, would stop Reform or Conservative converts from receiving citizenship, which would lead back to the initial problem of "two peoples" in Israel. He added that Amar's proposed bill would constitute blatant discrimination against converts. Other commentators noted that the citizenship process for non-Jews can be long and arduous, and pointed out that there are presently many naturalized Israelis, particularly immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who do not meet the halakhic definition of a Jew. One report, challenging Amar's claim that his bill was meant as a preventative measure, wrote, "The 'division of the Jewish people in Israel' is a present reality, not a future possibility."
However, some in Israel's legal community supported separating religious conversion from the secular citizenship process. Amar also received support from several religious politicians such as NRP MK Zevulun Orlev who said the bill would protect Jewish unity.
- "Sephardic chief rabbi criticizes pope's remarks", Haaretz, 17 September 2006
- Chief Rabbi to Pope: Tell the world Jews belong in Israel
- Brackman, Rabbi Levi. Sephardic rabbi wants tougher conversions, YNetNews, November 20, 2006. Accessed April 19, 2008.
- Barkat, Amiram. Chief Rabbinate prepares bill to remove converts from Law of Return, Haaretz.com, November 21, 2006. Accessed April 19, 2008.
- Wagner, Matthew (November 20, 2006). "Chief Rabbi for changing Law of Return". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved April 19, 2008.
- Gorenberg, Gershom. Torn Between the Land and the State, Jewish Daily Forward, December 1, 2006. Accessed April 19, 2008.
Eliyahu Bakshi Doron
|Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel