MK Elazar Stern (Hatnua) on Sunday threatened to establish a “shadow rabbinate” if chief Rabbis David Lau and Yitzchak Yosef do not end their outspoken opposition to a conversion bill the lawmaker is sponsoring.
Addressing members of the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors at their thrice annual gathering, Stern said if the rabbis remain intractable, “we [will] establish new Orthodox institutions here in Israel.”
Stern’s bill would break the Chief Rabbinate’s strict, centralized control over conversion by allowing as many as 30 local courts composed of municipal rabbis to oversee the process, rather than the four state rabbinic courts at present.
The bill recently passed its first reading in the Knesset.
The Chief Rabbinate, which would see its power reduced under the measure, said it will stop cooperating with the Knesset if the bill is approved, according to news reports. The Rabbinate is concerned the measure will lead to a deterioration of conversion standards.
“We gave the key to enter the Jewish people to those who rejected the existence of the Jewish state,” Stern said, referring to the ultra-Orthodox stream to which both chief rabbis and many senior Rabbinate officials belong.
Speaking with The Jerusalem Post following his speech, Stern explained that, in his view, it is unacceptable for a sector of Israeli society that rejects the authority of the rabbinate to wield its authority over others.
“The haredim don’t use the rabbinate,” he said, pointing out that the chief rabbis do not represent the national-religious sector that relies on it for weddings, kashrut enforcement, and other religious matters.
“If [the chief rabbis] continue to object, we will do other kashrut certifications and other weddings and other conversions” without them, he added.
“It can be a shadow rabbinate.”
While admitting such a move is not prima facie desirable, Stern stated it could be done and that “afterwards the government will recognize it.”
“Every day that this law doesn’t pass causes assimilation here in Israel.”
JTA contributed to this report.