Chief rabbi to be given veto for choice of conversion head

The original draft required the prime minister merely to receive advice from the chief rabbi serving as president of the Supreme Rabbinical Court.

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June 7, 2018 18:51
3 minute read.
Chief rabbi to be given veto for choice of conversion head

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man is seen in the foreground as the Dome of the Rock is seen in the background February 15, 2017. (photo credit: REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD)

In a significant change to the recommendations made earlier this week to reshape the conversion system, the prime minister will now require consent from the chief rabbi before nominating the head of the conversion authority, essentially giving the rabbi the ability to veto the choice.

The original draft required the prime minister merely to receive advice from the chief rabbi serving as president of the Supreme Rabbinical Court, and was thus seen as revolutionary since it removed conversion from the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate.

Former justice minister Moshe Nissim, who drafted the proposals, said he did not believe the chief rabbi would veto a suitable candidate nominated by the prime minister but MK Elazar Stern, who had supported Nissim’s recommendations, says he is now withdrawing support.

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Nissim rejected the idea that the reforms would be stymied by the new provision for consent from the chief rabbi.

“The authority to appoint still remains with the prime minister and I believe that the chief rabbi won’t be able to reject a fitting candidate because of the public outcry that would ensue,” he said.

He also accused haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and National-Religious leaders, both conservative and mainstream, of “putting out the red carpet for Reform conversion” in their opposition to his recommendations.

The High Court of Justice is widely believed to have already written and finalized a ruling on a petition by the Reform and Masorti (Conservative) movements, which would give de facto recognition to conversions done in Israel by non-citizens.

Nissim argued that should his proposals and draft legislation be rejected, the High Court will swiftly issue the ruling.

In response to the changes to the recommendations, Stern issued an open letter to Nissim saying that although he has “great appreciation for your efforts, willingness and creativity,” giving the chief rabbi veto over the head of the conversion authority would doom the initiative to convert more people from the former Soviet Union.

“Any right-minded person recognizes the fact that one of the main culprits for the poor conversion figures in Israel and the rampant assimilation is Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, along with its consistent policy of preferring Beit Shammai’s [stringent] way over Beit Hillel’s [more lenient path],” wrote Stern.

“For this reason, there is not even the slightest chance that the Chief Rabbinate’s consent will bring about an embrace of Beit Hillel’s way, a solution to the growing rift among the Jewish people in Israel and the Diaspora, and an increase in converts,” he continued, saying that the change would be “a fatal blow” to the effort to increase conversion.

Regardless of the specific clause requiring the chief rabbi’s consent before choosing the authority head, clauses that formally recognize Reform and Conservative conversions abroad give two spots to progressive Jewish representatives on the 11-man committee for appointing rabbinical judges for the conversion courts. This means that the proposals are unlikely to be adopted regardless due to haredi and National-Religious opposition.

In the meantime, the government on Sunday is likely to request a delay in the pending ruling by the High Court on the petition of the Reform and Masorti movements by arguing that it needs time to review Nissim’s recommendations and deal with the complex and combustible subject.

The Reform movement director in Israel, Rabbi Gilad Kariv, said he was unsure yet whether the movement would agree to another delay, but added that the court is likely to grant the government another extension since it has only just received Nissim’s proposals.


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