Reform Movement prayer service at the Western Wall .
(photo credit: Y.R)
Former justice minister Moshe Nissim will head a government committee mandated with giving recommendations for solving the country’s contentious conversion issue, the Prime Minister’s Office announced on Wednesday.
According to the announcement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes that Nissim’s “rich experience” will help “formulate recommendations on the issue of conversion, with broad agreement, to strengthen unity among the Jewish people and respect for Israel’s heritage.”
Nissim, 82, spent nearly 30 years in the Knesset until 1996, and during his period as a Likud MK held a number of ministerial portfolios, including Justice, Finance, Industry and Trade, and served as a minister-without-portfolio.
He is the son of former Sephardi chief rabbi Isaac Nissim.
The establishment of a committee to look into solutions to the conversion issue came at the end of June, when Netanyahu decided to shelve controversial legislation that would have made the Chief Rabbinate the only body in the country authorized to perform conversions. He asked for a six-month reprieve from the High Court of Justice to find a solution to the issue.
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, director of the Reform Movement in Israel, took the Prime Minister’s Office to task for not consulting with it before appointing Nissim.
Kariv said that although this way of functioning was “not surprising,” as long as this type of unilateral decision- making continues, “it is difficult to understand how broad agreements and unity can be promoted among the Jewish people.”
Kariv said his movement is interested in a dialogue with the government and is committed to “finding a way to ensure that conversion procedures in Israel will not be abused.”
But, he added, “we will continue to insist that every stream of Judaism in Israel and the Diaspora will be able to carry out conversions, and that they will be recognized by the state of the Jewish people.”
The legislation promoted by the haredi parties in the coalition and advanced in June would give the Chief Rabbinate a monopoly on the conversion process in Israel. This led to a huge uproar, both in the US and in Israel. It also led to divisions inside the coalition, with Shas and United Torah Judaism supporting it, Kulanu and Yisrael Beytenu against, and Bayit Yehudi interested in inserting some key amendments.
The bill, if passed, would mean that people would be ineligible for citizenship under the Law of Return if they converted in Israel under Reform, Conservative or private Orthodox auspices. The bill would not affect conversions performed outside of Israel.
A High Court of Justice ruling in March 2016 ended the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly over conversion by recognizing Orthodox conversions performed by private bodies other than the Chief Rabbinate.
Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern, who pushed forward a bill to liberalize the conversion process in 2014 that – had it passed – would have allowed municipal rabbis to open conversion courts, said Nissim was “worthy” of dealing with an issue “so important to the future” of the Jewish people and Israel.
But unfortunately, he added, “I find it difficult to be optimistic, since any proper and desirable solution is of only secondary importance to the very existence of this ultra-Orthodox government, and therefore the prime minister will continue to obstruct it.”