Bennett, Kulanu seeking to moderate controversial haredi conversion bill

Some MKs are now trying to amend the conversion law so that it will only prevent foreign workers and illegal immigrants from abusing conversion to gain citizenship.

June 27, 2017 18:55
2 minute read.
Le chef de HaBayit HaYehoudi n'est pas sorti indemne de l'affaire Ohanna

Naftali Bennett à la Knesset cette semaine. Le chef de HaBayit HaYehoudi n'est pas sorti indemne de l'affaire Ohanna.. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)


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Following a massive outcry, Bayit Yehudi leader and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett, as well as the Kulanu party, is seeking to amend the controversial conversion law being advanced by the haredi political parties.

Several senior national-religious rabbis are furious that the proposed law would deal a huge blow to their conversion program designed to avert a looming intermarriage crisis in Israel with immigrants and their descendants from the former Soviet Union who are not Jewish according to religious law and Jewish Israelis.

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These rabbis, including chairman of the Tzohar rabbinical association Rabbi David Stav, have lobbied Bennett and Justice Minister Shaked to moderate the bill advanced by Shas and United Torah Judaism so that it will not negatively impact the legal status of their conversions. 

Bennett and Shaked, together with MKs from Kulanu, are now trying to amend the conversion law so that it will only prevent foreign workers and illegal immigrants from abusing conversion to gain citizenship.

Kulanu MK Roi Folkman told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that Shas had misrepresented its bill before the vote on it, which is why the party’s ministers had voted in favor of approving its passage to the Knesset.

The haredi conversion bill would grant the Chief Rabbinate a total monopoly over conversion in Israel, and would annul all legal standing currently granted to Orthodox conversions performed in independent Orthodox rabbinical courts as well as for Reform and Conservative conversions.

It was approved for passage to the Knesset on Sunday by the government but that process has been stalled by an appeal for a vote in the full cabinet by Yisrael Beytenu which fiercely oppose the legislation.

Currently, converts who chose to convert in independent rabbinical courts instead of the state conversion authority which is guided by the Chief Rabbinate can register as Jewish in the Interior Ministry and can gain citizenship through the Law of Return if they not already citizens.

Reform and Conservative converts can also register as Jewish in the Interior Ministry, and the these denominations hope that the High Court of Justice will rule in favor of their petition demanding citizenship for their non-citizen converts through the Law of Return as well.

Stav and the other leading rabbis who established the Giyur Kahalacha independent Orthodox conversion court in 2015 see the legal standing afforded their conversions by a High Court ruling last year as critical to their efforts to eventually force the Chief Rabbinate to register their converts for marriage.

The argument made by Shas at the meeting of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday which approved the bill was that the state should not give the keys to citizenship to non-state actors, so Bayit Yehudi is trying to amend the bill so that it deals with this issue alone.

In truth however, Giyur Kahalacha and the progressive Jewish movements have said they are not interested in converting foreigners.

Folkman said Kulanu would support a law preventing refugees and illegal immigrants from getting citizenship through conversion, but said that the party was working with Bayit Yehudi and Yisrael Beytenu to make Shas’ legislation “more reasonable and balanced.”

He would not say however how the party would vote on the bill if such a goal was not obtained, noting that “at the end of the day, Kulanu only has 10 seats.”

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