Senior liberal rabbis call on Liberman to stand by promises on conversion

A ruling by the High Court of Justice in March gave de facto state recognition to independent Orthodox conversion courts.

May 24, 2016 20:27
2 minute read.
ukraine aliya

New immigrants from Ukraine make aliya, December 30, 2014. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Leading rabbis in the liberal wing of the national-religious community have called on Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman to “stand by his electorate” and oppose any government attempt to weaken the standing of private Orthodox conversions, should he join the coalition.

A ruling by the High Court of Justice in March gave de facto state recognition to independent Orthodox conversion courts, which the United Torah Judaism party immediately promised to revoke through legislation.

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Last year, Liberman blasted the coalition for repealing reforms to the conversion system adopted by the previous government, and gave strong public backing to a new, independent network of Orthodox conversion courts. Giyur Kahalacha, when it was launched in August 2015.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, municipal chief rabbi of Efrat and one of the Giyur Kahalacha founders, noted on Tuesday that Liberman had been a strong advocate of boosting immigration from the former Soviet Union. Riskin added that he would be abandoning his electorate if he allowed the High Court’s ruling to be circumvented.

“Many Jews who left the Soviet Union and came to Israel were persecuted for being Jewish only paternally and not maternally,” Riskin said in reference to approximately 300,000 Israeli citizens who are not halachically Jewish. “I find it difficult to believe that Liberman would turn his back on these people, and I find difficult to understand how he can go along with the coalition if he believes that immigrants should be integrated into Israeli society.”

The rabbi said that “if Liberman is a person of principle,” he would oppose any law proposed by the coalition to circumvent the High Court ruling.

Rabbi Seth Farber, director of the ITIM religious services NGO and another founder of Giyur Kahalacha, said that the Yisrael Beytenu leader had “a golden opportunity” to translate previously expressed support for the network into action.

“I hope that despite what has been reported, MK Liberman will capitalize on this opportunity to improve the lives of his constituency and to create a more safe and secure Jewish Israeli society,” Farber said.

Rabbi Yehudah Gilad, a yeshiva dean at Maale Gilboa hesder yeshiva and one of the rabbinical judges with Giyur Ka’halacha, called on the Yisrael Beytenu chairman to go one step further and work towards formal state recognition of conversions done outside of the state-conversion system.

“When one meets those who are converting, the majority of whom are from the former Soviet Union, we are touched every time afresh by their immense will to return and belong to the Jewish people from which they were forcibly severed by the course of history,” said Gilad.

“I have no doubt that many of them are pinning their hopes on Minister Liberman, who knows their stories, and that when he joins the government he will do everything in his power to ensure that their conversion, conducted by recognized Orthodox rabbis, will be formally recognized by the state of Israel and its institutions.

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