David Rotem 311.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
The agreement for an all-around moratorium on the legal actions that could
change the status quo of conversions in Israel seems to be accepted only by
liberal Jewish groups, while the haredi Shas and United Torah Judaism parties,
which supported Israel Beiteinu MK David Rotem’s conversion bill in its recent
Knesset Law Committee vote, were not part of such a deal.
said that he was not a party to any such understanding.
Minister’s Office announced late on Thursday night that the Reform and Masorti
(Conservative) movements in Israel had agreed to a nearly six-month freeze on
their High Court of Justice petition demanding state recognition of non-Orthodox
conversions conducted in Israel. In return, the announcement continued, the
government would halt the legislative process on the conversion bill for that
The deal was hammered out by cabinet secretary Tzvi Hauser, at
the behest of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, “to find any way to preserve
the unity of the Jewish people.”
According to the agreement, there will
be no change in the status quo until January 1.
In the interim, Jewish
Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky will head a team including members of the
non-Orthodox movements and of the government, to create the authority that would
complete the legislation on the topic.
“The changes in the conversion
laws should be reached through broad understanding, to prevent a schism in the
Jewish people. Unity is a primary national interest, and I am determined to
preserve it,” Netanyahu said.
Rotem had tried in the recent Knesset
summer session to pass a law that would give present and former municipal rabbis
the authority to conduct conversions, including for people who live outside
their municipalities, but critics feared that the wording of the bill could
strengthen the Chief Rabbinate, change the legal status of non-Orthodox
conversions in Israel and affect the eligibility of such converts to citizenship
under the Law of Return. Netanyahu was recently subject to massive pressure from
the non-Orthodox movements and the Jewish Federations of North America to halt
the bill’s progress until further dialogue.
“We appreciate the premier’s
decision to use all his influence to keep the conversion bill, which bore the
danger of splitting the Jewish people, from being voted on in the Knesset
session,” said Yizhar Hess, director of the Masorti Movement in Israel. “We
accepted the premier’s suggestion to convene for negotiations on formulating the
conversion bill in such a way that wouldn’t split the people. With a heavy
heart, we agreed to freeze the High Court petitions, which deal with delicate
and intricate personal cases, to enable a quiet, professional process, based on
Rabbi Gilad Kariv, head of the Reform Movement in Israel,
lauded the premier “for preventing significant harm to the unity of the Jewish
people, and giving precedence to acts of dialogue over unilateral, aggressive
“The movements’ acquiescence to freeze the High Court
procedures, a move far from being taken for granted, is proof that the
non-Orthodox movements in Israel and abroad believe in the necessity of
dialogue,” Kariv said. “We hope the appropriate ways to solve the severe
conversion crisis in Israel will be found, along with the recognition of the
pluralistic nature of the Jewish people.”
Jerry Silverman, president of
the Jewish Federations of North America, welcomed the agreement as
“We truly support this process of a dialogue table, which
allows the participants time to discuss this important issue appropriately and
reach a solution that protects the bonds between Israel and the Diaspora,”
Silverman said. “We are also thrilled that Natan Sharansky will be leading the
A spokesman for Shas said on Friday morning that his
movement was not part of any such deal and did not accept it. Shas Chairman and
Interior Minister Eli Yishai reiterated in this weekend’s Yom Leyom newspaper
the importance Shas sees in passing Rotem’s bill.
MK Uri Maklev’s
spokesman reiterated that his party, UTJ, had only supported the bill because of
the resistance it was facing from the Reform movement, and not because of its
inherent acceptance of the legislation.
We are not surprised that the
prime minister didn’t involve us in these talks, nor do we expect to be part of
them, Maklev said.
Rotem told The Jerusalem Post
that he was not party to
the understandings, and did not know if he would participate in the planned
talks. The Knesset was on a recess until October, and no legislation could be
advanced anyway, Rotem said.