(photo credit: Matthew Wagner)
The controversial conversion reform law proposed by MK Elazar Stern (Hatnua) could take center stage in the political debate next week with the bill scheduled to be brought back for a final committee vote.
The bill has passed its first reading in the plenum and its process through the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee is almost complete apart from one final vote on an amendment, which will likely be defeated if voted upon, paving the way for the legislation’s second and third (final) readings in the Knesset plenum.
However, Bayit Yehudi has vigorously opposed the bill in its current format and is likely to seek ways to block its passage, which could lead to a political showdown over the legislation.
Stern’s bill seeks to increase access to conversion courts for conversion candidates by increasing the number of courts and allowing chief municipal rabbis to establish them.
The Chief Rabbinate is strenuously opposed however, arguing that the law would empower rabbis not sufficiently versed in the laws of conversion to perform them, while also taking too much authority out of its hands. Bayit Yehudi and its Deputy Religious Minister Services Eli Ben-Dahan, have sought to halt the bill for fear of damaging the standing of the Chief Rabbinate.
The bill has the potential to destabilize the coalition given Bayit Yehudi’s strenuous objections.
At the end of the Knesset winter session in March, Bayit Yehudi successfully appealed to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to halt the progress of the bill through committee.
Netanyahu subsequently asked senior national-religious leader Rabbi Haim Druckman, who has publicly opposed the bill, to mediate between Stern and Ben-Dahan, but the negotiations have broken down without agreement.
A spokesman for Stern said the Hatnua MK made far-reaching compromises on the bill but that Bayit Yehudi would still not accept it.
A source in Bayit Yehudi said the party would work to prevent a vote in committee on Stern’s bill in it’s current format.
Druckman is scheduled to meet with Netanyahu on Sunday and present him with a Bayit Yehudi approved version of the bill, although this is not being done in cooperation with Stern.
Two weeks ago, Rabbi Dov Lior, a hardline national-religious rabbi who wields significant influence over the four-MK Tekuma bloc within the 12-MK Bayit Yehudi Knesset faction, spoke out publicly against the bill and said it was the reason behind the kidnapping, and subsequent murder, of Eyal Yifrah, Gil’Ad Shaer, and Naftali Fraenkel.