As the Ashkenazi haredi establishment grapples with senior Sephardi adjudicator
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s recent endorsement of the military conversions, a new
initiative is reportedly seeking to galvanize the haredi rabbinic leadership in
favor of expanding the option of civil unions in Israel.
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behind the notion, first reported Thursday in the haredi weekly Mishpacha, stems
from the concern expressed time and again by the Ashkenazi haredi leadership and
media, that most converts in Israel do not undergo the process because of their
desire to live observant Jewish lives, but rather to achieve the status that
would enable them to marry here.
That flawed motivation, which these
rabbis say is manifest in the fact that most who convert via the military track
do not remain religious over time, should disqualify these conversions, the
According to Mishpacha, a widely read haredi weekly, a group
of unnamed but prominent rabbis and Halacha adjudicators are this weekly
beginning to present their proposal to the haredi rabbinic leadership for its
scrutiny and decision.
A source affiliated with the rabbis told The
that the group has made significant progress in promoting its
idea, but is afraid that unveiling their identities and that of the senior
rabbis who are tending to endorse it, would expose the initiative to the attacks
of those opposed to it within the haredi world.
“Those behind the
are painfully aware of the fears such a move arouses within
the haredi establishment, which for years combatted precisely such an option,”
writes, but notes that the same forces are aware that Israel
Beiteinu’s growing political power can bring to “blow after blow in the
legislative battles on the issues close to the heart of the observant
Such a move could even cause a de-facto separation of state
and church, at least in regards to personal status, Mishpacha
will, at the same time, prevent the absorption of fake converts, who pretend to
accept the burden of Torah.”
The proposal would basically be an expansion
of Israel Beiteinu’s civil union bill, which in its final form applies only to
citizens defined by the state as lacking religious denomination, and aim at the
tens of thousands of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who were granted
citizenship under the Law of Return but are not Jewish.
According to the
plan, couples in which both sides are not Jewish seeking to marry will be
encouraged to conduct a civil registration, which has no halachic validity but
will be recognized by the state.
That way, “those who are not really
interested in converting will be filtered out,” the newspaper said.
interests Israel Beiteinu is not the conversions, rather providing their
constituency of FSU olim with the option to register with their partners,”
quoted an unnamed source close to the initiative. “When that is
achieved, even [party chairman and Foreign Minister] Avigdor Lieberman will
agree to support a tightening of conversion procedures.”
chose not to address is the question whether such civil unions would
be a legal option for couples when one party is Jewish but not the other, or for
any Jewish Israeli couple that prefers to wed outside the rabbinate’s auspices.
The only Jewish marriages in Israel recognized by the state are those conducted
under the auspices of the rabbinate.
Currently, Israelis may only have
their civil marriage recognized in Israel if the marriage took place overseas –
in which case, the couple then applies for recognition by the Interior Ministry
when the couple returns to Israel. Even so, such marriages are not recognized by
the Chief Rabbinate.
The civil union initiative is not new in the world
of Halacha. Former chief Sephardi Rabbi Eliahu Bakshi-Doron wrote in 2005 an
article in support of civil unions for non-observant couples, explaining that a
non- Halachic framework could prevent transgressions of Jewish law such as
bastardy and infidelity.
In addition, such an option would relieve
conversion courts of the pressure to convert Israelis just so they could marry
Senior Ashkenazi haredi Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv objected to
the notion out of fear that such an arrangement would increase intermarriage and
Sources in Israel Beiteinu, meanwhile, insinuated to the
Post on Thursday that an expanded civil union law, as MK David Rotem had
initially worded it to apply to Israelis who are not Jewish, would indeed
nullify the need for the party’s primary conversion bill, that was shot down by
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in July.
Such a framework, the sources
explained, would solve their constituency’s problem of being in limbo – having
no Jewish status in a state in which marriage and divorce can take place only
through the religious establishment.