Rivlin: IDF conversion bill could split Jewish people

Chief Rabbi Amar still hoping to see bill pass giving Chief Rabbinate sole authority over conversions.

By JONAH MANDEL
March 23, 2011 06:28
3 minute read.
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivilin

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivilin311. (photo credit: Isaac Harari)

 
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Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin slammed on Tuesday the “dangerous” military conversion bill, while calling on the rabbinate to increase and enhance its conversion efforts as a countermeasure to the massive assimilation taking place in Israel.

Speaking at a Knesset event marking 90 years to the Chief Rabbinate’s inception, Rivlin noted the wealth of religious bodies that supplement the religious services provided by the rabbinate, but warned of one service that can never be in the hands of a body that is not an official arm of the state.

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“There is one field which cannot be privatized in any way, and that is conversion, which is a national mission of the highest priority,” he said to an audience composed of both chief rabbis, the justice and religious services ministers, members of the Knesset, members of the Chief Rabbinic Council and many other rabbis.

“As the leadership, we cannot accept the crisis that has become the reality of this acute issue,” Rivlin said of the impasse in the attempts of MK David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu) to pass a conversion bill that he hoped would streamline conversions for Israelis from the Former Soviet Union who are not Jewish by Halacha.

“We all must ask ourselves how the deep differences in opinion brought us to a near stop... We cannot accept a status quo on conversion, which means regression and indescribable damage to the Jewish world.”

Rivlin then addressed another bill recently put forth by Rotem, one that would provide the chief IDF rabbi – Brig.-Gen. Rafi Peretz, who also attended Tuesday’s event – with the autonomy to conduct conversions without the need for the final approval of the chief rabbi, as is now the case.

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“The bills currently debated are liable to prove more harmful than beneficial, despite the good intentions of those behind them,” he said, “since they would put the converts in a future reality that would be impossible to deal with. I believe there is a danger in splitting the conversion system, as set forth in the bill to grant full conversion authorities to the chief IDF rabbi.”

Rivlin equated the “severity” of any attempt to replace the orthodox conversion authority “with another one, Reform or Conservative – a move that could compromise the unity of the Jewish people” – with the severity of “the attempt to enable a conversion authority outside of the Chief Rabbinate, a dangerous move that could create two pedigrees, and lead to a de facto split within the Jewish people.”

“Halacha preserved the Jewish people for generations, and we must safeguard it [the Halacha] in return,” Rivlin said, “while at the same time cautiously but realistically examining the places where we can ease things regarding conversions. Authorized sources have already shown that there is quite some room for leverage in this issue.”

“Conversion must be the Chief Rabbinate’s main mission in the upcoming years,” Rivlin stressed. “We are all following the assimilation abroad with concern. But at the same time, here, under our noses, there is assimilation under Israeli auspices. There are some 300,000 Israelis living amongst us, who are not Jews by Halacha. It is our responsibility to find the way to bring them under the wings of Judaism. I am sure it is possible,” he added.

Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar spoke out in his address against “those sitting far, far away from the Land of Israel, who got involved and threatened Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who froze the conversion bill.” Amar was referring to the massive pressure exerted on the premier by the non-orthodox American movements last summer, who along with the Jewish Federations of North America succeeded in putting a halt on the legislation of Rotem's bill which had already passed the Knesset's Law Committee, and would make the Chief Rabbinate responsible for all conversions in Israel by law.

“We toiled over this bill for nearly three years, and got the agreement of almost all Knesset factions,” Amar said. “I think most disagreements on the topic would be resolved if that bill would pass. It's neither long nor complicated, and comes to legislate what the rabbinate has for years been doing – conversions.”

“I wish the Knesset speaker and the Mks would do what they can to help pass the bill, so that conversions will be only in the hands of the Chief Rabbinate,” Amar added.

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