Sides on conversion bill closer to agreement, vote

Negotiations between MK Elazar Stern and Deputy Minister for Religious Services Eli Ben-Dahan are progressing on certain aspects of contentious bill.

Conversion 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Conversion 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Negotiations between MK Elazar Stern and officials in the Religious Services Ministry on Stern’s conversion reform bill are progressing, and the legislation could be put to a vote in short order.
During the last Knesset session, Stern attempted to drive the bill through the legislative process as quickly as possible but was stymied by a threat from Bayit Yehudi to create a coalition crisis over the issue.
Well placed sources told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that the two sides were coming closer to agreeing on certain aspects of the bill.
The basis of the bill is to allow municipal chief rabbis to establish their own three-man conversion courts in order to increase access for conversion, as there are only four conversion courts around the country. It would also create a possibility for less-stringent rulings and an easier path to conversion.
The initial terms of the bill would abolish regional zones for conversion, so that possible candidates could approach any municipal chief rabbi with a conversion application.
This would allow anyone access to the new conversion courts known to be accessible and reasonable in its conversion rulings.
It is now understood, however, that Stern and Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben-Dahan are discussing the establishment of a small number of districts, which would limit access to the new conversion courts.
In addition, the bill initially stipulated that the three-man conversion courts could be comprised of a chief municipal rabbi, a rabbinical judge, and any other rabbi with ordination from the chief rabbinate who has passed an exam on the laws of conversion.
However, it now appears that the third member of the court will also have to be either a rabbinical judge a former rabbinical judge, or someone with qualification to be a rabbinical judge.
Rabbi Seth Farber of the religious services organization ITIM: The Right to Live Jewish, who helped conceive the law, said he welcomed progress on the bill, but expressed concern that it was being emptied of content, and blamed this on Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett’s Bayit Yehudi Party.
“There is a real danger that the Bennett forces will completely change the character of the bill by empowering the chief rabbis to have absolute authority over conversion. It is this that we have fought against, and we will continue to do so.”