(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A bill proposed by Hatnua MK Elazar Stern to expand the number of rabbis who can
perform conversions was approved by the Ministerial Panel for Legislation
Sunday afternoon, and will now be passed to the Knesset for the continuation of
the legislative process.
As with other recent reforms to religious
services, the bill has generated opposition from the Chief Rabbinate, while
Religious Services Deputy Minister Eli Ben-Dahan insisted on several changes to
the bill before agreeing to allow a vote on it in the ministerialpanel .
Before the bill goes to the Knesset plenum for its preliminary
reading, Ben-Dahan has insisted that he first be allowed to come to an
agreed-upon version of the proposed law with Chief Rabbi and Supreme Rabbinical
Court president Yitzhak Yosef, as well as the Justice and Interior
In addition, several senior rabbis from both the
national-religious and haredi world also voiced opposition to the proposed
The bill seeks to create some 30 new conversion courts,
comprised of three rabbinical judges, by allowing any chief municipal rabbi of a
city or regional council to establish a conversion court.
speaking, another 90 rabbinical judges will be added to the current list of 31
rabbis who are able to perform conversions in Israel.
At the moment there
are just four conversion courts in the country, located in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv,
Haifa and Ashkelon.
The new chief municipal rabbis will come from towns
and cities around the country, which would make it easier for conversion
candidates not living in the cities in which there are currently conversion
courts to embark on the conversion process.
Additionally, the bill seeks
to open up the registration areas for conversion registration to enable
candidates to choose which rabbi they would like to convert with.
says this provision will help candidates who encounter an unhelpful or overly
stringent rabbinical judge to nevertheless continue with their desire to
convert, by finding a more supportive and sympathetic rabbi to covert
Following the conditional approval of the bill, Ben- Dahan said it
was critical to get the agreement of the chief rabbis on the
“We’re talking about the unity of the Jewish people for coming
generations, and we must proceed with maximum national responsibility,” the
deputy minister said.
Ben-Dahan and Yosef will meet shortly in order to
deliberate on the exact terms of the bill.
Stern welcomed the approval of
the bill, saying it had been one of his first priorities upon entering the
Knesset as an MK, adding that it was based on a bill submitted by Yisrael
Beytenu MK David Rotem during the last Knesset.
“There is still a long
way to go until the legislation is approved, but we hope to make it as short as
possible. With every day that goes by without solving the conversion
issue, we are contributing to assimilation,” said Stern.
The MK, who is
Orthodox from the national-religious camp, along with others in the less
conservative wing of Orthodox Judaism, contend that the current conversion
system discourages and alienates potential converts.
In a situation where
a potential convert is in a committed relationship with someone who is Jewish
according to Halacha, Stern and others argue that if the non-Jewish partners are
put off from converting by unsympathetic rabbis or bureaucratic problems, they
will give up on the possibility of converting but nevertheless remain in their
relationship and have children.
Although the bill was approved in the
ministerial committee, Chief Rabbis Yosef and David Lau have expressed heavy
opposition to several aspects of the bill.
In a statement released on
Thursday, the chief rabbis said that “everything must be done to improve the
service provided to converts, but there can be no compromise on the requirements
of Jewish law as it relates to conversion.”
The chief rabbis claimed that
the bill grants powers to bureaucratic clerks who are not qualified to to deal
with the laws pertaining to conversion, “endangering the halachic validity of
conversion in Israel.”
MK Aliza Lavie of Yesh Atid, one of the
signatories to the proposed legislation, said the bill was an important step to
substantial change in the conversion system.
“Israeli society has
neglected the plight of hundreds of thousands of [potential] converts, and it is
incumbent on us regardless of political affiliation to come together and return
this issue to the top of our priorities,” Lavie said.