The Ministerial Committee on Legislation voted Sunday to advance Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana’s controversial conversion reform plan. It hopes to have it pass its first reading in the Knesset plenum before the spring recess begins on March 13.
The bill would allow municipal chief rabbis to conduct conversions while maintaining the ultimate authority of the Chief Rabbinate.
The goal of the legislation is to make conversion more accessible and welcoming and to give municipal chief rabbis the ability to use leniencies in Jewish law to convert greater numbers of the large population of Israeli citizens who are of Jewish descent but not Jewish according to Halacha, mostly from the former Soviet Union, so as to avert increasing assimilation.
United Torah Judaism MKs strongly criticized the plan. MK Yakov Asher said it would make Judaism “a club that anyone could join.” MK Ya’acov Litzman said it would endanger the Jewish identity of the State of Israel.
The Religious Zionist Party said the plan was a bad bill that divides the nation and that it cannot possibly be implemented due to the opposition of the Chief Rabbinate. The government had no legitimacy to advance such a bill because the Ra’am (United Arab List) Party is in the coalition, it said.
“[Ra’am leader] Mansour Abbas will not decide who is a Jew,” the Religious Zionist Party said.In a letter to the ministers on the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, the chief rabbis urged them to reject the bill and instead coordinate the drafting of a new bill on conversion with them. The reform would mislead converts into thinking their conversions would be recognized, they wrote.
Knesset Law Committee chairman Gilad Kariv, who is a Reform rabbi, said the bill would only change how Orthodox conversions are conducted.
The ministerial committee on legislation also voted to advance a bill by Yesh Atid MK Moshe Tur-Paz that would change the voting body in elections for chief rabbi in an effort to reduce the automatic advantage held by Haredim (ultra-Orthodox).
Tur-Paz said the goal of the bill was to add transparency in the process of choosing chief rabbis and ensure that the voting body would better reflect Israeli society.