Independent conversions not backed by religious-Zionist leaders’

Ben-Dahan says law not aimed at Reform, Conservative conversions

Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan, Bayit Yehudi’s point-man for religious issues, is strongly criticizing the independent Orthodox conversion court Giyur Kahalacha against the backdrop of protest against the currently frozen government conversion legislation.
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post this week, Ben-Dahan also argued that the legislation did not target Reform and Conservative conversions, but rather all independent conversions regardless of denomination.
Under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate, the state conversion authority is the largest conversion court in the country, but a ruling by the High Court of Justice in 2016 meant converts through the several independent Orthodox courts could obtain Israeli citizenship through the Law of Return.
The Interior Ministry, at the urging of interior minister and Shas head Arye Deri and United Torah Judaism, last month advanced legislation that would have annulled the right of converts through independent courts to gain citizenship, and would have ensured that this right would never be obtained by non-Orthodox converts.
This generated outrage from progressive Jewish movements, as well as from the founders and advocates of Giyur Kahalacha, who said the law would hamper their efforts in the future to legally require the Chief Rabbinate to register their converts for marriage.
Ben-Dahan argued that the legislation was designed to prevent the abuse of conversion for the purpose of gaining citizenship, noting that there approximately 250 non-state conversions every year involving people who are not citizens.
He insisted that there would be no change in the status of Giyur Kahalacha conversions, arguing that because the Chief Rabbinate will not marry them today, the status of such converts would not be harmed.
He also objected to the idea of applying legal pressure to the Chief Rabbinate.
“They want to convert several thousand converts and then approach the High Court and have it force the Chief Rabbinate into recognizing their conversions, and are now complaining that if this law is passed they wont be able to do so,” said Ben-Dahan.
“But do I need to help people who are trying to do such a thing? They’re saying they want to force the Chief Rabbinate to do the opposite of what it wants to do and they come to us with complaints? Is this how people behave in a normal country?” The MK also rejected the argument that Bayit Yehudi should advance the cause of independent conversion given the haredi control of the Chief Rabbinate and the fact that the haredi community does not generally marry converts from the state system because it is viewed as too lenient.
“Even if the haredim don’t now marry [converts from the state system], maybe in the next generation they will, or the one after that. Maybe they’ll become yeshiva students in haredi yeshivas and you think they won’t be able to marry afterward?” Ben-Dahan asked.
Despite historic efforts by the religious-Zionist communities to help Soviet Jews emigrate to Israel, including that of the old National Religious Party, he argued that the religious- Zionist leadership had never committed to converting immigrants who were not Jewish according to Jewish law.
“The National Religious Party never said it was responsible for conversion of those making aliya. That was never the case. The heads of religious- Zionism never said we want to convert everyone who comes from the Soviet Union and be lenient on this conversion.
They dealt only with encouraging aliya.”
He also took exception to the idea that Giyur Kahalacha, which was founded and is run by several senior religious-Zionist rabbis, represents the religious-Zionist community.
“When they established Giyur Kahalahca did they ask Rabbi [Haim] Druckman or Rabbi [Tzafaniah] Drori? Rabbi Druckman opposes it today,” he said, also referencing other senior rabbis from the sector who oppose the new conversion court.
“They are all religious-Zionist leaders, so are we against religious Zionism? Who said theirs is the path of the religious- Zionism?” Rabbi David Stav, the municipal chief rabbi of Shoham and one of the founders of Giyur Kahalacha, said in response that the new court was justified because only an increasingly strict interpretation of Jewish law was being adopted in the religious establishment due to the influence of haredi politicians.
“Today, we only have the approach of the hard-liners because Arye Deri appoints the rabbinical judges and there is only one, extreme voice that controls the system. This is what he [Ben-Dahan] wants to establish in law?” Stav asked.
“Is it normal for a religious- Zionist to abandon conversion to the hands of Deri and to further deceive the public and say it is only designed to prevent infiltrators [illegal immigrants abusing conversion for citizenship]? “The haredi community does not even recognize the conversions of the Chief Rabbinate, but now they want to control these conversions under the cover of Ben-Dahan.”
Stav also called on Ben-Dahan to work toward allowing municipal chief rabbis to establish their own conversions courts, which would be recognized by the Chief Rabbinate.
Ben-Dahan said he supported municipal chief rabbis establishing their own courts, but only if each municipal chief rabbi received the approval of the Chief Rabbinate to do so.
Stav, who is something of a bête noire with the current chief rabbis and Council of the Chief Rabbinate, is unlikely in the extreme to get approval to establish his own court.