Chief Rabbi refuses to sign conversion certificates conducted under new law

Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef is heard in the recording speaking about a severe difference of opinion he has on the requirements for Jewish conversion with the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem.

Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef (L) and former Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar (R). (photo credit: OFFICE OF RABBI SHLOMO AMAR)
Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef (L) and former Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar (R).
The bitter war being waged by Chief Rabbis Yitzhak Yosef and David Lau against the new Jewish conversion law is continuing unabated, with Yosef caught on tape saying that he will not sign conversions conducted on the terms of the new statute.
Yosef is heard in the recording, aired by haredi news website Kikar Hashabbat on Wednesday night, speaking about a severe difference of opinion he has on the requirements for Jewish conversion with the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Aryeh Stern, and the chairman of the national religious Tzohar rabbinical association, Rabbi David Stav.
After describing his objections to Stern’s approach to conversion, Yosef goes on to outline his objections to the new conversion law approved by government order which, if implemented, decentralize the chief rabbinate’s control over conversion by allowing municipal chief rabbis to establish their own conversion courts.
“They went and made a law that municipal chief rabbis can convert, so they bypassed me. The chief rabbi of Jerusalem can convert, the chief rabbi of Shoham [Rabbi David Stav], can convert... it is within the authority of the chief rabbi to stop this. I gave an instruction to the chairman of the conversion system that all of the conversions they are doing now I won’t sign them, I won’t approve, I won’t sign something against Jewish law.”
MK Elazar Stern who initiated the conversion law, demanded in response to the recording that Yosef resign as chief rabbi.
“I call on Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef to resign immediately from his position,” said Stern.
“The chief rabbi has forgotten that the source of his authority comes only from the decisions of the Knesset and Government of Israel. If he does not want or cannot for any reason carry out the laws of the state and the decisions of the government he has only one option: to resign.
It is appropriate that the chief rabbi is elected not according to his greatness in Torah but in a political process from which he draws his authority.”
Aside from the verbal sparring, the implementation of the conversion law is progressing, albeit very slowly and significantly behind schedule.
Administrative guidelines and regulations, which were supposed to have been approved by the steering committee and sent to the Ministry of Justice in the middle of December, have still not been passed on to the ministry.
Rabbi Tzfanya Drori, chief municipal rabbi of Kiryat Shmona and the chairman of the steering committee, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that the guidelines have now been agreed and complete and have been passed to the Religious Services Ministry.
They are yet to be passed on to the Justice Ministry, however.
Additionally, the steering committee is seeking to change an important clause of the government order and obtain the right to approve or deny requests by municipal chief rabbis to establish conversion courts. The government order currently gives the chairman of the state conversion system the authority and it is unclear how this could be changed by the steering committee without the approval of the government.
Drori told the Post that even though the guidelines and regulations had not yet been sent to the Justice Ministry, the steering committee intends to begin reviewing requests for establishing conversion courts in the coming week.
Stern and other proponents of the law are concerned that if implementation is not completed and conversion courts not set up before the establishment of the next government, haredi parties United Torah Judaism and Shas could demand in coalition negotiations that the law be rescinded.
Since the law was passed by government order that was approved by the cabinet, and not a legislative act, it can also be repealed simply by a separate government order.
Yosef and the haredi rabbinic leadership oppose the law because they believe that some municipal chief rabbis will be too lenient when applying Jewish law to conversion candidates.
Proponents of the law want to make conversion more accessible, since there are currently only four conversion courts nationwide, and convert greater numbers of the approximately 330,000 Israeli citizens from the former Soviet Union who are not Jewish according to Jewish law.
In particular, the proponents of the law including Stav, want to convert minors, boys under 13 and girls under 12, which is a much simpler process in terms of Jewish law than converting adults and can be done in large numbers.