The State of Israel is threatened by a severe socio-religious divide which could split the nation into two unless a law is passed to decentralize authority over Jewish conversion, Tzohar chairman and Municipal Chief Rabbi of Shoham Rabbi David Stav has said.
Speaking on The Jerusalem Post’s Zoomcast series, Stav dismissed concerns that conversions under such a law would lack widespread acceptance, and said that the legislation would allow rabbis to use tools available within Jewish law to make conversion easier, especially for children.
Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana is set to submit legislation to the Knesset in the coming weeks which would enable municipal chief rabbis to set up their conversion courts.
The motivation behind the legislation is to convert large numbers of Israeli citizens who are of Jewish ancestry, but not Jewish according to Jewish law, so as to avoid mass interfaith marriages in the Jewish state and the creation of a large sector of the population which is technically non-Jewish but fully integrated into Jewish society.
There are currently more than 400,000 Israeli citizens, mostly from the former Soviet Union or their children, who are fit into this category.
The legislation would allow moderate municipal chief rabbis, such as Stav, to adopt more lenient approaches to conversion in order to deal with the issue, especially regarding children who are easier to convert than adults.
“On the one hand we’ll have tens of thousands of Israelis who are marrying [those who are not halachically Jewish people… and on the other hand they’ll be a group who says this [first] group is not Jewish anymore,” said Stav if the current situation continues.
The rabbi said this would divide Israeli society “into two huge nations” and would endanger societal cohesion, solidarity, and even security.
“Many of the Jews in Israel are willing to fight for a Jewish state but they are not willing to fight for an Israeli state [which is] not a Jewish state,” said Stav.
And the rabbi even compared the situation to the splitting of the ancient Kingdom of Israel following the death of King Soloman, as recorded in the Bible.
There is however intense opposition to the legislation from the Chief Rabbinate and the ultra-Orthodox political parties, while senior ultra-Orthodox rabbis and some senior conservative religious-Zionist rabbis are also likely to vehemently object.
Asked whether advancing reform to the conversion process amid such opposition would not itself cause socio-religious divides, Stav rejected the argument saying ultra-Orthodox rabbis already do not recognize the conversions performed under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate.
“All haredi rabbis, not most, all, do not recognize the conversions of the Chief Rabbinate… So, the situation couldn’t be worse than today,” said the rabbi.
Asked about opposition from religious-Zionist rabbis, Stav claimed that “95 percent” would accept conversions under the new system.