UTJ looks for way into coalition, rabbis discuss conversion compromise

United Torah Judaism's rabbinic leadership met Wednesday night to discuss a possible compromise in proposed conversion reforms that would allow the party to join the government coalition. The meeting was slated to take place at the home of Rabbi Yitzhak Zilberstein, a prominent Bnei Brak based halachic authority. Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the preeminent halachic authority for the Lithuanian Yeshiva world and Zilberstein's father-in-law, announced this week that it was forbidden for UTJ to join a government that intends to implement reforms aimed at making the conversion process easier. The nonagenarian rabbi opposes allowing city rabbis to perform conversions. Sources close to the rabbi said that from past experience, allowing city rabbis to convert led to corruption. In the 1980's and 1990's, when city rabbis were permitted to convert, there were several instances in which rabbis were accused of accepting bribes in exchange for converting. The rabbi opposes another proposed reform that would eliminate territorial jurisdictions. Presently, conversion courts are permitted to convert only citizens of Israel who live within a defined geographical area that falls in their jurisdiction. However, a letter from Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar might be the key to a solution that would enable UTJ to join the coalition. According to sources in the UTJ, Amar suggested giving Elyashiv or one of his representatives final say on which city rabbis would be allowed to perform conversions and which would not. UTJ sources expressed optimism that Amar's proposals would lead to a compromise. The Likud is presently offering the UTJ the position of Chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, the Health portfolio and a deputy minister in the Education Ministry who would oversee the haredi education budget. Meanwhile, rumors spread that UTJ might be willing to support the Likud-led government from outside the coalition in exchange for receiving the position of chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee. However, sources in the UTJ denied these reports. UTJ's bargaining position was weakened further Wednesday after Likud signed a coalition agreement with Habayit Hayehudi [The Jewish House], further strengthening the coalition and making UTJ less essential for political stability.