Gov't urged to obey order to fund non-Orthodox conversions

The Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee hold stormy debate on the matter.

conversion class 248.88 (photo credit: Hilary Leila Krieger [file])
conversion class 248.88
(photo credit: Hilary Leila Krieger [file])
The Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee held a stormy debate on Monday afternoon over whether or not the state is implementing the recent High Court of Justice ruling requiring it to fund non-Orthodox conversion programs. The urgent hearing was held at the request of MK Shlomo Molla (Kadima). "The court was called in to address this matter because the state gave the Orthodox institutions a monopoly on conversion. There is room in Israel for religious pluralism," said Molla. "That is why the courts passed the reins on to us." Molla, in his opening remarks, emphasized that he did not intend to hold a halachic debate on the nature of Reform conversion, but rather to discuss the division of funds for such private conversion centers. "It cannot be that the Israeli taxpayer is funding only one type of conversion," he said. "Religious pluralism is a foundation stone of any democratic state. The state must therefore view all of the streams of Judaism as equals and the Immigrant Absorption Ministry must carry out the High Court ruling to the letter of the law." But it was exactly the halachic debate to which lawmakers were drawn, with MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) infuriating representatives of the Reform Movement by terming them "haters of Israel." "There are rules set for joining the Jewish people," said Gafni. "It is not just being here and being a citizen. Mixing these fields could bring about a national tragedy." Shas faction chairman MK Avraham Michaeli argued that "the High Court ruling is causing waste of the government's money, because the Reform converts are not achieving the goals of conversion. Their conversions do not allow them anything in terms of marriage and divorce, and they cause confusion and divisiveness among the nation." Rabbi Gilad Kariv of the Reform Movement said it had approximately 20 classes with some 200 would-be converts operating at any given time. He emphasized that their students were informed at the start that the Chief Rabbinate would not recognize their conversions, but that the Interior Ministry's population registry would recognize them as converts. The committee called on the government ministries involved to implement the High Court ruling, and decided that due to the complexity of the subject, and because the government was still debating the topic, the committee would hold additional hearings.