The proposed legislation assigns authority on matters of conversion in Israel to the Chief Rabbinate; Reform and Conservative Jewish communities
protesting the bill.
By Jonathan Lis
The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on Monday approved in a preliminary reading the new draft for a bill on conversion reform that has sparked outrage among Reform and Conservative Jewish communities in Israel and abroad.
The draft, which was prepared by committee chairman MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu), would assign the authority on matters of conversion in Israel to the Chief Rabbinate.
Monday’s approval was needed before parliament can vote on the bill. It has to pass three rounds of voting before becoming law, a process that will likely take months.
The bill is also meant to ease the process for Israeli citizens seeking to convert.
Uri Regev of the religious equality group Hiddush says the bill could sideline liberal Jewish denominations by giving Orthodox rabbis the power to veto their conversions.
Likud MK’s were absent from the vote. MK’s David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu ), Avraham Michaeli (Shas), Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism) and Michael Ben Ari (National Union) voted in favor of the new bill.
MK’s Shlomo Molla (Kadima), Yohanan Plesner (Kadima) and Dov Khenin (Hadash) voted against the bill.
“This bill, in its own words, clearly demonstrates that the cat is out of the bag,” the head of the Reform Movement, Rabbi Gilad Kariv, told Haaretz on Sunday.
“MK Rotem cut a deal with the Haredim according to which the Orthodox establishment in Israel will, for the first time, have a monopoly on conversion – in direct contravention of Supreme Court decisions and promises made by political leaders, and contrary to the interests of immigrants.”
Rotem rejected the claims against him yesterday, saying, “This is not a change of the status quo on matters of conversion. Through their claims, the Reform and Conservative communities are attempting to make some sort of gain at the expense of 400,000 new immigrants.”
Rotem said he intended to put forth a much milder version of the bill following the preliminary reading. He planned to carry out the alteration through a vague formulation of the bill as it currently stands.
“The bill says the Chief Rabbinate will be given responsibility on matters of conversion in Israel, but it does not say it will receive exclusive responsibility to this. Prior to the second and third reading, I intend to sit with both the Reform and Conservative [representatives] in order to incorporate them into the framework of the law,” Rotem said.
He said he attempted to prevent Haredim from setting additional conditions for the conversion issue.
“The Haredi demands are constantly increasing. The more the other communities clash with the Haredim, the more opportunities the Haredim are given to react,” Rotem said.
Kariv, for his part, said yesterday that “the formula Rotem is using is very vague. He is playing with words. The minute the laws says the responsibility is in the hands of the rabbinate, it will become necessary to turn to the rabbinate and consult with them every time there is a case of conversion. And this, after for 20 years our conversions abroad have been recognized in Israel by the Population Registry.”
SENTINEL FOUNDER PAT MURPHY