Cabinet Secretary: We'll Fire Rabbis Who Refuse to Recognize Legitimate Converts

Municipal rabbis who refuse to recognize state-sanctioned conversions to Judaism will be fired, Cabinet Secretary Oved Yehezkel has told Haaretz.

Yehezkel, whom Prime Minister Ehud Olmert appointed three weeks ago to oversee the issue of conversions and streamline the current process, is hoping to put an end to the phenomenon of local rabbinates that refuse to recognize as Jews converts who have come through the special conversion seminar set up for the purpose, despite the policy of the state, though the Chief Rabbinate, to accept those conversions as kosher.

Some of the registrars in the local rabbinical councils refuse to accept the authority of the special rabbinical courts for conversion, because they believe they operate according to lax standards, and by performing "wholsale" conversions are acting in violation of halakha, Jewish law. Such cases have occurred in municipal rabbinates in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Rehovot, Petah Tikva, Ashdod and Herzliya.

The registrars in those cities were acting with the backing of their chief rabbis, who are increasingly identified with ultra-Orthodox streams of Judaism. As a consequence, some conversion seminars have begun advise their students not to apply for marriage certificates in those cities, anticipating that they will not be recognized as Jews and therefore be unable to marry.

The cabinet secretary said that he had learned of this issue through meetings with Reform and Conservative leaders. "It is unthinkable that rabbis who receive their salaries and draw authority from the state should refuse to recognize that same state's formal conversion certificate. They will not be allowed to carry on in this manner," Yehezkel said.

A senior official from the Prime Minister's Office described Yehezkel as "determined to put an end to this phenomenon." The official added that Yehezkel was "looking for a way to depose intransigent registrars and rabbis."

Rabbi Gilad Kariv of the Progressive (Reform) movement said he believed that Yehezkel was acting with the best of intentions. "The problem is that he is hoping for the assistance of Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar. But Amar has had five years to take care of matters, and so to date, matters have only gotten worse," Kariv said.