Bennett Working on Compromise Solution to Renegade Conversion Court Dispute

Habayit Hayehudi leader tells Haaretz that while he is opposed to establishment of alternative conversion system, he is welcomes 'awakening' over need to reform Israel's Chief Rabbinate.

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Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett speaks with the media ahead of a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, on Jan. 18, 2015.
Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett speaks with the media ahead of a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, on Jan. 18, 2015.Credit: AP
Yair Ettinger
Yair Ettinger

Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett, in an initial reaction to the independent rabbinical conversion courts established by senior religious Zionist rabbis, told Haaretz that he is opposed to the establishment of an alternative system, but is “happy about the awakening.”

He said that the rabbis who established the Giur Kahalakha (Conversion According to Religious Law) network “are taking responsibility for the Jewish people and have decided not to close their eyes, and I’m happy about that. Still I’m trying to reach a situation where we preserve the state institutions.”

A closed gathering of religious Zionist rabbis took place in Jerusalem in Thursday, with the capital’s municipal rabbi Aryeh Stern and one of the leading rabbis in religious Zionism, Haim Druckman, trying to convince the dissidents, headed by Rabbi Nahum Rabinowitz, to find a compromise that will bring them back to the rabbinate. The dissidents participating included rabbis Yaakov Meidan, Re’em Hacohen and Yehuda Gilad, with the Chief Rabbinate represented by Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu and former Israel Defense Forces Chief Rabbi Yisrael Weiss.

At another gathering, set to take place last evening, rabbis from the “Hardali” (Haredi national religious) community were to announce the establishment of a new rabbinical organization to compete with Tzohar, a group of modern Zionist rabbis involved in the present initiative, and was to express unreserved support for the Chief Rabbinate. The two chief rabbis were expected to attend the gathering, in their first appearance since hearing about the organization that is publicly challenging them.

Despite his expressed admiration for the dissident rabbis, Bennett said their separatism is justified only as a tactical move, which will bring about the de facto reinstatement of the conversion reform that was revoked in the cabinet by demand of the ultra-Orthodox parties. According to the reform, municipal rabbis would also be able to establish official rabbinical conversion courts, under a degree of supervision by the chief rabbis.

“What happened in the most recent incident, the rope snapped, and in that sense I’m happy about the awakening,” Bennett said. “But what has to happen in the end, and I’ll try to do that in the coming months, is to institute some kind of compromise or plan that will restore control to the Chief Rabbinate, but with a decentralization of its power. In other words, to allow the panels that are carrying out the conversions at the moment and in effect to readopt the decision of the previous government. Otherwise, the fact is that more and more private initiatives will arise and we are destroying the Jewish state. We didn’t become a Jewish state in the Land of Israel once again in order to have shtetls of different communities here.”

Bennett remains loyal to Druckman, who opposes the move, but attributes the rabbi’s statement that establishing the alternative rabbinical court is “the destruction of the world of Torah” to Druckman’s respect for the Chief Rabbinate, despite their humiliating treatment of him. “After everything those men who stand behind the Chief Rabbinate today did to Rabbi Druckman ... he may be willing to waive the respect due to him, but I can’t waive the respect due to him, and particularly on the issue of conversions.

“He really is more optimistic that things in the rabbinate will heal by themselves. I’m less optimistic,” Bennett continued. “On the one hand I’m opposed to the establishment of alternative institutions, but on the other hand I know that the flaws [in the rabbinate] would not be healed on their own, not a chance. I see this entire move mainly as a lever, in order to pressure the system to repair itself.”

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