Israeli Bill Gives Prospective Converts Reason for Optimism

Bill proposed by Hatnuah that would give prospective converts more choice about rabbinical courts reaches final two Knesset readings.


A bill that would give prospective converts to Judaism greater choice about which conversion court to use was approved for its final two readings in the Knesset on Monday, setting it on the path to becoming law despite the objections of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox parties.

The bill, sponsored by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah party, would give municipal rabbis the power to set up conversion courts, expanding the options available to prospective converts in Israel.

The vote, which Livni attended in a show of muscle-flexing, took place even though coalition members are considering withdrawing the bill and passing a related cabinet resolution instead.

Sources close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would decide on the resolution, which is supported by Economy Minister Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi party and opposed by Hatnuah, only after consulting with the Haredi parties.

MK Moshe Gafni of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party said the proposal would make it harder for people to get into a club than to become Jewish.

“This is not moral,” he said. “We will not know who is a Jew and who is a non-Jew.”

Habayit Hayehudi officials said a cabinet resolution was preferable to the Hatnuah bill in part because a resolution is easier to overturn than a law and in part because the bill seeks to “improve the status of Reform and Conservative Jews in conversion procedures,” a Habayit Hayehudi official said.

Outgoing coalition chairman MK Yariv Levin of Likud said he would vote against the Hatnuah bill.

“It’s impossible to regulate the issue without a broad consensus,” said Levin. “It would be irresponsible to pass a bill that no one in the rabbinate stood behind.”

The Haredi factions, which are leading the campaign against the bill, said the Arab Knesset members on the committee had agreed to vote against the conversion bill, but they ended up staying away from Monday’s vote.