Israeli Ministers to Vote on Easing Conversion and Eroding ultra-Orthodox Monopoly

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Ministers are due to decide Monday whether the government should support a proposal to give municipal rabbis authority over conversion to Judaism, in a step meant to make it easier for non-Jews to convert and take some power away from the hardline ultra-Orthodox rabbis who currently control much of the conversion process in Israel.

“A city rabbi is authorized to establish a rabbinical court for conversion within the jurisdiction of the local authority or community, as relevant,” states the proposal coming up for approval by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation. “The approval of a city rabbi saying that a person has been accepted into the Jewish people and has converted will be considered a certificate of authorization for these purposes, without the need for any additional approval.”

The bill, which was sponsored by MK Elazar Stern of Hatnuah, with the support of Education Minister Shay Piron of Yesh Atid, also paves the way for involving non-Orthodox denominations in discussions about the conversion process.

“We are proposing granting conversion authority to every rabbi of a local authority,” wrote the bill’s sponsors. “We should integrate the various denominations of Judaism during the process of drafting the legislation in committee, in the spirit of the recommendations made by the Neeman committee,” states the proposal, referring to the 1998 government-appointed body charged with resolving the conflict over conversion in Israel. Similar bills have been proposed in the past, but have yet to reach the Knesset floor.

In 2008, Israel's government decided to do more to encourage conversions, increasing spending and even set quantitative targets. But the number of people who actually converted declined “significantly” from 2007 to 2011, according to a state comptroller’s report released this past May.

“There were some 8,000 converts in 2007, about 6,200 in 2008 and 2009, about 4,600 in 2010 and about 4,300 in 2011,” State Comptroller Joseph Shapira wrote. That latter figure, he noted, is almost a 50 percent drop from 2007.

A candidate for conversion sits before a special conversion court in Jerusalem.Credit: Haaretz

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