Israel's Chief Rabbis Urge Netanyahu to Block Conversion Bill

Rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef want to prevent Knesset from voting on allowing other rabbis to convert.

Yair Ettinger
Yair Ettinger
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Yair Ettinger
Yair Ettinger

Israel’s chief rabbis, Rabbi David Lau and Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, have urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett to block the conversion bill that is to be voted on Wednesday by the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.

“The bill in its current format threatens the entire conversion system,” the rabbis wrote. “It’s a law that could lead many in the State of Israel to lose faith in the state conversion process.”

The bill, which would allow local rabbis to oversee conversions and not force prospective converts to go through special state conversion courts, has already passed its first reading. If the committee approves it, the bill will go to the Knesset plenum for its second and third readings.

In Tuesday’s committee debate, the bill was the focus of confrontation among coalition MKs, particularly those of Habayit Hayehudi, which is now renouncing the bill, and the bill’s sponsor, MK Elazar Stern (Hatnuah) and Law Committee chairman MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu).

Under the agreement reached Tuesday night among the coalition factions, the bill will be approved Wednesday morning by the Law Committee, but it will not be submitted for its second and third readings until the Knesset’s next session. Habayit Hayehudi believes that the bill will not pass in its current format, which has become a point of sharp confrontation between the government and the two chief rabbis.

According to Lau and Yosef, “It is inconceivable that a bill on an issue that is at the very heart of the existence of the Jewish people and its spiritual survival is being promoted without first undergoing a halakhic evaluation by the Chief Rabbinate and the chief rabbis, who are responsible for this issue by virtue of their position. A new precedent is being set under which MKs are irresponsibly dealing with issues they do not understand, when such a momentous matter hangs in the balance.

“Promoting a law of this type without broad agreement is liable to split the Jewish people in its land into camps that will not recognize each other’s Jewishness and bring us to a situation whose aftermath we cannot imagine. It is such a situation the Chief Rabbinate is seeking to prevent.”

During Tuesday’s lengthy debate in the Law Committee, Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben Dahan, along with Habayit Hayehudi MKs Orit Strock and Yoni Chetboun took potshots at the bill.

“Elazar Stern is trying to appease all kinds of Reform and Conservative groups that are trying to give us conversions that are not according to Jewish law,” Strock said, adding that the Knesset should take into account, “the laws that God gave us − the Torah as given to Moses at Mount Sinai.

“There is no way we can do anything to aid in widening the opening for the Reform with regard to anything that touches on what they call conversion,” Strock continued. “We can’t defraud people who want to embrace Judaism. We are selling them a bill of goods instead of conversion.”

Incoming Chief Rabbis Yitzhak Yosef and David Lau seated by their fathers, Rabbis Ovadia Yosef and Yisrael Lau.Credit: Emil Salman

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