Shas Min.: Reform Conversions Will Prompt Influx of Palestinians to Israel

Ultra-Orthodox irked by last week's Supreme Court ruling to fund Reform conversion centers.

The religious parties in the Knesset are demanding that the government amend the law to make the Chief Rabbinate the only body authorized to deal with matters of conversion in Israel.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai, chairman of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, warned that if non-Orthodox conversion is recognized in Israel, "there are hundreds of foreign workers and Palestinians who will take advantage of the Reform conversion in order to gain Israeli citizenship."

Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who heads conversions in Israel, along with Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, held an emergency meeting at their office on Sunday, attended by the religious ministers and MKs, in order to formulate a response to last week's Supreme Court ruling affecting conversion.

In its decision, the Supreme Court ordered the state to fund conversion centers that are being run by the Reform movement in Israel.

Amar warned that the Supreme Court ruling is part of a broader effort by the court to undermine the power of the Chief Rabbinate and of Jewish orthodoxy in Israel.

"The next step of the Supreme Court will be to recognize Reform conversions," Amar said.

Currently the state does not recognize reform or conservative conversions, unless these are started with studies in recognized Reform and Conservative centers out of the country and given a final test and seal of approval from the Orthodox Rabbinate here.

At the meeting, Shas ministers Yishai, Ariel Atias and Yaakov Margi were in attendance, as was Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, MKs of United Torah Judaism and MK Uri Orbach of Habayit Hayehudi.

Minister of Religious Affairs Margi said that "the Supreme Court is forcing all those who preserve the Jewish halakha and Jewish identity into maintaining genealogical registers, which is causing friction within the nation."

The religious ministers agreed their parties will propose a bill, that Shas says was guaranteed to it by Likud as part of the coalition agreements, which will amend the law in Israel so that conversion will be defined as one of the Chief Rabbinate's official tasks.

The coalition agreement with Likud did not specify that conversion will be solely the responsibility of the Chief Rabbinate. However, the ultra-Orthodox MKs said on Sunday that they are demanding such exclusive authority.

In the past Rabbinical courts dealt with conversions but because of the Haredi opposition to the matter, the government of Ariel Sharon decided to set up special courts for conversion. These Orthodox courts were headed until last year by Rabbi Haim Druckman.

However, because of claims by the ultra-Orthodox that conversions handled by these courts were not being carried out according to halakha, a crisis erupted which was also deliberated by the Supreme court.

Orbach said that, "Conversions must be done only according to halakha. There is debate over the appropriate halakhic approach to conversions, and I have my practical differences with the ultra-Orthodox, but I agree with them in the principle stances that Reform conversions are not conversions. As far as the law is concerned, I believe, as I do in other matters, that the Supreme Court is intervening in many issues where it should not intervene."