The cabinet repealed Sunday an initiative that would recognize conversions to Judaism conducted by a wider circle of rabbis, and separately approved the transfer of authority over the country’s rabbinical courts from the Justice Ministry to the Ministry of Religious Services.
The cancellation of the two initiatives will ultimately strengthen ultra-Orthodox oversight of Jewish-religious affairs in the state. David Azoulay, of Aryeh Deri’s ultra-Orthodox Shas party, is minister of religious services in the new coalition.
The conversion initiative, which was passed by the Knesset Law Committee last year, was considered to be one of the previous government’s major achievements before elections were called and the legislation process was halted. But the policy was repealed Sunday as part of the coalition agreement between the Likud party and the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism.
Under the soon-to-be defunct measure, as many as 30 courts made up of municipal rabbis would have been approved to conduct conversions. Currently there are 33 rabbis and only four conversion courts that can legally perform conversions throughout Israel.
The second initiative passed Sunday will effectively have the rabbinical courts, which have since 2004 been under the authority of the Justice Ministry along with the state’s Christian and Sharia courts, come under the authority of the Sephardi ultra-Orthodox Shas party, which controls the Ministry of Religious Services. In Israel, the rabbinical courts are the sole authority allowed to issue marriage and divorce certificates to Jews, a fact which has over the years alienated many secular Jews from the religious establishment.
Last week, the High Court rejected an appeal by the national-religious Emunah organization which called for the enforcement of a temporary injunction that would prevent the government from transferring authority over the rabbinical courts to the Ministry of Religious Services.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, both of the Jewish Home party, who oppose the establishment of an ultra-Orthodox monopoly on conversions and other religious services, were the only ministers to vote against the two measures.
Times of Israel Staff contributed to this report.