Converts won’t be recognized if new bill passes, chief rabbis warn

In meeting with PM, rabbis dig in against Knesset bill meant to expand access to rabbinate conversion process

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi David Lau (L) and Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef.  (photo credit: Flash90)
Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi David Lau (L) and Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef. (photo credit: Flash90)

Israel’s chief rabbis warned that they would not recognize conversions to Judaism conducted by a wider circle of state rabbis, as proposed by a new Knesset bill.

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau and his Sephardi counterpart Yitzhak Yosef met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday to discuss the conversion bill, which would allow local rabbis to oversee conversions, rather than the narrow group of more conservative rabbis currently approved by the rabbinate.

The bill passed the Knesset Law Committee on Monday, and requires only one more vote, in the Knesset plenum, to become law. Netanyahu supported the bill in the past, but announced last week he would oppose its passage, leading to a minor rebellion in the coalition on Monday.

Despite formally opposing the bill, Netanyahu informed the rabbis that it may have a Knesset majority, and could only be prevented by a government directive — as opposed to legislation — establishing a similar though more limited system, Israel Radio reported.

The chief rabbis reportedly replied that the two options were identical from their perspective, and warned that the bill’s passage would harm converts, because it would lead to many rabbis refusing to recognize the state rabbinate’s conversions.

The bill, which was sponsored by MK Elazar Stern of the Hatnua party, is opposed by the Likud and Jewish Home parties as well as the ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism. But it likely has a majority in the Knesset, with MKs from Yesh Atid, Hatnua, Labor, Meretz and Yisrael Beytenu supporting the measure.

Under the measure, as many as 30 courts made up of municipal rabbis would be approved for the purpose of conversion. Currently there are 33 rabbis and only four conversion courts that can perform conversions throughout Israel.

The Knesset Law Committee approved the bill by a vote of 6 to 5. It had already passed through the committee in March, but the committee was required to vote a second time following the addition of 38 amendments proposed by the opposition, all of which were voted down by the committee.

JTA contributed to this report.

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