With elections less than a week away, Shas and Jewish Home, two Orthodox parties with divergent views regarding religion, Zionism and modernity, have locked horns over the future of the process of converting to Judaism in Israel.
After the elections, “we’ll demand control over conversions,” Bennett wrote on Facebook late Wednesday night. There are hundreds of thousands of Israelis who want and need conversians, but the system that is supposed to help them has become corrupt, he added.
“Many people who come in contact with religious services tell themselves, ‘If this is Judaism, I’m not interested,’ and avoid the conversion,” the party leader said, calling for the process to be eased while ensuring that everything be done according to Jewish law.
On Thursday, Shas’s Aryeh Deri slammed Bennett for his remarks.
“I fear that many innocent people who will vote for Jewish Home thinking they’re endorsed by rabbis will find out in the end that they’ll be voting in a cocktail of opinions, some of which are reminiscent of Yair Lapid,” he told an ultra-Orthodox radio station.
Lapid, the leader of the new Yesh Atid party, has focused his campaign on the separation of religion and state.
“It turns out the Jewish Home doesn’t really want to safeguard Judaism,” Shas leader Eli Yishai, the interior minister, told Israel National News.
If the conversion process is supervised by the Jewish Home party there will be “mixed marriages between Jews and non-Jews,” he warned, adding that traditional and observant Jewish voters should therefore avoid the party.
While acknowledging that there might be some problems with the current conversion system, Yishai pointed out that for the past decade, it was headed by Rabbi Haim Druckman, a former MK for the Jewish Home’s earlier incarnation, the National Religious Party.
Ultra-Orthodox rabbis in the Chief Rabbinate have been vehemently fighting Druckman-led initiatives whose purpose is to ease the conversion process. Some rabbis have even advocated the annulment of Orthodox conversions that to their mind weren’t sufficiently stringent.
In addition to conversion, religious authorities control a number of key life-cycle events in Israel, including marriage and burial ceremonies, which must be conducted according to Jewish, Christian or Muslim tradition.
On Wednesday, Ayelet Shaked, the only non-Orthodox candidate for the Jewish Home party, called for the institution of a civil marriage option that would allow all Israelis to marry. She also told Ynet that the conversion process should be made easier and more accessible.