Ultra-Orthodox threaten to set up independent conversions

Parties would maintain separate institutions parallel to the Rabbinate if the new government goes too far in easing the conversion process

Chinese men studying in a conversion course in Israel. (photo credit: Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
Chinese men studying in a conversion course in Israel. (photo credit: Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

After coming to terms with the fact that they won’t sit in the next government, ultra-Orthodox politicians reportedly threatened Sunday to establish separate institutions for Jewish conversion if regulations become too lenient and no longer conform to the Chief Rabbinate’s standards.

Their warning came as the final kinks of an imminent coalition were being worked out between the Likud-Beytenu, Yesh Atid, Jewish Home and Kadima parties.

Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid has insisted on the new government committing itself to a number of reforms that remove Orthodox hegemony from domestic affairs, including expanding  public transportation on Shabbat, the establishment of civil marriage and the easing of conversion processes.

The ultra-Orthodox parties have for years controlled the Interior Ministry, which oversees the rabbinate, allowing them to determine Jewish life cycle policies regarding marriages, burials, conversions and more. However, the Shas and United Torah Judaism parties will by all accounts find themselves in the opposition when a new government is likely sworn in later this week, leaving the largely secular Yesh Atid party to determine new standards.

Jewish Home, which has promised to represent ultra-Orthodox concerns in the Knesset, reportedly opposes public transportation on Saturday.

An ultra-Orthodox source told Maariv that the parties could create a shadow religious system if they find the government changing the status quo too much.

“It all depends how far [Yair] Lapid and [Naftali] Bennett take the coalition on the subject of conversion,” the unnamed source said. “In such a situation, there will be two states created here. Maybe Lapid wouldn’t have a problem with that, but the ultra-Orthodox public would… It would create an irreparable rift.”

Maintaining conversions to Judaism under the auspices of the rabbinate’s strict rules was one of Shas’s campaign platforms. One of its ad videos, which played as a faux advertisement for a “quick conversion service” and was taken off the air after it caused an outcry for being racist, featured a Russian-speaking bride marrying a Jewish man who realizes his bride isn’t really Jewish, according to the tenets of Jewish law.

Leaders of the ultra-Orthodox political parties Shas and United Torah Judaism have also bitterly criticized the tentative incoming government for being anti-Haredi and purposely excluding them from the government.

Shas was reportedly intending to propose legislation to embarrass the new government, particularly the Jewish Home. One of the motions the party planned to submit would require that no more than 18 ministers serve in the government, which is line with Lapid’s platform, but not that of Bennett or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Shas party leader Eli Yishai wrote on Facebook Saturday night that a coalition agreement without his ultra-Orthodox party was a bitter moment for the state of Israel.

“The 2013 elections will be remembered as the day in which the entire public shunned the traditional and ultra-Orthodox Jews because of their beliefs and views,” Yishai wrote. “Kind words cannot sweeten the conflict and the deep rift that was created during the present period, but it will be remembered for many years to come.”

“With raised heads and with pride we will go to the opposition,” he said.

United Torah Judaism’s Yaakov Litzman attacked Jewish Home Saturday, claiming that the new government shouldn’t come to the party with complaints after it stood by while the religious parties were shunted aside. In a letter to MK Eli Ben Dahan of the Jewish Home, who is poised to possibly become minister of religious affairs, Litzman claimed that UTJ had proposed to Bennett that they form a bloc, similar to the one he formed with Yesh Atid, but that Bennett refused the offer and hid the fact that he had actually closed a similar deal with Lapid.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed