Photo: Moshe Glantz
Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef with rabbis who initiated petition
Photo: Moshe Glantz

Chief rabbi, Tzohar clash over conversion law

While Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef declares Rabbinate will not recognize conversions performed under suggested law, moderate Religious Zionism rabbis say Knesset must 'loosen the haredi suffocating grip which has taken over the conversion system.'

The internal rift within the Religious Zionism movement is growing: Israel's Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef stated Wednesday that the Chief Rabbinate would not recognize conversions approved under the suggested conversion law in its current format. Meanwhile, moderate Religious Zionism rabbis have expressed their support for the law.



Rabbi Yosef said he accepted rabbis' ruling that "politicians will not determine the laws of conversion, but only Halacha, and the Chief Rabbinate has the final say."


The scathing remarks were made during an emergency meeting held at the chief rabbi's office in the presence of senior Religious Zionism rabbis, including Shlomo Aviner, Mordechai Sternberg, Shimon Cohen, Gideon Perl and Israel Rosen, who served in the past as head of the National Conversion Authority.


Rabbi Yosef told Ynet after the meeting that "the law may lead to serious breaches which will not leave the Rabbinate a choice, and it will be forced to avoid recognizing conversions performed according to the discussed law."


The rabbis vowed during the meeting that the Chief Rabbinate would not recognize Knesset Member Elazar Stern's conversion law, and that converts who undergo the process under his law would not be considered Jewish.


The rabbis signed a petition determining, among other things, that "any decision about conversions should be rejected."


'Current situation cannot go on'

The Tzohar organization, founded by a group of religious Zionist rabbis, congratulated the law's initiator, MK Stern of Hatnua faction, and the lawmakers advancing the bill at the Knesset - Constitution, Law and Justice Committee Chairman David Rotem and Coalition Chairman Yariv Levin.

In an official statement released Wednesday evening, Tzohar stated: "It's important to stress that the goal of the suggested law is to convert according to the Halacha by city rabbis and authorized religious judges."


The rabbis added that "Minister Bennett, as the religious services minister, and the Bayit Yehudi party, must take the national responsibility placed on their shoulders and loosen the haredi suffocating grip which has taken over the conversion system.


"The current situation, in which only 2,000 people convert every year in the State of Israel, cannot go on," they concluded.


'Law subject to Chief Rabbinate'

Rabbis Dov Lior, Elyakim Levanon and David Chai Hacohen arrived Wednesday evening at Chief Rabbi Yosef's home to support him in his objection to the Stern law.


In a statement issued at the end of the meeting, the three rabbis said that "the cries of joy on the part of the Reform groups and marginal organizations in the Israeli society prove the real intentions of the law's initiators: To undermine Judaism and make it a laughing stock."


They added that "a conversion law will only be built subject to the Chief Rabbinate, and with full coordination of every single detail."


The rabbis went on to praise Bayit Yehudi MKs for their battle against the law, saying: "We appreciate the huge efforts made by Bayit Yehudi members to curb the recent laws, including the conversion law, but should the law be advanced, they must stop and say – that's it! Bayit Yehudi members will have to quit the government immediately and work to replace it in new elections."


'Chief rabbi can quit if he doesn't like it'

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, executive director of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, slammed Rabbi Yosef, saying that "Israel's chief rabbi must have forgotten that his entire status and authority come from the Knesset's legislation power. His declaration that he will not recognize conversions carried out in accordance with Knesset legislation shows that the Chief Rabbinate has lost its way and proves that it should not be given sweeping responsibility over conversions in Israel.


"If the chief rabbi doesn't see himself as subject to the Israeli Knesset's laws, he should stand up and resign," Kariv added.


Yizhar Hess, CEO of the Masorti Movement in Israel, described the discussion of the law at the Knesset's Constitution Committee as "an absurd sight."


According to Hess, "The two parts of the coalition are arguing whether it is appropriate or not to expand the borders of Orthodoxy by a further millimeter. But it's a storm in a teacup, as there is not a single Knesset member who believes that any conversion law can make the hundreds of thousands convert. The train has left the station long ago. The Knesset has simply failed to look at the timetable since the 1990s.


"Opening different options for conversion, as has been customary among the Jewish people since a long time ago, is the only way which will possibly allow part of the public to consider conversion. Any other solution is a sleight of hand."


On verge of crisis

The chief rabbi's criticism joins harsh remarks made Tuesday by Rabbi Chaim Druckman, who criticized the conversion law and its initiators. He called the law "a joke" and said that it "is not worth the paper it is written on."


Rabbi Druckman, who served in the past as head of the National Conversion Authority and serves today as chairman of the Bnei Akiva Yeshiva Center, added that "the Knesset cannot make any decisions on issues of the Halacha without the Chief Rabbinate's approval, and this should be understood regardless of any coalition agreement."


"It’s extremely serious that there are people who think laws connected to Halacha can be enacted in the Knesset, and that they would bind anyone. They are deceiving the proselytes, telling them that it is allegedly a proper conversion, but the fact is that no one will consider the conversion process – and in practice they will not be considered Jewish."


The law initiated by MK Stern of Hatnua faction seeks to expand the authorities of city rabbis so that they would be able to perform conversions – a procedure which is currently only performed by a Chief Rabbinate court. On Wednesday, the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee approved the bill for a second and third reading.


פרסום ראשון: 03.21.14, 01:30
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