A chief rabbinate is not a halachic institution. Throughout the generations, conversions were performed by both sages of the House of Shammai and sages of the House of Hillel. Both were accepted by the people of Israel.
There is no "chief rabbinate" in Jewish Law. It's a political institution aimed at seeing the State of Israel as "reshit tzmihat geulatenu" (the start of our salvation process), but in practice it put the keys for entering the Jewish people in the hands of a group which also includes people who oppose the State's actual existence.
In Israel today there about 130,000 boys and girls, young men and women, who feel Jewish before their marriage, serve as Jews and contribute to the State of Israel's security and prosperity.
Fourteen such babies are born every day, and a rabbinate which estranges itself from them is a rabbinate which estranges itself from us, including the religious ones among us – those who don’t shut themselves off in ghettos, those who you meet in the IDF, in universities and in workplaces, those who see them as part of us, those whose children and grandchildren will want to start a loyal home in Israel with them, those who are trying to help them convert – and are willing to "assimilate" with them, if that's what the Chief Rabbinate forces them to do.
Is there anything we haven't done? We initiated a law, created a majority in the Knesset in favor of it, gave it up in order to create a broad agreement within the rabbinical world, and agreed to replace it with a government decision after receiving a promise that it won't be changed. But on one black night of coalition agreements, which disregard not only the meaning of the law and the government decision, but also disregard the needs of the "people of Israel," it was erased in order to give each Knesset member NIS 20 million.
I attended the deliberations of the newly established private court on Monday evening and was excited. The great sages of Israel – who were not elected in a dirty political deal, but by the power of being great Torah scholars – presented a remedy for the minors they converted, for their parents, and perhaps more than anything – for all those who insist on seeing Israel as a Jewish state and not just as a religious state.
Those children who the court converted and is slated to convert are rejected by the Rabbinate and its emissaries for different reasons, like studying in a certain school, being too young, or due to their parents or siblings' conduct.
On Monday, the private court said to them: We will make an effort within the world of Halacha and find solutions which are not walled up inside ghettos. We'll find solutions as part of the Halacha which knows, as it has throughout the generations, how to deal with the current reality of the Jewish or Israeli society, which knows that if we don’t do so, Israel won't last as a Jewish state – and if there is no Jewish state, there will be no state at all.
It's time for the Chief Rabbinate to become committed to the entire Israeli society. It's time to say: There are rabbis in Israel, not just in Jerusalem.
Major-General (res.) Elazar Stern is a former Knesset member and the initiator of the conversion law.