A controversial conversion bill due to come before the Knesset stands to impact more than 400,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union and could potentially lead to the emergence of competing Jewish peoples, Rabbi David Stav, the founder of the Tzohar group of modern Orthodox rabbis and chief rabbi of Shoham, warned Wednesday.
“This bill will cause the rise of two Jewish peoples by preventing hundreds of thousands of people who want to convert from converting,” Stav said in a Youtube video statement, “because the bill provides that the only conversions performed by the Conversion Authority will be recognized by the State.”
In real terms, Stav said, that would mean hundreds of thousands of people who have been prevented from converting by extreme groups inside the ultra-Orthodox world would be permanently blocked because the Authority won’t have any incentive at all to convert them.
Adding insult to injury, Stav said, the ultra-Orthodox world has said it won’t accept the Authority’s conversions, meaning the extreme groups in Israeli society that want to control the Conversion Authority won’t even recognize the Authority’s legitimacy.
Addressing religious Zionist rabbis, Stav squared off against the sector’s political leadership Wednesday by calling on modern Orthodox Israelis to block the passage of the controversial bill. “I plead with you: we are at a critical fork in the road. This bill will perpetuate and bolster assimilation in Israel. You promised Jewish leaders around the world you wouldn’t let the bill pass. Stand up and be strong, and stand by that promise,” Stav said.
On the other hand, MK Bezalel Smotrich, a freshman Bayit Yehudi parliamentarian representing the party’s National Union faction, said the media is full of misconceptions that have clouded the issues at hand.
“This bill does not address the status of rabbinical courts in Israel that convert individuals who are already Israeli citizens. People that immigrated to Israel under the Law of Return will not be affected by this bill,” Smotrich told TPS.
“The bill only addresses individuals who are not Israeli citizens but want to convert to gain citizenship. Conversion is the ticket to Israeli citizenship, but no country in the world would privatize the road to citizenship. In all countries, obtaining citizenship is state-authorized and performed by the state. That is all the bill does,” he said.