“We represent the opinion of Judaism loyal to the Torah, religious, traditional and ultra-Orthodox [Jews], according to which conversion shall only be determined by Jewish law, and in Israel Jewish law is determined solely by the [haredi-controlled] Chief Rabbinate.”
Chief Rabbis David Lau, left, and Yitzhak Yosef, right
As New Conversion Bill Advances, Chief Rabbis Threaten To Refuse To Follow It And To Not Recognize Anyone Converted Under It As Jewish
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee passed the controversial new conversion bill sponsored by MK Elazar Stern of Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah Party yesterday, Ha’aretz reported. The bill, which decentralizes conversion to Judaism while still leaving it exclusively in the hands of Orthodox rabbis, passed seven to four. It now goes to the full Knesset for approval.
The Sefardi haredi Chief Rabbi of Israel Yitzhak Yosef lashed out at the bill yesterday – and at anyone who would convert to Judaism under its auspices. Those unfortunate converts will not be recognized as Jews, Yosef said, adding that the Chief Rabbinate – which is an official state institution – will not recognize the bill even if it is passed into law.
“We represent the opinion of Judaism loyal to the Torah, religious, traditional and ultra-Orthodox [Jews], according to which conversion shall only be determined by Jewish law, and in Israel Jewish law is determined solely by the [haredi-controlled] Chief Rabbinate,” Yosef said to a group of Zionist Orthodox rabbis yesterday who attended an “emergency meeting” held to combat the bill’s passage through Knesset. It was reportedly attended by prominent Zionist Orthodox rabbis, including Yisrael Rozen, a co-founder of the current state conversion court system; Shlomo Aviner of Yeshivat Ateret Cohanim; and Mordechi Sternberg of Yeshivat Har Hamor.
“The fact that the Labor Party voted for the conversion bill is a travesty no less severe than the travesty perpetrated by the parties that voted for the conscription law. Israel is holding a bargain sale of its Jewish characteristics,” MK Eli Yishai of the Sefardi haredi Shas Party said after the committee voted.
Shas’s chairman, MK Aryeh Deri, threatened in the Knesset to establish an an alternative chief rabbinate.
“Believe me that the Haredi community will not be hurt by this one bit. What keeps us connected here? We’re still held here by the status quo, that we live under one rabbinate, under one beit din [religious court], and believe me, prime minister, that our rabbis will take every effort to allow for conversions in the army … how will you see that? As creating an alternative rabbinate?,” Deri said.
A Shas politician, speaking to Ha’aretz on condition of anonymity, spelled out the party’s and Deri’s message more clearly.
“If the conversion law passes in its current form, an alternative rabbinate will be founded, and haredi rabbis and judges will not be able to serve. We will start a new rabbinate. As soon as this law passes and the marriage registry is forced to recognize all converts – it will no longer be possible to rely on the marriage registry, which is the heart of our communal life here,” the unnamed Shas member said.
In a letter sent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett on Tuesday, Yosef and his Ashkenazi counterpart, Chief Rabbi David Lau, urged them to block the bill.
“The bill in its current format threatens the entire conversion system. It’s a law that could lead many in the State of Israel to lose faith in the state conversion process.…It is inconceivable that a bill on an issue that is at the very heart of the existence of the Jewish people and its spiritual survival is being promoted without first undergoing a halakhic evaluation by the Chief Rabbinate and the chief rabbis, who are responsible for this issue by virtue of their position. A new precedent is being set under which MKs are irresponsibly dealing with issues they do not understand, when such a momentous matter hangs in the balance,” the haredi chief rabbis wrote.
For most of the years of the state’s existence, the chief rabbis were Zionist Orthodox. But in recent years the positions have been held by haredim who moved the Chief Rabbinate rightward religiously while filling hundreds of positions with cronies and relatives, almost all of whom are haredi.