“We are in a generation in which considerations that lead us are not necessarily always halakhic but are instead sometimes political.…Most of the rabbis who signed the declaration against the [decentralization of conversions] bill are not aware of its details, have never done conversions and are clueless about the realities at hand. 70% of the signatories are not active rabbis and 90% have never dealt with conversions. It is somewhat peculiar that individuals who never dealt with conversions now speak out against the [decentralization] bill."
Above: Rabbi David Stav
Haredi Rabbis Opposition To Conversion Decentralization Is Purely Political, Moderate Zionist Orthodox Rabbi Says
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
The head of the moderate Zionist Orthodox Tzohar rabbinic organization, Rabbi David Stav, said that Israel’s haredi-controlled Chief Rabbinate opposition decentralization of conversion to Judaism is completely political and is not based at all on Jewish law, Yeshiva World reported.
Stav – who was a leading candidate for Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel who drew vociferous opposition from haredim and right wing Zionist Orthodox rabbis – said he heard complaints from decentralization opponents who claimed that if decentralization is put in place, Reform rabbis would form their own beit din (religious court) and perform conversions that would be accepted by the state. Stav pointed out that fear is absurd because new beit dins cannot be established without the express permission of Israel’s haredi-controlled chief rabbinate, and therefore any conversion performed by a Reform beit din would automatically be invalid because the beit din itself would be illegal.
All the rabbis on beit dins that would be able to perform conversions under the proposed decentralization are all God fearing Orthodox rabbis, Stav insisted.
He also said decentralization simply returns the authority to perform conversions to government-employed Orthodox rabbis who serve as chief rabbis of cities – in other words, decentralization would return Israel to the status quo ante of Jewish history in which the rabbi of every village, town and city did their own conversions as they saw fit.
“There is not a rabbi of a Jewish community throughout history that did not deal with conversions,” Stav noted, pointing out that all the rabbis serving as chief rabbis of unincorporated areas, towns and cities have all been tested and certified by Israel’s chief rabbinate and are perfectly qualified to perform conversions under all understandings of halakha. To limit the performance of conversions to a small number of largely haredi rabbis who were appointed by politicians is absurd both historically and halakhicly.
“We are in a generation in which considerations that lead us are not necessarily always halakhic but are instead sometimes political. Many rabbis from other communities understand the problem but they do not address it for one reason or another. Most of the rabbis who signed the declaration against the [decentralization of conversions] bill are not aware of its details, have never done conversions and are clueless about the realities at hand. 70% of the signatories are not active rabbis and 90% have never dealt with conversions. It is somewhat peculiar that individuals who never dealt with conversions now speak out against the [decentralization] bill,” Stav reportedly said.
However, Stav said that he understands the basic fears decentralization opponents have. He insisted that conversions that do not meet Israel’s chief rabbinate’s standards will not be done, and no one will be converted who does not agree to adopt a completely Orthodox religious lifestyle. Decentralization does not lower the standard for conversions in Israel, Stav insisted. It just makes it easier and more user-friendly for potential converts.
Nonetheless, haredi and right-wing harda”l (haredi-Zionist Orthodox) rabbis are still strongly opposed to decentralization and are working feverishly to block it.
Hundreds of thousands of Israelis with some Jewish ancestors are not Jewish under Jewish law and are therefore treated as non-Jews by Israel’s chief rabbinate, which controls marriage, divorce, burial, and other lifecycle issues. Non-Jewish Israelis with Jewish ancestors cannot marry a fully Jewish person and when they die, they cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery (unless a special non-Jewish section is in place). This has been a problem for many immigrants from the Former Soviet Union, even those who have served in the IDF and died in battle.
Several years ago on Israel’s Memorial Day, the IDF’s chief rabbi passed by the grave of a non-Jewish Israeli who died in battle and honored a fallen fully Jewish soldier buried nearby but further away, shocking the country.