Yesterday morning, the chairperson of the National Union faction, MK Bezalel Smotrich, sent a letter to Shas Chairperson Aryeh Deri, Degel HaTorah Chairperson Moshe Gafni and Agudat Israel Chairperson Yaakov Litzman titled, “Recognition of non-Orthodox converts by the High Court” It includes a demand to enact a conversion law that would recognize only Orthodox conversions performed by the state before a High Court ruling is issued which will recognize private conversions.
As is well known, in Israel there is no conversion law that establishes who has the authority to conduct the conversion process in Israel, in order to registrar as a Jew or immigrate under Law of Return. As of today the authority to convert has been recognized by the Bati Din of the Chief Rabbinate by virtue of the status quo. However, petitions filed by private Orthodox conversion Bati Din (tribunals) have been accepted by the court and their conversions have been recognized, and a similar ruling is now expected from the court for Bati Din of the Conservative and Reform movements in Israel.
Following an ongoing political crisis and after the Conservative the Reform movements appealed to the High Court to recognize their conversions, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed former Minister Moshe Nissim, in August 2017, to chair a committee that would give its recommendations for a state conversion bill. The committee’s recommendations state that conversions conducted by a recognized community abroad, such as a Reform or Conservative community will be recognized under the Law of Return, but in Israel only conversions made by dayanim (judges) in a conversion court appointed by the Chief Rabbinate will be accepted. In addition the committee which appoints the judges will include representatives of Diaspora Jewry.
This proposal was met with opposition, both from the Chief Rabbis and other rabbinical elements in the Orthodox world and was immediately rejected by the ultra-Orthodox parties, and by the liberal movements due to it not recognizing their conversions in Israel. Soon after the recommendations were tabled
Last May, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri appealed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to advance the enactment of a new conversion law – which would recognize only state Orthodox conversions. The memorandum of the law, the contents of which have not yet been published, seeks to block virtually any private conversion in Israel, to which many Knesset members from the coalition and opposition have objected, claiming that it further narrows the ability of many who seek to join the Jewish people and harms those who originate from the former Soviet Union.
While MK Smotrich (Yemina) expressed support for Aryeh Deri’s bill, MK Matan Kahana, also from Yemina, chose to attack the Interior Minister’s initiative, arguing that: “Deri’s remarks mean a complete and final stalemate of the issue of conversion and the abolition of Moshe Nissim’s outline which the great leading religious Zionists rabbis indorsed.
It should also be noted that members of the Blue and White Party have not voiced their official position on the issue, and it is not known how they will vote if Minister Aryeh Deri’s bill,or the conversion outline of former Minister Nissim are deliberated in the Knesset.
Simultaneously with this political debate continues, the hearing is being held in the High Court, in accordance with the High Court decision of 19.8.20 in the case of Natalia Dahan. The state is required to submit an update on its behalf by November 30th regarding its intentions concerning solidifying the conversion system in Israel. Why, in light of the legal situation, Reform and Conservative Movements in Israel should not be allowed to conduct a conversion.
In light of this legal situation, MK Bezalel Smotrich addressed the leaders of the ultra-Orthodox parties with a request to immediately advance the state conversion bill, even before the High Court ruling on this matter.
“In the absence of a legal settlement, the High Court may, in all likelihood shortly publish a ruling with a panel of 9 judges instructing the state to recognize non-Orthodox converts. There is no doubt that you do not need me to explain the long-term catastrophe that such a ruling could have on the future and unity of the Jewish people in coming generations. In order to prevent this, the State must inform the High Court that it intends to immediately enact the State Conversion Law, which will stipulate that only conversions carried out by the State conversion system operating according to Din Torah (Orthodox) will be recognized in Israel. I ask you to act without delay, to promote the State Conversion Law. A decisive answer in this spirit must be submitted to the court on time”.