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February 20, 2022 6:06 pm

Israeli Committee Approves Controversial Legislation on Conversion Reform

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

The Western Wall in Jerusalem. Photo: Wikicommons.

In a potential major change to Israel’s often precarious balance between religion and state, the government’s Ministerial Committee on Legislation on Sunday approved a proposed law that would grant authority to municipal rabbis to perform conversions to Judaism, Israeli news site Walla reported.

The law, which would end the Rabbinate’s monopoly on conversions, has been the object of intense controversy and opposition from many religious figures and the Haredi community, which dominates the Rabbinate.

Another controversial aspect of the proposed law is that it would accept conversions to Judaism by non-Orthodox dominations for purposes of exercising Aliyah rights under the Law of Return, in particular Conservative and Reform conversions.

Matan Kahana, Israel’s minister of religious services, said, “We are making history. I thank my colleagues in the coalition [government], the rabbis, and [our] partners, with whom we wrote the law, and the wide public that supports us.”

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“Together, we have taken another step toward the protection of the Jewish identity of the State of Israel,” he said.

Meir Porush of the United Torah Judaism party slammed the committee’s approval of the law, saying, “To our sorrow and shame, voices of rejoicing over the law are heard from the Reform and liberal choir, and therefore, those who are Haredim for the word of the Lord do not take part in it.”

Tani Frank, director of the Center for Judaism and State Policy at the Shalom Hartman Institute, who has worked in advocacy for religious pluralism in Israel, praised the law’s approval, saying, “We should bless the Ministerial Committee on Legislation for approving the conversion law.”

He added that the law will “enable multitudes entitled [under] the Law of Return to enter the gates of the Jewish people.”

“The government of Israel and members of Knesset must advance the law in dialogue with all parts of the Jewish people, in Israel, and the Diaspora,” he said.

Before the approval was given, Israel’s chief rabbis wrote to the committee saying its passage would disregard their stance on the issue and constitute “a rent in the people” that “will surely lead to the establishment of separate communities in Israel.”

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