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Knesset committee approves conversion reform bill

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JERUSALEM (JTA) — A Knesset committee approved a new draft of a conversion reform bill, angering non-Orthodox Jewish movements.

The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on Monday approved the bill in a 5-4 vote, clearing its path to the Knesset floor. The bill must pass three readings and votes before it can be approved. Likud Party committee members were absent from the vote.

Critics charge that the bill gives the Orthodox rabbinate a monopoly on conversions to Judaism. But committee chairman David Rotem, who authored the bill, said it is designed to make conversion easier for Israeli citizens, many of them Russian immigrants that comprise much of Rotem’s Yisrael Beiteinu party membership.

The bill also has been criticized for stating that the conversion process will be carried out following halachah, or Orthodox Jewish law.

Another clause that has spurred controversy states that anyone not eligible for citizenship under the Law of Return who entered Israel as a non-Jew and later converts to Judaism is not eligible for automatic citizenship. 

Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency, and Jerry Silverman, president of the Jewish Federations of North America, attended the meeting. 

“We cannot divide the Jewish people with legislation which many in the Jewish world view as defining them as second-class Jews,” Sharansky said after the meeting.

“The proposed bill was supposed to have been discussed in detail with world Jewry,” he added. “I hope the prime minister will send a clear message that this proposed legislation will not move forward without proper discussion and consultation with all those who feel they may be harmed by it.”

 

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