Netanyahu freezes civil conversion bill


JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has extended a moratorium on a civil conversion bill for another six months.

The bill proposed last year by Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu Party allows municipal rabbis to handle conversions — few may do so now — and permits only the president of the High Rabbinic Court to annul a conversion. It passed a preliminary reading in the Knesset last summer.

The second moratorium will expire on July 10. The first had expired on Dec. 31.

Under the moratorium, Yisrael Beiteinu and the Shas parties agreed not to continue to push the legislation through, and the Reform, or Progressive, and Masorti, or Conservative, movements in Israel agreed not to file petitions with the Supreme Court calling for a framework for non-Orthodox conversions in Israel.

Also Monday, Netanyahu appointed Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky to bring the parties together to discuss the issue. 

Officials of The Jewish Federations of North America, which has been working with the Jewish Agency and the religious movements on the conversion issue, welcomed the agreement.

Kathy Manning, chair of the Jewish Federations’ board of trustees, said in a statement that it would "give an opportunity for greater dialogue and understanding among all parties involved. It is indeed an important step in ongoing efforts to promote Jewish unity."

Jerry Silverman, the philanthropy’s president and CEO, said that "The new moratorium is a victory for the voices of reason and unity. We are convinced that through dialogue, a formula can be found that retains the basic, positive aim of the original bill while finding language that is acceptable to all sides."

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