Knesset committee must vote again on conversion bill it backed


JERUSALEM (JTA) — A Knesset committee will have to vote again on a bill allowing local rabbis to oversee conversions to Judaism in Israel after approving the measure.

On Wednesday, the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee supported the bill in a 7-4 vote following a contentious debate the previous day, and it was slated to be returned to the full Knesset for its second and third readings. But following an objection by the opposition, known as a call for a revision, the committee must take another vote. The new ballot can be taken without a full hearing.

The country’s chief rabbis, Rabbi David Lau and Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, oppose the bill. They told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett in a letter this week that the measure “threatens the entire (state) conversion system.”

“It is inconceivable that a bill on an issue that is at the very heart of the existence of the Jewish people and its spiritual survival is being promoted without first undergoing a halachic (Jewish legal) evaluation by the Chief Rabbinate and the chief rabbis, who are responsible for this issue by virtue of their position,” the rabbis said in their letter, according to Haaretz.

“Promoting a law of this type without broad agreement is liable to split the Jewish people in its land into camps that will not recognize each other’s Jewishness and bring us to a situation whose aftermath we cannot imagine. It is such a situation the Chief Rabbinate is seeking to prevent.”

Currently there are 33 rabbis and four conversion courts that can perform conversions throughout Israel.

Tuesday’s committee debate pitted the Jewish Home party, which opposes the bill, against the rest of the government coalition. The bill was sponsored by Elazar Stern of Hatnua; the committee chairman is David Rotem of Yisrael Beiteinu.

“This bill provides the first ray of light for the more than 330,000 immigrants who came to Israel as Jews but are not halachically Jewish,” Rabbi Seth Farber, director of the ITIM Jewish Advocacy Center, who has worked to bring the bill to the Knesset floor, told JTA. “At ITIM, we speak to hundreds of immigrants each month who are struggling with their dual identities, and this bill will enable them to pursue conversion in a halachic and accessible way.”

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