Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Sephardi Chief Rabbi Spurns Proposed Conversion Solution

October 14, 1997
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Israel’s Sephardi chief rabbi has rejected a proposed resolution of a crisis over conversions performed in Israel.

Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron’s rejection of the reported proposal was a major setback for the Ne’eman Committee, which has sought for months to find a compromise satisfactory to all streams of Judaism on the controversial conversion issue.

Under the terms of the proposal, Conservative and Reform rabbis would be able to participate in the selection of candidates and in preparing them for conversions, but only Orthodox rabbis would actually perform the conversions.

“Under no circumstance is this an acceptable situation,” Bakshi-Doron said Sunday of the proposal. “Such converts would not be real converts.”

The conversion issue jumped to the fore of Israeli and Diaspora concerns in April when the Knesset took a first step toward passing legislation that would codify Orthodox control over conversions performed in Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu subsequently created a committee, headed by Finance Minister Ya’acov Ne’eman, to find a compromise acceptable to the three major Jewish streams.

If the committee, which includes Orthodox, Conservative and Reform representatives, does not reach a compromise, the non-Orthodox movements are expected to pursue their conversion-related court cases — and the Orthodox parties would likely pursue the conversion bill, which requires two more Knesset votes before it can become law.

Ne’eman was reported to be recommending that the non-Orthodox movements be awarded official recognition, enabling people to choose a rabbi of any denomination to perform a marriage ceremony.

The Chief Rabbinate, under this proposal, would send two Orthodox witnesses to attend the ceremony — as required under Orthodox law.

This recommendation, reported in the Israeli media Monday, immediately raised the ire of the Orthodox political parties.

Knesset member Aryeh Deri, the leader of the fervently Orthodox Shas Party, warned that his party would secede from the coalition unless the Knesset passed the conversion legislation after it returned from its fall recess.

Deri also sought action on new legislation that would effectively bar non- Orthodox representatives from serving on local religious councils.

The councils, supervised by the Religious Affairs Ministry, have exclusive jurisdiction over marriage, kashrut, burial and other religious matters for all Jews living in Israel.

Deri’s call for the new legislation comes in the wake of a series of rulings by the High Court of Justice requiring the government and local authorities to allow Reform and Conservative representatives to serve on the councils.

The court is expected to rule later this month on the right of Reform and Conservative Jews to sit on religious councils in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Kiryat Tivon.

Bakshi-Doron also weighed in on the issue this week, telling the Israeli daily Ha’aretz that he favored the abolition of the councils altogether “in order to divorce religion from politics.”

He said the services these councils provide ought to be provided by the rabbinates in each individual city or rural area.

Recommended from JTA