Chief Rabbi freezes all pending conversions in spat over reforms to system

Chief Rabbi says move necessary to stop an unacceptable watering down of standards for conversion; lawmakers from right and left-wing parties object.

By World Israel News Staff

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel David Lau froze all pending conversions to Judaism in the Jewish State on Wednesday, in protest of planned reforms to Israel’s conversion system backed by Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana.

Lau said the move, which affects hundreds of immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia and currently serving IDF soldiers, was necessary in order to stop what he sees as an unacceptable watering down of the standards for conversion in Israel.

All of the conversions currently awaiting Lau’s approval were conducted under the auspices of the Rabbinate, and simply need his signature to be processed.

But Lau will not ratify the paperwork in order to demonstrate his disapproval of the upcoming reforms, he said.

If Kahana’s plan moves forward, “I will be forced to declare myself no longer responsible for anything to do with conversions,” Lau wrote in an open letter to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Wednesday.

“Implementing the proposed conversion outline will result in a split of the Jewish people: two states for two peoples, divided Judaism instead of united Judaism,” he continued, adding that it would create “irreparable damage.”

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Lau’s refusal to sign off on the conversions unless the government backs down from the reform plan rankled politicians on both the right and left ends of the political spectrum, but other lawmakers vocally backed him.

“He is a public servant and his threats on the issue of conversion are unacceptable,” Yisrael Beitenu MK Yulia Malinovsky told Army Radio, who urged Kahana to fire Lau over his remarks.

Religious Zionism MK Betzalel Smotrich supported Lau’s move, calling it a measure “against the destruction of the conversion process and severe damage to the unity of the people” in a statement.

In early December, Kahana revealed the basic outline of his plan to ease conversions, emphasizing that while the process will be liberalized, it will still adhere to Halacha (Jewish law.)

The Rabbinate’s standards for conversions, critics including Kahana say, are too inflexible and discourage potential converts. For example, potential converts must promise that they will lead a religiously observant lifestyle and will send their children to religious schools, conditions which many are unwilling to accept.

Kahana believes that the conversion system must be more accommodating to Israelis with Jewish roots who serve in the army, pay taxes, identify as Jewish, and start families with their Jewish spouses.

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Prominent Religious Zionist rabbis including Rabbi Chaim Druckman, Rabbi Yaakov Meidan, Rabbi Re’em HaCohen and Rabbi Eitan Eizman have endorsed Kahana’s plan.

“One cannot claim this is a Reform framework that will encourage assimilation because the greats of religious Zionism are involved, and they expect the Chief Rabbinate to adopt it,” Kahana told Israel Hayom earlier in December.

But Haredi lawmakers have vehemently objected to the plan, which they believe makes conversion too easy.