‘Devastation of tradition’? Israel’s new plan for conversions revealed

Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers have vehemently objected to the plan, which they believe makes conversion too easy and will lead to the “devastation of Jewish tradition.”

By World Israel News Staff

Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana revealed the basic outline of his plan to ease conversions to Judaism in Israel on Wednesday, emphasizing that while the process will be liberalized, it will still adhere to Halacha (Jewish law.)

Kahana’s promise to make conversion to Judaism more accessible for the nearly 500,000 Israelis who have Jewish roots but are not recognized as Jews according to the state has sparked outrage among the Haredi community.

Israel’s Rabbinate, the authority which facilitates Jewish lifecycle events including marriages, divorces, and burial, has traditionally been controlled by ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) Jews who adhere to a strict interpretation of 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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“The Jewish issue of conversion is on our minds,” Kahana told Israel Hayom. “One in ten couples is in a mixed marriage,” he said, referring to couples in which one partner is Halachically Jewish and the other is not, despite having Jewish roots.

He added that embracing potential converts is important for maintaining Israel as a Jewish state and preventing assimilation.

“These are our best friends at home, at work and at school. The rabbis understand that if we do not act on the issue, the identity of the State of Israel will be damaged.”

In Kahana’s proposal, municipal rabbis, some of whom belong to more liberal Religous-Zionist streams of Jewish thought, will be given the power to form their own conversion courts and grant conversions.

However, he clarified, while the conversion process would be less rigorous than the Haredi route, conversions in Israel will still adhere to Orthodox, Halachic standards.

The Rabbinate would also have the power to revoke the ability of individual rabbis to facilitate conversions if they are suspected of wrongdoing.

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

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“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.

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

“As we feared, the Religious Affairs Minister is turning the process of acceptance to the chosen, rooted and historical people into [something as easy as] registration for a country club,” said MK Uri Maklev of the Haredi United Torah Judaism party.

MK Yoav Ben-Zur of Shas said the plan was akin to “destruction and devastation of Jewish tradition,” adding that in the future, a “system of private genealogists” would be needed to confirm Jewish status, due to confusion that would be created by the reforms.

A recent survey by Israel Hayom found that 45 percent of non-Halachically Jewish Israelis would be willing to undergo a formal conversion, if reforms were made to the conversion process.