Ultra-Orthodox leadership slams gov’t for ‘demolishing’ kashrut, conversion

This time, the sharply worded letter blamed the Religious Affairs Minister directly although not by name, for his planned religious reforms.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The leading rabbis of the ultra-Orthodox (Haredi), non-Hassidic community published their second letter in a month Tuesday slamming the government and, in a first, the religious affairs minister personally, for promoting several religious reforms.

Rabbis Chaim Kanievsky and Gershon Edelstein wrote of “the terrible rumor that someone from the seed of Israel” wants to “disable and exterminate all the sanctuaries of Israel” by “demolishing” the “walls” that protect kashrut and conversion standards in the country.

In addition, they expressed their “vehement protest against the intention to desecrate the sanctity of the Western Wall by giving space and recognition” to Reform Jews there, whom they called “the destroyers of the religion of Rachel, whose desire is to uproot everything and to desecrate the name of heaven.”

Minister Matan Kahane is pushing for the establishment of conversion courts run by municipal rabbis in addition to that of the Chief Rabbinate, to ease the process for those wishing to join the Jewish people.  He also wants the Chief Rabbinate to be only the regulator of kashrut standards and not also the chief employer of kashrut supervisors, which can lead to a clear conflict of interests. In addition, he is promoting the idea of a lower tier of kashrut certification, to lower prices for consumers.

The Chief Rabbinate is completely against all of these reforms.

Regarding the Western Wall, Kahana, who is Orthodox, has waffled on whether he supports the 2016 agreement to create a space there for pluralistic prayer services. The Netanyahu government at the time first formulated it with the acquiescence of his Haredi coalition partners, but when they backtracked, he shelved it indefinitely.

Newspapers serving the Haredi community ran the missive signed by Rabbis Chaim Kanievsky and Gershon Edelstein under a headline linking their criticism to the Chanukah holiday currently being celebrated, in an implicit comparison between the fight against anti-Jewish laws 2,000 years ago and the new laws now being considered by the coalition.

In their previous letter, published in the Haredi Yated Ne’eman paper on November 2, the rabbis had called the coalition “a malicious government” that “plots against Torah students” for announcing that education subsidies would be cut for families whose fathers learn Torah full time. Then, too, they criticized the kashrut and conversion reforms and accused the government of “desecrating” the Western Wall.

Rabbis Kanievsky and Edelstein have also gotten world Jewry involved in their protest, sending a letter last week to the Conference of European Rabbis to ask that its members pressure the Israeli government against the conversion reforms. They warned that the new conversion courts would be too lax and enable Gentiles to enter the Jewish people, which would also eventually harm the European Jewish communities.

The Conference subsequently issued a statement that it would not recognize conversions conducted outside the Chief Rabbinate.