A Knesset committee has for the second time approved a bill allowing local rabbis to oversee conversions to Judaism in Israel, and the bill is now slated to be returned to the full Knesset for its second and third readings.
The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on Monday approved the conversion bill by a vote of 6 to 5. It had previously been approved in March, but the committee was required to vote a second time following the addition of 38 amendments proposed by the opposition, all of which were voted down by the committee.
Despite the fact that the bill is now officially out of committee, it is unknown when it will move to the Knesset floor. Israeli media reported last week that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had withdrawn his support for the bill in order to shore up his coalition base and not upset the Haredi Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, whom he might need to form an alliance in future governments.
The bill was sponsored by Elazar Stern of Tzipi Livni’s HaTnua party and is opposed by the Likud and Jewish Home parties as well as the Haredi parties and chief Rabbi David Lau and his Sephardi counterpart, Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef.
Under the measure, as many as 30 courts made up of municipal rabbis would be allowed for the purpose of conversion. Currently there are 33 rabbis and four conversion courts that can perform conversions throughout Israel.
“We are pleased that, in the end, the lawmakers were able to see beyond the politics and reach out to potential converts in a positive way,” Rabbi Seth Farber, director of the ITIM Jewish Advocacy Center, who was involved in the drafting of the bill and participated in the hearing told JTA. “Each day, hundreds of individuals who made aliyah as Jews but aren’t recognized as Jews by the rabbinate are being alienated by the Jewish State. This bill provides them a small glimmer of light.”