Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Naftali Bennett and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau, February 3, 2014.

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau, who opposes Yamina’s Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana’s conversion reform, has decided to suspend all conversions in Israel from now until further notice. The last straw for the chief rabbi dropped last Thursday when Kahana summoned Moshe Weller, Head of the state conversions system, to a meeting and informed him that he could not continue doing his job because he opposes the new conversion outline the minister intended to pass in the Knesset.

“You oppose my reform and that’s is not appropriate,” Kahana told his underling. “I need a Head of the conversion system who will promote the conversion outline in the Knesset committees. There’s much work and it’s important. I have no choice, you have to go.”


On Tuesday, Chief Rabbi Lau sent a letter to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, stating: “The proposed conversion outline will cause a significant rift in the nation of Israel that will not be reconcilable. Disconnecting the Chief Rabbinate from the conversion system by terminating the work of the person in charge of it, together with promoting a destructive conversion outline, will result in an irreversible situation which you are able to prevent.”

“I inform you with great sorrow that if the conversion outline is promoted and the head of the conversion system is terminated, I would have to remove my responsibility from everything that is done in the conversion system and I will immediately stop approving the conversion certificates it provides,” Rabbi Lau summed up his ultimatum.

Kahana was stunned by the intensity of the Chief Rabbi’s response. One of his associates told journalist Shalom Yerushalmi, “Rabbi Lau threw an atomic bomb on us.”

Yerushalmi pointed out that the halt on conversions would have an immediate impact on Kahana’s coalition partner, Absorption Minister Pnina Temano Shata (Yesh Atid), seeing as hundreds of Ethiopian and Indian olim who have joined the state conversion outline, some a considerable time ago, will now have to stop the process until the crisis is resolved.

Kahana tweeted on Tuesday: “I regret the intention of the Chief Rabbi of Israel to stop the conversions in Israel only because of the non-extension of the term of office of a government official. The move will harm olim from Ethiopia, soldiers seeking to convert, and thousands of other future converts.”

Yes, it’s called politics, and rabbis have always been very good at it.

But wait, there’s more. MK Yulia Malinowski (Israel Beiteinu), Chairman of the Knesset Religious Services Committee, is about to submit her version of a conversion bill to a preliminary vote. Kahana’s reform may worry the chief rabbi because it’s a tad promiscuous, wait until he sees that Malinowski’s bill extends the authority to grant conversions not to just city rabbis, but also hesder yeshiva deans…

Tani Frank, director of the Center for Judaism and State at the Hartman Institute and the Trigoboff Institute, responded: “Rabbi Lau’s letter proves what everyone already knows. If the authority remains in the hands of Rabbi Lau, he will block any possibility of conversions by city rabbis whose halakhic approach is different than his own. If now Rabbi Lau threatens not to sign conversion certificates, what will happen in the future? This letter is an important warning sign. In light of this, we reiterate our call for the drafters of the outline to allow city rabbis to convert as independently and as widely as possible.”


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