Photo Credit: Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90
Minister of Religious Services Matan Kahana attends second Chanukah light ceremony at the Kotel, November 29, 2021.

Minister of Religious Services Matan Kahana (Yamina), who succeeded in passing the kashrut reform, raising the ire of the Haredim in the process (even though only a few of them rely on the Chief Rabbinate’s kashrut certifications—the service Kahana sought to correct), has turned to his next major project – conversion, and, predictably, the Haredim aren’t happy at all.

Minister Kahana’s conversion outline, which is expected to be submitted as a government bill in the coming weeks, allows city rabbis to convert within the framework of the state conversion system, Kipa reported on Wednesday (בהסכמת הרב דרוקמן: נחשף מתווה הגיור של מתן כהנא). The outline for a State Conversion Law was formulated in coordination with rabbis from religious Zionism, most prominent among them Rabbi Haim Drukman.


Minister Kahana’s conversion outline’s first part is that the existing conversion system will for the first time receive state recognition by law; the second part allows city rabbis to establish conversion tribunals within the framework of the state conversion system; and the third defines the establishment of a “city rabbis” department in the conversion division, which will provide administrative services to the city rabbis’ associations.

“In the State of Israel, there are currently close to half a million halachically non-Jewish citizens who are ‘Zera Israel’ (Individuals whose father or grandfather were Jews but not their mothers or grandmothers – DI),” Minister Kahana said in a statement. “They live with us in the army, at work, at school, and in all areas of life. The time has come to allow anyone who wishes to join the ranks of the Jewish people according to Halacha to do so in a welcoming conversion process.”

Shas Chairman MK Aryeh Deri, in an interview on Radio Kol Chai that dealt primarily with his legal troubles, referred to Kahana and Naftali Bennett (Yamina) as Hellenized Jews, always a good slur for Chanukah.

MK Yoav Ben-Zur (Shas) said in response to Kahana’s anticipated move: “There hasn’t been destruction and ruin of the institution of the Chief Rabbinate and Jewish tradition as the one led by the Minister for the destruction of the religion, Matan Kahana. The conversion system is the soul of the Jewish people and harming it will lead to severe assimilation. There is no escaping our having to set up private genealogies.”

That’s not much of a threat in a country where genealogy books are already being kept by many Haredi communities and the chance of marriages between a born-and-bred Haredi and, say, an Oleh from Ukraine is quite low.

Haredi news website Kikar Hashabbat explained the problem with Kahana’s conversion reform: it will in fact open up the possibility that controversial rabbis, such as Rabbi David Stav, will be able to convert – and this is the main concern of the rabbinate.

Absolutely. Meaning that it’s all about territory, spiritual real estate if you will. Rabbi Stav represents the people who use the services of the Chief Rabbinate. As head of Tzohar, he has been able to mount the biggest, authentic Orthodox competition to the Chief Rabbinate in every area of religious Jewish services. He is the only one of the Haredi rabbis who run the Chief Rabbinate almost strictly for a non-Haredi constituency truly fear. Minister Kahana has already cut their income from kashrut certification – now he’s threatening their other fattened cow – conversions.

The head of the Shas Council of Torah Scholars, Rabbi Shalom Cohen, has already launched a scathing attack on the Bennett-Lapid government, calling for a boycott of its members. “How can you meet them? What should you talk to them about? They want to uproot the faith, there hasn’t been anything like this for decades,” Rabbi Cohen said.

Nevertheless, the chief rabbi of the city of Beer Sheva, Rabbi Yehuda Deri, who happens to be the brother of MK Aryeh Deri, met on Tuesday morning with Minister of Religious Services Matan Kahana, Srugim reported. It was a good meeting in which both sides praised each other’s good works. So there, it turns out when you need to discuss government budget allocations, the Haredi rabbi would happily meet with the so-called enemy of the Jewish faith.

Incidentally, Rabbi Shlomo Amar and the Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi David Lau, also met with Minister Kahana. No boycott there.


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