Following long months of hard work that began with the inauguration of the Lapid-Bennett government in June, Minister of Religious Services Matan Kahana on Wednesday published a memorandum of the Government Conversion Law. The memorandum will be available to public comments and in about three weeks will be submitted for the approval of the ministerial legislative committee. Once it is approved there, it should be able to pass the Knesset plenum’s first vote and be sent to committee for amendments.
Perhaps the most important principle of the new law is that it determines that the only conversion recognized by the State of Israel is based on Torah law. This should alleviate the suspicion that was spread wide and wild about the new law aiming to legitimize Reform and other non-Orthodox conversions.
The Ministry of Religious Services noted that the bill was written in consultation with Rabbi Haim Drukman, Rosh Yeshiva of Ohr Etzion Yeshiva, and head of the Center for Bnei Akiva Yeshivot, one of the most senior rabbis in religious Zionism and an expert on the subject of conversions.
Minister Kahana said on Wednesday that “in the State of Israel, there are almost half a million citizens whose father or grandfather was Jewish but according to Halakha are not Jewish. They are part of us. Torah scholars of all generations have ruled that great efforts must be made to ‘bring them home.’ Shutting our eyes and ignoring this situation harms the Jewish identity of the State of Israel and causes assimilation. The memorandum of law I submitted today, and further steps we will take, God willing, in the coming years, will bring about a significant increase in the number of people seeking to convert each year.”
במקום לחבק אותם ולאפשר להם גיור ע”פ ההלכה, בועטים להם בראש.
הפעם לא אאפשר לפספס הזדמנות היסטורית.
הראיון המלא בתגובה ראשונה. pic.twitter.com/3xXoQB6ZCl
— Matan Kahana מתן כהנא (@MatanKahana) January 9, 2022
The conversion law’s main points as published on Wednesday:
The existing conversion system will receive state recognition by law, which should strengthen the position of the Chief Rabbinate and Orthodox Judaism on the issue of conversion.
For the first time: the law will stipulate that the conversion in the state conversion system will operate in accordance with Torah law.
City rabbis will be able to establish tribunals for conversion within the framework of the state conversion system under one system of rules of procedure, supervision, and control, with uniform certificates for all.
A City Rabbis district will be established in the conversion system, which will provide administrative services to the tribunals of city rabbis.
A committee of rabbis will be established to formulate the rules of procedure that would compel all the conversion courts.
The Chief Rabbi, the Steering Committee, and the Chief Rabbinical Council have full authority to revoke the appointment of conversion judges in a controlled manner in the event of a breach of the rules.
Kahana also noted on Wednesday: “We humbly respond today to the almost prophetic call of the Chief Rabbi of Israel, the late Rabbi Unterman Z’tzl, who saw the future and wrote back in 1971: ‘We expect a great movement among the Jews to immigrate to Israel, and this requires us to prepare for the great mission (…) We will prepare special workshops not only for learning the language but also for knowing Judaism (…) Care must be taken that the treatment of those in need of conversion according to Torah law will be gentle and understanding, paying attention to what our brethren have gone through in their spiritual distress. Then we will try to also spread among them sparks from the radiance of the Torah and hope that it will take root in their hearts. God forbid, we must not neglect this opportunity.'”
Rabbi Isser Yehuda Unterman, who served as Chief Rabbi of Liverpool, Tel Aviv, and finally the State of Israel, was the very definition of a Lithuanian scholar in the best sense of this term. A woman once extended her hand to him and he immediately shook it. He later explained, “Don’t think that I am lax on not touching women. I am stringent on respect for people.”