Daily Israel Report

Netanyahu Digs in on Conversion Law

Prime Minister threatens split in Jewish People if conversion law is passed; Chief Rabbi threatens split if it is not.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 7/19/2010, 10:29 AM / Last Update: 7/19/2010, 11:00 AM

Israel news photo

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has said, "I will not lend my hand to any legislation that will cause a split in the Jewish People." The Chief Rabbi has said that not passing the bill will cause the split.

The reference is to a bill that passed in the Knesset Law Committee last week, after having previously passed its first reading in the full Knesset, regulating the conversion of non-Jews to Judaism.

The bill is championed by Law Commmittee Chairman MK David Rotem, a religious observant member of the Israel Our Home party. It makes it technically easier to convert to Judaism in Israel, but stipulates that this must be done under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate and according to Jewish Law. 

How to Define "Split"
Both opponents and supporters of the bill threaten that if their view is not accepted, a split in the Jewish People is likely to result - but they appear to have different definitions of the word "split." When Netanyahu said at the Cabinet meeting on Sunday that the bill's passage would cause a split, he meant that Reform and Conservative Jews would be angered and resentful at having their own conversions to Judaism not recognized.

However, Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar explained that the "split" to be caused if the bill is not passed, and if Reform conversions are recognized in Israel, would be quite tangible. "If the Supreme Court gives a green light to Reform conversions, Heaven forbid, the nation will be split in half," the Chief Rabbi said. "Half the nation won't marry the other half. It's not a game. It's not just a 'social situation' - it will literally tear the nation apart. And the ones who will lose the most will be those who don't observe the Torah and its commandments, because we simply will not be able to marry their children."

Interior Minister Eli Yishai, leader of the Shas Party, and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's Israel Our Home party – which was established to aid new immigrants, mainly from the former Soviet Union – have formed an unlikely alliance on this issue. 

Yishai said that if the bill does not pass, “it will force [religious] families to keep family trees, and will lead to a deep split in the people. Not passing this law will lead to a grave spiritual danger for the Jewish nation.”

Rotem Against Netanyahu
MK Rotem attacked the Prime Minister, saying, “he is mistaken and is misleading others. This law does not divide the nation. It has nothing to do with conversions performed abroad. It rather comes to make it easier for new immigrants to convert here, adding courts and the like. Reform and Conservatives have been exerting pressures on everyone during the past two weeks, and suddenly Netanyahu gives in.  He is the one who asked me to come to an agreement with the religious parties on conversion, and that is what I did. Now he forgets about all that, and opposes the law without even having read it seriously.”

Despite this, Rotem said that he will not raise the bill for a final vote in the Knesset unless Netanyahu supports it. If the bill is not voted on this week, it will have to wait until three months from now when the Knesset Members return from their summer recess.