Rabbi Shlomo Amar
Rabbi Shlomo AmarIsrael News photo: (file)

Representatives from Shas, United Torah Judaism (UTJ) and the Jewish Home convened for an emergency meeting at the offices of the Chief Rabbinate Sunday and decided to block perceived attempts to erode Orthodox control of conversion to Judaism (giyur). The meeting was called at the behest of Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar, following the High Court’s decision last week to force the State to fund Reform conversion institutes. 

Besides Rabbi Amar and his Ashkenazic counterpart Rabbi Yonah Metzger, all of the ministers from Sephardic hareidi party Shas attended the meeting, as did Deputy Minister Yaakov Litzman of UTJ and Knesset members from both factions. MK Uri Orbach of the Jewish Home attended as well.

The forum decided unanimously to demand that matters of conversion be taken out of the control of the Prime Minister’s Office and be placed under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate. Rabbi Amar asked the hareidi Knesset members to expedite the drafting of a law to this effect.

The participants were in agreement that the High Court decision last Tuesday grants a degree of legitimacy to Reform conversions and that it opens the door to eventual recognition of Reform conversions carried out in Israel. Israeli law currently recognizes non-Orthodox conversions only if they were carried out abroad.

Festival of Converts

On Friday, hareidi newspaper Yated Ne’eman published an attack on the “Festival of Converts” which the Ministry of Absorption is planning for the upcoming week of Shavuot. Shavuot is considered the “converts’ holiday” because it involves reading the Scroll of Ruth the Moabite, Judaism’s most famous convert.

Sunday’s Yated Ne’eman ran an editorial blasting “the harsh and dangerous attempt by the High Court to force itself and to interfere in the most basic matters of Jewish Law, with the intent of aiding the industry of fake conversions that has been uncovered over the last few years, which enables thousands of non-Jews to assimilate among us while disguising themselves as Jews.”

Shas Chairman and Minister of Interior Eli Yishai said that “there are hundreds of foreign laborers and Palestinians who will make use of the reform conversion in order to gain citizenship in Israel.”

Minister Yaakov Mergi (Shas) said that the High Court “is pushing all those who abide by Jewish Law and Jewish identity to keep a record of their genealogical histories – a development that would lead to a rift within the Jewish people.”

MK Orbach said that conversions must be carried out according to Jewish Law and that while he has practical disagreements with the hareidi representatives, he agrees that Reform conversions are not true ones and that the High Court “interferes in many matters that it should stay out of.”