Aryeh Deri
Aryeh DeriEmil Salman/Flash 90

A bill submitted to the Knesset would require the state to recognize only conversions completed under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate.

The measure, which was submitted by the Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (Shas), appears to be an effort to circumvent a controversial March 2016 Supreme Court ruling which allowed those undergoing private Orthodox conversions in Israel to become citizens under the Law of Return. The haredi parties at the time vowed to submit legislation to neutralize the ruling. Most Religious Zionists rabbis agreed, many claiming that the Supreme Court does not have jurisdiction on halakhic issues.

In the wake of the 2016 decision, the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel asked the court for the same recognition of their private conversions in Israel. Only those who have been converted by the Reform and Conservative movement abroad are recognized now as Jewish for the purpose of immigration to Israel.

“This bill, which is promoted by the 'ultra-Orthodox' members of the government, is in fact against halakha [Jewish law],” Rabbi Seth Farber, head of Itim, an organization that helps Israelis navigate religious bureaucracy, claimed in a statement.

“For hundreds of years, various courts operated within the Jewish communities, with different halakhic approaches — some of them more stringent and some less so. The common denominator was that everyone finally recognized everyone’s conversions, except for very unusual cases.

“This bill is intended to deepen the existing situation of first-degree Jews and second-class Jews — those recognized by state institutions and those that are not recognized — even though halakhic rulings are equal in Judaism. This is absurd from a religious point of view and from a human standpoint.”

Farber was among the rabbis who established the Giyur Ka’halacha private Orthodox conversion court two years ago, opposed by most Religious Zionist rabbis who believe that the comparison to pre-state conversions is erroneous and that the State of Israel differs essentially from the situation prevailing in the diaspora.

Israel, according to classic Religious Zionism as developed by Rabbi Avraham HaKohen Kook, Israel's iconic first chief rabbi, is a new entity which must promote the Chief Rabbinate's national halakhic mandate after 2000 years. This includes a uniform definition over who can be called a halakhic Jew - a mandate which can also prevent today's 'wildcat' conversions, rampant outside Israel, from moving to the Jewish State.