Shas 'Religious Reforms' on Cusp of Approval

Conversion law may be overturned and Religious Affairs Ministry to take control of rabbinical courts, should Shas reforms pass.

Cynthia Blank ,

Binyamin Netanyahu with Shas head Aryeh Deri
Binyamin Netanyahu with Shas head Aryeh Deri
Miriam Alster/Flash 90

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's government will vote Sunday on a series of "reforms" promoted by the Shas party in accordance with its coalition agreement with Likud. 

For the most part however, the measures consist more on turning back the clock on reforms passed by the previous government, when the Religious Affairs Ministry was controlled by the religious-Zionist Jewish Home party.

Ministers are expected to approve transferring jurisdiction of the rabbinical courts back from the Justice Ministry to the Religious Affairs Ministry, as well as repealing a controversial conversion law adopted by the previous government. 

That law permits local Rabbinates to establish new rabbinical courts as well as allows individuals seeking to convert to approach rabbis outside of their hometowns. Campaigners argued it was key to making the Rabbinate more accessible to ordinary Israelis, and to preventing irreligious Israelis from abandoning traditional Orthodox ceremonies altogether due to the often suffocating and unnecessary bureaucracy of the previous system.

The measures promoted by the haredi Shas party, which now controls the Religious Affairs Ministry, are an attempt to fortify that ministry as well as the Chief Rabbinate, whose power the conversion law limited. 

Slamming the move was Yesh Atid, whose own legislation stands to be repealed should the government pass Shas' measures. 

"[The government has been] abducted, its clearance sale continues and the big losers are us. In the name of coalition agreements, [Likud] sold us all out," the party fumed. 

Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman also condemned the decision to overturn the conversion reform, calling the move a "betrayal of immigration and immigrants."

"Repealing this reform would cause intolerable harm to immigrants from the former Soviet Union, France, Ethiopia and other countries," he blasted. 

This vote proves "the government is completely controlled by haredi parties, who have made the Israeli public prisoners in the hands of extremist elements, making it difficult for citizens who want to live in a country of tolerant and enlightened Judaism, and not in a dark country that buckles to the most extreme haredi forces," Liberman added.