The government's next battle: conversion reform

Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana expected to meet with chief rabbis in coming days, to discuss conversion reform.

Arutz Sheva Staff ,

Chief Rabbi David Lau (r.) and Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana
Chief Rabbi David Lau (r.) and Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana
Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Following the furor sparked by the government’s declared plans to entirely overhaul the kashrut system in Israel and strip the Chief Rabbinate of virtually all its authority on the matter of kosher supervision, Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana of the Yamina party intends to move forward on another extremely contentious issue – that of conversions.

According to a report in the Israel Hayom newspaper, in recent days Minister Kahana has been holding discussions on the issue with various concerned officials, in advance of submitting draft legislation for reform of the conversion system in Israel.

Kahana has already made overtures to the country’s two chief rabbis (Ashkenazic and Sephardic) in order to discuss conversion reform. Rabbi David Lau, the Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi and President of the Supreme Rabbinical Court, appears likely to consent to a meeting, during which he will lay out the points he considers most important to stress.

With regard to the Sephardic Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, tensions are somewhat greater, due to Rabbi Yosef’s openly expressed sharp condemnation of Kahana’s plans for the reform of kosher supervision. Last week, Rabbi Yosef penned an open letter regarding the government’s plans to overhaul the kashrut system that was extremely critical of the reforms, and reforms to the conversion system are expected to be no less explosive.

Kahana is also expected to hold meetings with senior rabbis in the Religious Zionist movement over the next few weeks, and also with former Justice Minister Moshe Nissim, who developed an outline for reform of the conversion system in 2018. His idea was to establish an entirely new conversion authority that would not be subordinate to the Chief Rabbinate, and to recognize non-Orthodox conversions performed abroad. However, the outline he developed at the bidding of then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was frozen due to the opposition of the haredi political parties to its provisions.

Minister Kahana is also expected to hold meetings with various elements who have been pushing for reform of the conversion system for many years, in order to secure their support in advance of drafting new legislation. Those close to Kahana say that his guiding principles will be ensuring that conversion is conducted according to Jewish law, along with showing a true concern for the future of the Jewish People. They also stress that Kahana wishes to preserve the State’s authority over conversions, and that he is motivated by the religious commandment to “love the convert” as was the practice of Rabbi Goren, obm, and as was promoted by Rabbi Haim Druckman during the period when he served as head of the conversion authority.

Kahana’s confidantes told Arutz Sheva that the issue of conversion is one that has preoccupied Kahana for many years, since he first became a Knesset member, and that he is determined to find a solution for the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who are not Jews according to Jewish law (halakha) but live as Israelis in all respects, including serving in the army with devotion and self-sacrifice.

In the past, Kahana has held meetings with various religious leaders who have proposed several potential solutions to this problem.

“We’re talking about the future of the Jewish People, nothing less,” they say. “We have to find a way to continue to live here for many more years, and we have the ability to do this. Throughout the generations, our religious leaders – foremost among them Chief Rabbi Bentzion Meir Hai Uziel zt”l – labored intensively over this issue and prepared the way for us to move forward out of the situation in which we currently find ourselves.”



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