Rabbi David Lau
Rabbi David LauFlash 90

UK rabbis expressed their concern to Chief Ashkenazic Rabbi David Lau this week that if legislation proposed by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni's Hatnua party changing the conversion process passes, they will be unable to recognize converts from Israel.

In a conference of rabbis in London, local rabbis spoke to Rabbi Lau about the ramifications the controversial new law will pose.

"They expressed their shock to me over the expropriation of responsibility for conversion from the Israeli Chief Rabbinate," said Rabbi Lau. He added they "always believed the state of Israel would guard more than all other countries this important and delicate issue of conversion, and they didn't believe they would ever need to consider whether to recognize conversion documents from Israel."

The law would allow city rabbis to conduct conversions, letting potential converts to choose the beit din (rabbinic court) they wish to convert with instead of the rabbinic court in their place of residence. Critics warn it could effectively strip the Chief Rabbinate of its authority over conversions, and ultimately lead to rabbis being forced to accept a definition of Jewishness that contradicts Jewish law.

Reportedly the conversion law was a trade off deal between Hatnua, Jewish Home, Yesh Atid and Likud Beytenu, in which each faction supported controversial legislation of the others so as to get its own contested bills passed.

Rabbi Lau confirmed the concern over the bill was warranted, saying "they're opening the topic of conversion without any justification, without any understanding, without any coordination with the rabbinate."

"The government here is taking a very dangerous step not only in the field of conversion, but in all fields of Judaism in the state (of Israel); how will our country look if world rabbis inform us they will stop recognizing conversions from Israel?" asked the rabbi.

Elaborating on the law, Rabbi Lau said "in the State of Israel there is a Chief Rabbinate which is the authority for this (issue)." He noted that should be respected, just as the government doesn't "expropriate authorities from the Health Ministry and don't take a step without coordinating with them."

"How is it possible that the government makes changes, revolutions that will cause damage, not only without the coordination of the Chief Rabbinate that is the legal authority for the issue of Judaism in the state, but in fact completely against its professional opinion?" posed Rabbi Lau.

Rabbi Lau said he expects Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to stop the law, "otherwise, as I see here in Britain and from conversations with rabbis from other countries, we are going in a very dangerous and irresponsible direction for the Jewish future of the state of Israel."

The rabbi added the those undergoing the process of conversion "will hit problems in the future in Israel or abroad, since many will simply stop recognizing conversions conducted in Israel; is that the goal of the government? To put a burden on converts? Because that's what will effectively occur. They won't recognize these conversions."