Livni and Bennett
Livni and BennettFlash 90

The chairman of the religious Zionist Jewish Home, Minister Naftali Bennett, and the chairwoman of secularist Hatnua, Minister Tzipi Livni, presented on Thursday to the Government Secretariat a request that the government officially ratify a compromise decision regarding contested changes in the process of conversion into Judaism, which threatened to bring down the coalition.

The government is expected to vote on the decision Sunday. The change in the conversion process will not be brought to the Knesset to be voted upon as a law, but rather will be made directly by government decision.

The political establishment will thus return to the “Druckman Compromise” that the Jewish Home agreed to advance as a government decision two months ago. The status of the Chief Rabbinate and of the Chief Rabbis will supposedly be preserved, and unlike in the radical bill that the Knesset would otherwise have voted upon, Reform conversion will not be recognized.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu initially supported the compromise, but reversed his position ten days ago. In response, Hatnua brought the radical version of the bill to the Knesset, where it appears to be able to pass even against the government's wishes.

To save the coalition from a possibly terminal upheaval, it has now been agreed to go back to the compromise, and to approve it directly in the government without legislation.

Earlier this week, venerated Zionist rabbi, Rabbi Chaim Druckman, explained the difference between the radical law that was proposed by MK Elazar Stern (Hatnua) and the proposed government decision that he helped formulate, and which is named after him.

"The Conversion Law is completely negative, for three main reasons,” he said. “The first is that it completely takes away the authority over conversion from the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, something that does not happen in the proposed government decision, which stipulates that the Chief Rabbi of Israel is the exclusive signatory for every conversion certificate.

"In addition, the government decision includes a steering committee of rabbis that oversees the Rabbinical Courts of the city rabbis, instructs and directs them – and the Head of the Conversion Array is a member [of the steering committee]. In the law, this does not exist at all. In the bill there is also a clause that grants rights to Reform Jews – something that has no existence at all in the government decision.”

"That is why the law is terrible,” Rabbi Druckman summed up. “We were not enthusiastic about the government decision in its present form either, but it is several times better than the bad and terrible bill. We did not propose either one, but in the existing reality, in which there was a need to establish a Beit Din [rabbinical court] of city rabbis for conversion, we preferred the government decision, which cannot even be compared to the bill. The law is bad, horrible. It will not be worth the paper it is written on. No rabbi will recognize conversion according to that law, unlike the government decision.”

Bennett also explained the difference between the proposed government decision and the radical bill.

“The bill that was brought before the Knesset damages Halakha (Jewish law) and damages the converts,” he said. "If the bill were to be approved, rabbis would refuse to recognize many of the conversions made by more liberal municipal rabbinical courts, and “genealogical tables would be written in which a separation would be made between 'Jews by Halakha' and 'Jews by political law.'”

The radical bill is being advanced by hareidim who seek the government's downfall, he added, and by the Reform streams. To pass, it would have relied on the votes of Arab MKs.

Bennett added that he was sorry that “under hareidi pressure, the prime minister decided to withdraw his support for the compromise version" ten days ago.

"This action contradicts an explicit commitment he gave Minister Livni and me, and mostly – it harms tens of thousands of converts. We brought it back for a government vote. I hope the government does the right thing and ratifies our proposal, and that the good of the Nation of Israel stands before the eyes of our elected officials.”

Jewish Home has been opposing the law, but originally agreed to let the bill come to a first reading despite its right to veto laws on religion and state before their presentation to the Knesset. Evidently the decision not to veto was made for political considerations, in an attempt to gain support for Jewish Home's bill against freeing terrorists in exchange agreements.