Matan Kahana
Matan KahanaSariya Diamant

Speaking at Bnei Akiva’s third national conference on education, held in Jerusalem on Sunday, Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana (Yamina) insisted that his party remained “the home for Religious Zionism.”

“The Yamina party is the home of Religious Zionism and we concern ourselves with the interests of the sector, and represent its values,” he said. “I understand the anger over the processes we’re leading, but I believe we have acted correctly and also, that what we’re doing deserves to be widely supported.”

Kahana added that, “Prime Minister Naftali Bennett thinks the same way I do – we’re representing the Religious Zionist public, and benefiting the sector.”

Getting down to specifics, Kahana said, “My plans for reforming the state’s processes for conversions to Judaism aren’t finalized yet, but I can tell you that the greatest Religious Zionist rabbis support them. This is a fundamental issue for us – we, as Religious Zionists, have a national responsibility and we can’t just look at what we’re doing and not address others. Here in Israel we have around 500 thousand people who are of Jewish descent [Zera Yisrael]. We have to bring them in, convert them according to halachah [Jewish law]. We already have genealogy tables,” he noted, adding, “MK Pindrus [a haredi Knesset member] already said that anyone whose son marries a girl who was converted in the IDF’s conversion course* should sit shivah [i.e. mourn over him], because she’s a shiksa [a pejorative term for a non-Jew].”

Regarding his worldview and how it affects his political life, Kahana said, “When I entered my current position in the Religious Affairs Ministry, I told my staff that I see it as my mission to sanctify G-d’s Name. Unfortunately, things don’t always work out like that and that’s not the way it should be, but it’s a primarily a problem of image and doesn’t always reflect the actual situation.”

He noted that, “Anyone who needs to receive religious services does indeed receive what he needs, in areas like marriage and burial. But we do need to improve the way we present ourselves to the public, and I’m delighted that in some areas, such as the state’s kosher organizations, we are already fixing things.”

Kahana stressed that, “I will never transgress halachah. I abide by halachah. As a government minister who has to deal with bureaucracy, I can say that even when I was dealing with the issue of the Tzohar revolution in marriage, there were those who supported me and those who opposed me. In general, those who support me tend to be quieter about it than those who oppose, and privately, many express their support. In the field of kosher supervision, the situation was one that led to a desecration of G-d’s Name, and now I can tell you that things are going to get better. The fact that the Sephardic Chief Rabbi refused to meet with me distressed me deeply. But I have no intention of dismantling the Chief Rabbinate – on the contrary, I want to strengthen it.”

Asked to comment on recent statements made by MK Yulia Malinovsky (Yisrael Beytenu), who, among other things, promised to “deal with” the Rabbinate, Kahana said, “I think that her statements were unfortunate; at the same time, she has done a lot of good work over the years.”

*The IDF’s conversion course lasts eight weeks and does not demand a commitment on the part of the prospective convert to follow Jewish law.