The Knesset was scheduled to vote this month on legislation that would revamp national rules regarding Jewish conversion. That vote has now been put off until the start of its summer session in May. As David Isaac reports, “the delayed vote represents the latest in a series of efforts to resolve religious disputes through political means,” particularly regarding standards of kosher certification, prayer at the Western Wall, and conversion.
The “conversion system” bill, submitted to the Knesset plenum on March 7 for a first reading that didn’t happen, calls for allowing city rabbis to establish their own conversion courts. . . . Currently, there are about ten official conversion courts, all under the guidance of the chief rabbinate, which is under the sway of the ultra-Orthodox. There are also some private, independent courts.
“What we are trying to achieve is the decentralization of the power of the chief rabbinate,” said Tani Frank, director of the Center for Judaism and State Policy at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, which was involved in drafting the conversion bill. . . . The hope is that by expanding the number of conversion courts, those who want to become Jewish will have a better chance of finding more lenient rabbis, according to Frank.
Frank goes on to state that, if the bill were passed, it would mark
“the first time that the government of Israel [made] a law that deals with conversion. It was never done before, and although it doesn’t necessarily directly deal with the conversion of foreigners—of people outside of Israel—it does have an impact on the general question of who is a Jew and who can convert.”