Controversial New Conversion Courts Elicit Sharp Condemnations

YERUSHALAYIM (Hamodia Staff) -

A new attempt to create batei din for conversion outside the Chief Rabbinate, which aim to ease the process for candidates, has aroused grave concern and elicited harsh condemnation.

The new conversion courts, which were announced on Monday, would operate in defiance of the policy set by the current government, which revoked a liberalized conversion program that was approved last year. The now-rescinded reform of the conversion process, which gave candidates the right to select their own beis din regardless of place of residence, was strongly opposed by the Chief Rabbis and leading poskim as a threat to valid halachic conversion.

The new system is headed by Rabbis Nahum Rabinowitz and David Stav, the head of the Tzohar organization, and has the support of Rabbis Yakov Madan, Reem Hakohein, Shlomo Riskin and some others.

When the new conversion program was first debated a year ago, Chief Rabbi David Lau charged that the law was originally formulated as a “personal law” to allow two specific Rabbis who are known to be lenient in this most serious issue to create a conversion court. Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef said at the time that the intent was to create a “speedy” conversion process.

The new initiative has received the support of some members of the national-religious camp, including Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett. On Tuesday morning, Yisrael Beitenu leader Avigdor Lieberman, a longtime proponent of lower conversion standards, also endorsed the proposal.

However, Bennett’s own party is split over the issue.

Deputy Minister of Defense Eli Ben-Dahan of Jewish Home denounced the idea on Army Radio, stressing that there can only be one centralized authority for conversion in the country.

“It’s impossible to agree to this solution, just like if we would have criticism of the High Court and its decisions we would not agree that everyone could establish their own court,” said Ben-Dahan on Tuesday.

Rabbi Chaim Druckman, a senior national-religious figure, also came out in opposition: “Conversion must be within the framework of the Chief Rabbinate,” he said. “I am totally opposed to alternative conversion, even if it is in accordance with halachah, because all such alternatives harm organized Torah life in the state of Israel.”

He added that with the alternative giyur process, “there will be those who will perform [the process] according to halachah, and there will be those who will not do it according to halachah…”

In addition, tens of Religious Zionist Rabbis, mostly from the Chardal segment, issued a sharply written letter in which they forcefully condemned the new courts, and stressed that they will not recognize the conversions performed by these batei din. The list of Rabbanim signing the letter was led by Rabbi Dov Lior, Rabbi Chaim Steiner, and Rabbi Tzvi Yisrael Tau.