Coalition Postpones Vote on Conversion Bill

YERUSHALAYIM -
Yisrael Beytenu party chairman and Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Bennett-Lapid-Liberman coalition backed away Wednesday from an immediate vote on proposed conversion reforms after encountering fierce opposition from Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau, along with religious and some right-wing MKs.

Rabbi Lau notified Prime Minister Naftali Bennett that he will not approve any future conversions as the government continues to advance the conversion reform bill.

In a letter to Bennett explaining his objections, Rabbi Lau warned “that the proposed conversion reforms will split the Jewish people, who in the future will have to grapple with the question, ‘Who is Jewish?’ whom they can marry or – chalilah – not marry, a terrible situation of two states for two peoples, a split Judaism rather than a united one.”

Proponents of the conversion reforms—including Yisrael Beytenu MK Yulia Malinovsky and Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana—said that they will hold off bringing the matter to a vote for two weeks, until enough votes can be enlisted to assure passage in the plenum.

On Wednesday, Finance Minister and Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman threatened to remove Rabbi Lau from his position if he continues to refuse to cooperate with the proposed regime.

“The head of the conversion system is not elected by the public, but by a senior official in the civil and public service, and the decision to extend or terminate his tenure is in the hands of the competent state authorities,” Liberman wrote.

Such behavior “is not appropriate to the status of the chief rabbi, and may lead to proceedings being taken to end his term,” Liberman added.

In a stormy Knesset session, the chairman of United Torah Judaism, MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni, declared: “The true face of Liberman, Kahana and [Yoaz] Hendel has been revealed. They just want to turn the Chief Rabbi into a clerk who receives instructions from a group of inferior politicians who do not have a basic knowledge of halachah.

“The Jewish people in Israel and around the world will condemn them and stand by the Chief Rabbi of Israel, Harav David Lau.”