JERUSALEM (JTA) — A proposal to overhaul the conversion system in Israel, which would remove it from under the control of the haredi-Orthodox dominated rabbinate, has met with opposition from the chief rabbis of Israel and dozens of haredi and religious Zionist rabbis.
The final report and recommendations on conversion in Israel written former government minister Moshe Nissim was delivered on Sunday to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The report recommends removing conversion from under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate and establishing a new state-run Orthodox authority.
Under the recommendations, conversions that take place in Israel must still be conducted under Orthodox Jewish law. The proposal also calls for recognition in Israel of conversions by the Conservative and Reform movements carried out in the Diaspora.
Nissim said the proposal must be implemented to prevent a “spiritual Holocaust.”
“There are some 400,000 people without a religion in Israel today,” he said, including immigrants from the former Soviet Union who are not recognized by the rabbinate as Jewish. Every year, fewer than 2,000 people convert [to Judaism in Israel], while some 10,000 people without a religion are added. Today, there is 10 percent assimilation in Israel – and if we do not act now, this figure will only increase. There is no other possibility but to describe it as no less than a spiritual holocaust,” he said during a news conference.
“We are continuing our constant efforts to find solutions that strengthen unity among the Jewish People in Israel and the Diaspora,” Netanyahu said upon receiving a copy of the report.
Interior Minister Arye Dery, who is the head of the Sephardi Orthodox Shas party, said he opposes the proposal and will not advance it as legislation in the Knesset. The interior minister is the lawmaker charged with submitting legislation for conversion.
Israel’s chief rabbis, Rabbi David Lau and Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, convened an emergency meeting of haredi-Orthodox and religious Zionist rabbis, calling on them to reject the proposal and saying the proposal “must be buried.”
The rabbis signed a statement calling the proposed law “a danger to the unity of the Jewish people.”
“We, the rabbis of Israel, regard with concern the danger to the unity of the Jewish people as a result of the proposals for reform in conversion which include the appropriation of conversion from the Chief Rabbinate and the recognition of Reform and Conservative conversion,” the statement said.
Non-Orthodox Jewish movements in Israel also reportedly rejected the proposal because their conversions still would not be recognized.
Under the proposal, a state body would oversee five conversion centers across the country, run by Orthodox officials who would conduct conversions based on Orthodox Jewish law.