Gary Rosenblatt’s column (Between The Lines, Aug. 6) which attempts to put the conversion bill in perspective is in my view unbalanced. While I agree that the primary concern of those arguing about the bill should be the immigrants in Israel, there is no reason to accuse the North American Jewish community (or those of us in Israel who are against the bill) of abandoning the immigrants who seek conversion. In fact, should the bill pass, it might actually endanger conversion because the Chief Rabbi would have the legal authority to dismiss (or annul) those conversions.
Now it may be argued that the present Chief Rabbi wouldn’t go to such extremes. But his tenure ends in 14 months, and do we really want to be giving unlimited power in conversion to a chief rabbi who will be appointed by the ultra-Orthodox?
But what really lies at the core of the legislation is petty party politics. There is no need for legislation at this point in time. Nothing prevents city rabbis from performing conversions except for a directive from the chief rabbi’s office stating that he will only certify conversion court rabbis. City rabbis could begin performing conversions in Israel tomorrow, and – if the court’s precedents hold- these conversions would be recognized by the State. Converts could be married in the cities in which these rabbis performed those conversions without raising an eyebrow. And the government would stand behind these conversions.
This entire mess was created because the Yisrael Beiteinu party chose to make conversion a legislative issue, rather than pressuring the chief rabbi to automatically recognize conversions performed by municipal rabbis. If those backing the bill really cared about the 313,000 immigrant from the FSU, they would stop circumventing the issue and either reform the existing conversion authority, or put their weight behind efforts to pressure the rabbinate – internally – to expand the numbers of rabbis who engage in conversion.