Institute Vows to Continue Advocating for Improvements in Conversion Process
In response to the government decision on conversion, IDI's President Yohanan Plesner, VP of Research Prof. Yedidia Stern, and VP of Research Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer welcomed the decision with the following words.
"The Israel Democracy Institute congratulates the government of Israel on the adoption of a historic decision to open the gates of religious conversion to Israelis who wish to join the Jewish People.
"IDI, together with ITIM, prepared a draft of a comprehensive bill for regulation of conversion in Israel, and we are delighted that the government today adopted an important and central part of our proposal.
"The central innovation in the government’s decision, following the Institute’s proposal, is to break the monopoly of the Chief Rabbinate over determining the validity of conversions performed in Israel. Henceforth, local rabbinic courts [batey din] headed by municipal rabbis, will have full authority to perform conversions in Israel. As is well known, there is a plurality of opinions concerning the halakhic standards required for conversion, and this decision will enable the establishment of conversion courts throughout the country that will adopt lenient halakhic positions. These courts will open their gates to Israeli citizens who are not Jews—approximately 300,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union—thus redressing the infringement of their human rights and contributing to social cohesion in Israel.
"Although we condone the government’s decision, it is not enough. It would have been better had the proposal passed in the form of a law of the Knesset as opposed to a government decision, as appropriate for such a serious matter. Following a change in the composition of the coalition, a government decision can be overturned by a subsequent government decision. Moreover, the current decision leaves the authority to issue conversion certificates in the hands of the Chief Rabbinate, which may abuse this power. In addition, the decision does not address the vital question of retroactive annulment of conversions. Finally, even though the government decision breaks the monopoly of the Rabbinate, it provides for recognition of conversions performed in Israel only if the converting rabbis are Orthodox.
"Nevertheless, the decision adopted by the government today offers grounds for optimism due to the progress made on such a complex and important issue. IDI is proud of its role in bringing about this welcome change. We intend to continue to address the challenge of conversion in Israel until it is fully resolved."