Following an usually vociferous meeting, the Knesset Constitutional Committee decided to bring for a first reading a proposal for a conversion law that would make the Chief Rabbinate the only body authorized to engage in conversions in Israel, would require an acceptance of Torah and mitzvas and would ensure that conversions are performed only in accordance with halochoh.
The proposed legislation was backed by five MKs: Rabbi Uri Maklev (UTJ), David Rotem and Alex Miller (Israel Beiteinu), Avraham Michaeli (Shas) and Michael Ben Ari (Ichud Leumi). Four MKs voted no: Shlomo Molla and Yochanan Plesner (Kadima), Dov Khenin (Chadash) and Einat Wilf (Labor). Likud representatives were absent from the meeting and the vote.
Committee Chairman MK David Rotem ejected MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni from the meeting following a heated exchange between him and Kadima members.
The main provisions of the law are granting the Chief Rabbinate sole responsibility for all conversion matters; authorizing city rabbis to perform conversions, as was the practice until 25 years ago; transforming Israel into a single conversion region so that whoever chooses to convert can select the city and the rabbi whom he or she would like to oversee the conversion; enabling appeals and empowering the Rabbinate courts to annul conversions if they are found not to be in accordance with halacha or if there was no genuine acceptance of Torah and mitzvas.
The original draft included a special paragraph that linked conversion to obtaining citizenship through the Law of Return, but the committee chairman said he was removing the paragraph from the proposed law due to the harsh criticism lodged against this paragraph by the law's opponents, who support the Reform and Conservative movements, which lead the opposition to the proposal.
In order to further appease opponents, Rotem announced that before the second and third readings the law would probably undergo additional changes. Still, the opponents refused to back the proposal.
Rotem also lodged severe criticism against the stance taken by Kadima representatives, who joined forces with Reform and Conservative figures, saying what they cared about was not conversion and conversion candidates, but their friends abroad. He rejected their arguments that the law grants the Chief Rabbinate exclusive authority over conversion, saying that the proposal by Kadima MK Shlomo Molla, which was raised last week for a vote in the Knesset plenum and which sought to deny the Chief Rabbinate the power to cancel a conversion, also granted the Israel Chief Rabbinate the authority to perform conversions.