United Torah Judaism blocked a first reading in the Knesset this week on a Yisrael Beitenu-sponsored amendment to the Conversion Law that would have granted recognition to Reform and Conservative "conversions."
Gedolei Yisroel urged UTJ representatives to make every effort to thwart the amendment, which was a blatant violation of the coalition agreement and would have created legal channels that in effect foster assimilation. Following UTJ threats to force a coalition crisis, prolonged meetings were held at the Prime Minister's Office until late into the night. Participants in the meetings included government secretary Tzvi Hauser, staff head Natan Eshel, Finance Committee Chairman MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni, Ministers Eli Yishai and Avigdor Liberman, MK Avraham Michaeli (Shas), MKs David Rotem and Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beitenu) and Justice Ministry attorney Yochi Gansin.
Meanwhile the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee held a heated meeting Monday where MKs Rabbi Moshe Gafni and Rabbi Uri Maklev (UTJ) warned that the amendment posed a grave threat to the status quo and heralded disaster for Yiddishkeit.
At first, committee chairman MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beitenu) planned to bring the law for a vote, claiming Shas had agreed to it. Yet when Shas gave notice it was retracting its support, Rotem avoided raising it for a vote in order to grant all of the sides time to reach an acceptable draft. Attorney Yaakov Weintraub, who had been involved in the issue when the coalition agreement was formulated, served as mediator.
The amendment was passed in a preliminary reading but it was agreed that before the second reading a number of paragraphs would be rewritten to accord with the coalition agreement, namely stating that conversion would be conducted in accordance with halacha, in particular including an acceptance of the yoke of Torah and mitzvas.
On Tuesday the Knesset Committee voted on another Yisrael Beitenu proposal regarding arrangements to marry without applying to the Rabbinate. While the conversion amendment was brought before the committee for a first reading, this proposal was brought for second and third readings.