There has been significant political pushback against the changes to the conversion process proposed by Religious Minister Matan Kahana. The Chotem organization led by Michael Bareli set up an Express conversion booth” in Tel Aviv to emphasize their belief that a facilitated conversion process will be used by illegal immigrants to Israel as a backdoor to citizenship. But one rabbi explains how it is all part of the process of redemption and a prophesy from the Book of Deuteronomy:
“then Hashem your God will restore your fortunes and take you back in love. He will bring you together again from all the peoples where Hashem your God has scattered you.” Deuteronomy 30:3
“Matan Kahana and Gilad Karib are interested in opening conversion booths, for mass conversion of everyone nearby, including foreign workers, infiltrators and illegal residents,” Bareli said. “This will lead to intermarriage in the State of Israel on a catastrophic scale.”
Many of these immigrants are from Eritrea and Sudan and most of them are located in southern Tel Aviv. Eritrea has a difficult internal situation and a forced recruitment and therefore the Eritrean immigrants are defined as a “temporary humanitarian protection group”. Israeli authorities have stated that they could not deport Sudanese directly back to Sudan because Israel has no diplomatic ties to Sudan. Illegal immigrants have become a divisive social issue with many Israelis supporting their stay in Israel for racial equality reasons while others claim that their presence brings a culture of crime and drugs that targets working-class and Sephardi Israelis.
Chief Rabbi threatens to quit
Conversion to Judaism is a long and difficult process. Converts are considered Jews in every regard and are therefore eligible for Israeli citizenship under the Right of Return. The reforms to the process being advocated by MK Kahana were underscored in a letter from Chief Rabbi David Lau to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
“The new outline for conversions will cause a significant rift in the Jewish People which will be impossible to repair,” Rabbi Lau wrote. “In the future, Jews will be forced to contend with the question of “Who is a Jew?” – who may one marry, and who one may not, G-d forbid.”
Rabbi Lau noted that Kahana’s reforms included granting the local rabbis the authority to establish conversion courts, “in order to convert tens and hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens who are of Israeli descent but are not Jews according to Jewish law.”
Rabbi Lau specified the proposed removal of Rabbi Moshe Valler as the governmental head of the conversion process, giving the Prime Minister an ultimatum.
“It is with great regret that I inform you that if the conversion outline is advanced, and Rabbi Valler’s tenure is terminated, I will be forced to absolve myself of responsibility regarding the conversion system, and will no longer provide my signature on conversion certificates,” Rabbi Lau concluded.
MK Kahana responded to Rabbi Lau’s statement:
“I am greatly distressed to hear of the intention of the Chief Rabbi to cease approval of conversions in Israel solely because a certain official did not have his tenure extended,” Kahana said. “This will negatively impact the immigration of Ethiopians as well as the conversions of soldiers and thousands of other hopeful converts.”
“Due to my wish to achieve a broad consensus, both the government and the coalition are now advancing a new conversion law that will enable Israelis who wish to convert to do so, according to Jewish law,” Kahana added. “I call on the Chief Rabbi to change his mind and continue to approve conversions, so that we may reach agreements for the benefit of state conversions according to Jewish law.”
Ingathering of Exiles
Rabbi Chaim Amsalem, a former MK for Shas and an expert in conversion to Judaism, expressed strong support for the reforms.
“This is not a political issue at all,” Rabbi Amsalem said. This is entirely about geula (redemption). Since the Exodus from Egypt, there has never been such a desire for lost souls to rejoin Israel. The rabbis who oppose these conversions are not understanding what era we are currently in; the ingathering of the exiles.”
“Anyone who wants to live in Israel can do so without converting to Judaism. This reform concerns people who are already here. The reforms being suggested are entirely consistent with Torah law, they are possible, and they are necessary. Having the conversion process under the local rabbinic authority was the rule until 30 years ago when certain communities used the conversion process for political purposes.”
“Delaying conversion is abusive to so many and will lead to the wasting away of thousands of souls. It is of vital importance to relate to the needs of these people, these scattered souls.”