On Tuesday, Chief Rabbi David Lau told Prime Minister Naftali Bennett that he would not authorize any conversions to Judaism until Religious Minister Matan Kahana stops his plans to make changes to the conversion process. Kahana’ intends to decentralize the process, granting authority to local rabbis to process conversions. Kahana has announced his intention to replace Rabbi Moshe Weller, the head of the Chief Rabbinate’s Conversion Authority, in order to initiate this change.
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.”
Channel 13 News reported on Tuesday that Rabbi Lau had already instructed that conversion processes be stopped. His office had notified Immigration and Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata, who is herself an Ethiopian immigrant as there are currently about one hundred Ethiopian immigrants whose conversions are on Lau’s desk, but he is refusing to sign off on them.
In an interview with the Reshet Bet radio station on Wednesday, Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel called for the Prime Minister to fire the Chief Rabbi.
“A public servant should fulfill the government’s decisions, and if he does not do so, he should not be in office,” Hendel said.
Construction Minister Ze’ev Elkin of the right-wing New Hope party slammed Lau in response, saying the chief rabbi was “blackmailing the government” and using “the wrong approach.”
In response to Lau’s letter, UTJ chairman Moshe Gafni stated that “the Jewish people stand by Chief Rabbi Lau in his announcement that he will not sign conversion certificates if [the government] advances its fake conversion outline and fires the head of the conversion system.”
Opposition MK Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the far-right Religious Zionism party, backed Lau, saying the chief rabbi was fighting “against the destruction of the conversion process and severe damage to the unity of the people.”
It is interesting to note that the Talmud (Yevamot 24b), predicts that in the days directly preceding the Messiah, converts to Judaism will not be accepted:
The Sages taught: Converts are not accepted in the days of the Messiah. Similarly, they did not accept converts in the days of King David or in the days of King Solomon. Rabbi Eliezer said: What is the verse that hints at this halakha (law)? “Behold, they may gather together [gor yagur], but without Me; whosoever shall gather together [gar] with you shall fall on yours” (Isaiah 54:15). The word gor implies that only a convert [ger] who becomes part of the Jewish people when the Jews are living in exile, at a time when God is not clearly revealed, i.e., “without Me,” are considered part of the Jewish people. But another who wishes to convert in a time when God is clearly revealed shall not be accepted.