By Ariel Finkelstain
Following the proposed law sponsored by MK Elazar Stern regarding conversion by the local Rabbis, there is a deep and alert public discourse about the conversions issue. Throughout the public discussion, many arguments were heard, which were often imprecise and based on a misunderstanding of the proposed law. The goal of this analysis is to fill in this void and briefly explain the proposed law to the public, including the previous forms it took and its goals, and to discuss several of the points made against it.
The analysis focuses on two arguments which were brought up against the proposed law:
The first argument is that the goal of the proposed law is to promote reform and conservative conversions. Analysis of the proposed law shows that this argument has no substance and the proposed law does not at all promote that type of conversion.
The second argument is that halachically there’s a problem with conversions performed by city Rabbis and not by one central halachic authority. The analysis shows that in the halachic world, the argument that there’s one central halachic authority for conversions isn’t accepted. Also, in the past, the city Rabbis were allowed to convert and this was supported even by many of the chief Rabbis. In fact, it’s difficult to understand the opposition for granting the city Rabbis jurisdiction over conversions simultaneously to the broad jurisdiction they are given by the state and chief Rabbinate in the fields of Kashrut and marriage registration.
Therefore, it seems like the main point of disagreement over the proposed law is a halachic dispute between the chief Rabbis and several city Rabbis over the proper policy for conversions. This analysis doesn’t engage in the halachic discussion, but shows that at least regarding the issue of the conversion of young children, over which there is currently a dispute, the former chief Rabbis adopted much more lenient positions than the position currently adopted by the Chief Rabbinate.