(July 21, 2010) A bill to regulate conversions to Judaism, proposed by Knesset (Israel's Parliament) Member David Rotem, recently passed a first reading in the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. According to the Knesset rules of procedure, once the Committee has completed its work, the bill is forwarded to the plenum for second and third readings. In Israel, a bill does not become law unless it has passed three readings.
Currently there is no state law in Israel on religious conversion. Based on Supreme Court decisions, the state recognizes as Jews, for purposes of civil registration, persons who converted to Judaism abroad and will grant converts immigration status under the Law of Return, subject to certain time limitations. This recognition, however, does not affect the validity of the immigrants' conversion for purposes of marriage and divorce. Historically, these matters were within the jurisdiction of the rabbinical courts that are headed by Orthodox rabbis.
The new bill proposes to give statutory recognition to this practice and further strengthen the authority of the Orthodox rabbinate. Among other requirements, the bill further provides that to be valid, conversions conducted by local rabbis jointly with members of special conversion tribunals in Israel, must be in accordance with Orthodox Jewish law. (The Chief Rabbinate of Israel (Amendment No. 3) (Authority in Matters of Conversion) Bill, 5770-2010, 342 HATSAOT HOK 226 (July 12, 2010); The Law of Return 5710-1950 (as amended), Knesset website, http://www.knesset.gov.il/laws/special/eng/return.htm ) [in English], (last visited July 20, 2010).)
Many Jewish organizations have expressed concern that the bill would delegitimize all non-Orthodox conversions. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is reported to have objected to the current conversion bill. In a meeting with Avigdor Lieberman, chair of Yisrael Beitenu, the government's largest coalition partner, Netanyahu reportedly offered to stop the legislation and establish a joint team to draft a substitute conversion bill. In return, the Prime Minister's office would reportedly request the Jewish Reform movement, representatives of which have lodged a petition with the Supreme Court on this matter, to temporarily delay the petition until the completion of a new draft bill. (Yehonatan Lis & Barak Ravid, Netanyahu Proposed to Lieberman in Their Joint Meeting a Compromise Deal Regarding the Conversion Bill [in Hebrew] (July 20, 2010), HAARETZ ONLINE, http://www.haaretz.co.il/hasite/spages/1180594.html.)