JERUSALEM (JTA) – A Knesset committee for the second time has approved a bill allowing local rabbis to oversee conversions to Judaism in Israel.
The Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on Monday advanced the measure by a vote of 6 to 5. It is scheduled to be returned to the full Knesset for its second and third readings.
However, Israeli media reported last week that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had withdrawn his support for the bill in order to shore up his coalition base and not upset the haredi Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, who he might need to form an alliance in future governments.
After approving the bill in March, the committee was required to vote a second time following the addition of 38 amendments proposed by the opposition, which all were voted down by the committee. The bill, which was sponsored by Elazar Stern of the Hatnua party, already passed one reading in the Knesset this summer.
The Likud and Jewish Home parties oppose the measure, as do the haredi Orthodox parties. The country’s chief rabbis, Rabbi David Lau and Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, also are in opposition.
Under the measure, as many as 30 courts made up of municipal rabbis would be allowed for the purpose of conversion. Currently there are 33 rabbis and four conversion courts that can perform conversions throughout Israel.
“We are pleased that, in the end, the lawmakers were able to see beyond the politics and reach out to potential converts in a positive way,” Rabbi Seth Farber, director of the ITIM Jewish Advocacy Center, who was involved in the drafting of the bill and participated in the hearing, told JTA. “Each day, hundreds of individuals who made aliyah as Jews but aren’t recognized as Jews by the Rabbinate are being alienated by the Jewish state. This bill provides them a small glimmer of light.”
Though the bill is officially out of committee, it is unknown when it will move to the Knesset floor, according to Rabbi Farber.