The hotly contested bill that would give Israel’s Orthodox Chief Rabbinate ultimate authority over conversions to Judaism is now on hold for six months, much to the satisfaction of a Morristown rabbi who lobbied the Knesset against its passage.
“It is a good thing that it has been tabled,” Rabbi David Joseph Nesson of the Conservative Morristown Jewish Center Beit Yisrael told NJ Jewish News.
Nesson was one of several non-Orthodox clergy who testified at the Knesset’s Religious Pluralism Committee nine days before the bill’s consideration was frozen for six months of further discussion.
On July 22, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office reached agreement with several Israeli non-Orthodox religious movements and the bill’s sponsor in the Russian immigrant Yisrael Beiteinu Party to freeze the measure.
During the hiatus, leaders of the Jewish Agency for Israel and Reform and Conservative movements hope to redraft the legislation to make its provisions more inclusive for all streams of Judaism.
Jewish Agency chair Natan Sharansky will head the coalition.
Nesson said he is “optimistic that the bill will change for the better because the Israeli government is open to new voices on this.”
“There are going to be significant discussions both in the Knesset and with Sharansky and the Jewish Agency to negotiate what will happen,” said Nesson. “Those discussions will include formally the Conservative and Reform movements as official players in the talks.”
Like Nesson, the CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America welcomed the postponement.
“We truly support this process of a dialogue table, which allows the participants time to discuss this important issue appropriately and reach a solution that protects the bonds between Israel and the Diaspora,” said Jerry Silverman.
Yet Nesson believes supporters of the bill are “not going away.”
Indeed, Interior Minister Eli Yishai, chairman of the fervently Orthodox Shas Party and a member of Netanyahu’s coalition, said on July 23 that those who negotiated the freeze had not consulted with his party.
“Our plan to present the conversion law to the Knesset at the start of the winter session, in late October, remains unchanged,” Yishai said.
JTA also contributed to this story.