After the Ashkenazi haredi establishment, through its de facto official publication Yated Neeman, denounced the new Religious Zionist-backed project of independent Jewish courts (batei din) for conversions, the Sephardic haredi establishment has followed suit.
In an editorial, the official Shas-backed publication Yom Leyom said the project was opposed by all “Torah giants,” including the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, former Chief Rabbi and spiritual advisor of Shas.
Rabbi David Stav head of the Zohar organization, who along with Rabbi Nachum Rabinovitch, head of the Birkat Moshe Yeshiva in Ma'ale Adumim, announced the project earlier this week, has gone too far, asserted Yitzhak Kakon, the newspaper's editor.
“Even those who had backed Rabbi Stav for the Chief Rabbinate,” a position he had sought last year, “now realizes the danger in his actions. Many of those who supported him are now speaking out against this 'rebellion' of the established practices,” he wrote, adding that supporters of the plan should be seen as “Reform Rabbis with kippahs (skullcaps).”
With this innovation, he said, “you have today Reform Rabbis with kippahs, and tomorrow you will have Reform Rabbis without kippahs.”
While it isn't a “revolution,” say its backers, the group is an innovation, conducting conversions that the Chief Rabbinate has preferred not to get involved with. Candidates for conversions by the court will undergo religious education at one of several institutions participating rabbis are involved with, with the support of the Jewish Agency.
The group expects the majority of those it converts to be the children and grandchildren of immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
Although they are Israeli citizens, many of these children are the products of “mixed marriages,” with their parents marrying in the Soviet Union and immigrating to Israel. Most of the children speak Hebrew fluently and serve in the IDF.
According to the group, the new court is absolutely necessary, as these children are already well-integrated in Israeli society. “It is our moral obligation to ensure that these immigrants are absorbed into Israeli society, for their sake and the sake of the Jewish people.”
Kakon, however, claims that easing the conversion process is not the prime motivation of the group. “This is just another chapter in the battle to take over the religious duties of the Holy Land. Even though Rabbi Stav was not elected Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi, he is still trying to impose his views and circumvent the Chief Rabbinate.”
It should be noted that not all Religious Zionist rabbis back the plan. Rabbi Haim Druckman, considered the dean of Religious Zionist rabbis in Israel, sharply criticized the project.
According to sources, members of the group behind the project met with Rabbi Druckman before publicly announcing the project, and were told by him that he thought it was a very bad idea.
Speaking to Arutz Sheva on Monday, Rabbi Druckman said that the conversion process must remain within the purview of the Rabbinate, in the same way that kashuth supervision and marriage and divorce were their responsibility.
“I am totally opposed to any alternative conversion processes even if they are done properly under Jewish law. Such actions will injure religious life in Israel," he stated.