Rabbi Shlomo Riskin of Efrat explained Tuesday to Arutz Sheva that the decision by a group of leading rabbis to establish independent conversion courts is “completely within Halacha” and should not be seen as a rebellion against the Chief Rabbinate.
He elucidated why there was a need for the courts, in the face of the strict conversion policies that the Rabbinate has adopted since coming under haredi control in the present government. After lifting of the Iron Curtain, he said, about 1.15 million people from the former Soviet Union immigrated into Israel under the Law of Return, but about 350,000 of these "are only Jewish paternally." They have since had about 100,000 children who, like their parents, are not considered Jewish by Halacha, unless they are converted.
The rabbi quoted Rabbi Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel, the former Sephardic chief rabbi, regarding people in the category of Zera' Yisrael – “the seed of Israel” – who are Jewish through their fathers, but not their mothers. According to Rabbi Uziel, “It behooves every religious court to convert such people, because they have Jewish DNA from the paternal side, and therefore, not to be exacting, certainly not to be harsh concerning them but to deeply encourage their conversion,” Rabbi Riskin explained.
“Tragically," he stated, "that's not the way they are being treated by the present haredi Rabbinate.” This, he warned, is bifurcating the community inside Israel and could lead to an intermarriage problem similar to the one that exists in the US.
This is why a group of leading Zionist rabbis have decided to establish religious courts that are “more user-friendly,” he stated. "We have a social problem that can and should be solved."