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Conversion Reform Bill Advances in Knesset — Expands Rabbi Pool

A bill that would allow more rabbis to conduct conversions in Israel advanced in the Knesset.

The coalition government-backed bill passed its first reading by a vote of 28 to 16 in the Knesset plenum on Monday night.

Under the measure, as many as 30 courts made up of municipal rabbis would be allowed for the purpose of conversion. Currently there are four state rabbinic courts with the authority to conduct conversions.

The Chief Rabbinate, which would see its power reduced under the measure, said it will stop cooperating with the Knesset if the bill is approved, the Times of Israel reported Monday. The Rabbinate, which reportedly is working on a compromise bill, is concerned the measure will lead to a deterioration of conversion standards.

Sponsored by lawmaker Elazar Stern of the Hatnua party, the bill passed the Knesset Law Committee earlier on Monday.

Rabbi Seth Farber, director of the ITIM Jewish Advocacy Center, who has worked to bring the bill to the Knesset floor, said his organization was pleased with the bill’s advance but that gaps must be addressed before it moves to the second and third readings.

“Though the bill is meant to provide local rabbis with autonomy to perform conversions, something we believe will enable more people to convert, the chief rabbis continue to insist on controlling all aspects of the process of conversion, something we are opposed to in principle,” Farber told JTA.

Farber said that by the final readings, it should be made clear that those who undergo conversions by the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel will be recognized as Jewish in the national population registry. He said the current wording in the bill makes this ambiguous.

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