The issue of conversion is ostensibly no longer in the headlines, but it still figures prominently on religious Zionism’s agenda. The proposal to establish religious courts to serve as an alternative to those of the Chief Rabbinate comes up repeatedly in various conversations. An interesting question is why the disputes on the issues of shmita (the sabbatical year) and conversion, which set off harsh reverberations this year, provoked a far stronger reaction than that aroused by the religious courts’ long-term harassment of women who are refused a get – a religious decree of divorce.
The answer is apparently related to the fact that the religious Zionist rabbis have a more consolidated viewpoint on these issues than on the issue of women denied a get. So the ultra-Orthodox insistence on enforcing the more stringent view is striking religious Zionism on a very sensitive nerve – not only farmers or converts are being harmed, but a religious worldview as well.
The idea of establishing alternative religious courts has potential, but there are many obstacles: It requires a long-term organizational and financial effort and an alternative system for registering marriages, which will include a promise to perform marriages for converts (the rabbinate will not recognize their conversion). Therefore, along with the attempt to establish an alternative system, we would do well not to give up the struggle for official governmental recognition of a lenient concept of conversion. An interesting and worthy trend of thought in this area can be found in the covenant drawn up a while ago by Prof. Ruth Gavison and Rabbi Yaakov Medan, a document that could solve most of the problems concerning relations between religion and the state.