Israel's chief rabbis lead rally against religious reforms
'Our country is a Jewish country, with the Chief Rabbinate, with Torah — that is our essence'
Israel's two chief rabbis led a rally on Sunday in Jerusalem against state religious reforms attended by thousands of Orthodox yeshiva students.
The "Yeshivot March" was held outside of Israel's parliament, the Knesset, to protest proposed changes to the conversion and kashrut laws put forward by Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana.
The event was timed to coincide with the weekly cabinet meeting led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who is part of the same right-wing political alliance as Kahana that is represented in the Knesset by the Yamina party.
Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau and Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef both took to the podium to decry the plans, which they warned would fundamentally alter the Jewish character of the country.
“Our country is a Jewish country, with the Chief Rabbinate, with Torah — that is our essence," Lau exclaimed.
Kahana's proposed changes would decentralize the conversion process, taking the decisions away from the Chief Rabbinate and into the hands of local rabbis as part of a uniform system across the country.
The other major reform involves Israel's kosher certificate system. The new rules, which went into effect this month, open the process to all religious councils nationwide rather than businesses having to go through the Chief Rabbinate or their local religious council.
“A Jewish state is one that has a Chief Rabbinate; a Jewish state is one in which the Chief Rabbinate makes the decisions, writes [the rules], and leads,” Lau said.
Yosef called on Kahana to retract the rules and instead to strengthen the position of the Chief Rabbinate, suggesting that he is being influenced by people who are "distorting the Torah."
“They come and make all kinds of changes, in kashrut, in conversion, at the southern Western Wall plaza,” Yosef said, referring to contentious plans to establish an egalitarian prayer section at Judaism's holiest site that Jews are allowed to pray at (the Temple Mount is Judaism's holiest site).