Wednesday, February 6, 2008

New Conversion Authority Seeks to Simplify Process


And what will happen with this “new conversion authority” that is “handpicked” by Rabbi Amar—that hasn’t already happened?

After all, it is Amar who has demanded such crazy standards that no one can convert—and he is the one who is supposed to find an easier way around the halachic maze which is leading to greater and greater levels of chumrot in all aspects of Jewish observance?

Unfortunately, I fear that this will lead nowhere. More and more I am seeing that those who want to become part of the Jewish people are not willing to make the effort to commit to even the barest requirements: that they are Shabbat observant and Kosher; and those rabbis who are converting them are not willing to recognize anyone who will commit to less than 613 mitzvot—even though it is impossible for any Jew to fulfill all of those mitzvot—even in the time of the temple (as some mitzvot are for women, some for men, some for Kohenim, some for Levi, etc).

There is no meeting in the middle when there is no middle. We have stiff-necked people on all sides.

Meanwhile, life goes on—birth, marriage, death—and those who are not-yet Jews are becoming intermarried with us anyway.

We better solve this fast, people! I’m not sure we have the four months to wait for this group to be seated—let alone the time it takes for them to get up to speed!


Feb 6, 2008 15:49 | Updated Feb 6, 2008 15:50
Cabinet okays new conversion authority

The cabinet decided Wednesday to go ahead with the decision to establish a state conversion authority with a view towards significantly increasing the number of converts among hundreds of thousands of new olim who are not Jewish. According to the decision, the conversion authority will be assembled within the next four months.

A special committee of dayanim, or halachic deciders, will be established under Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar - the new authority's chairman and director-general - to examine ways of resolving halachic difficulties encountered by aspiring converts. Amar will serve as the highest halachic authority for the new institution.

The current conversion process has long been criticized for overly stringent demands on aspiring converts, including requiring high levels of religious observance, and retroactively canceling conversions if the convert's observance lapses. This has meant that the Jewish sector's estimated 300,000 non-Jews, who immigrated as family members of Jews, convert to Judaism at a rate of around 2,000 per year - less than their annual birth rate of 3,000.

According to a government representative, government surveys show that around 150,000 wish to convert. But according to an Absorption Ministry survey from 2006, 72 percent of this group said the conversion process was "long and hard," and 76% said they were not sure they would finish the process by being accepted as Jews.

These figures led to the establishment of the committee, which is headed by Absorption Ministry Director-General Erez Halfon and including representatives of the Education Ministry, Jewish Agency, Conversion Authority in the Prime Minister's Office, and the IDF.

According to a statement released by the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, the committee also advised that the special conversion courts be bolstered by dozens of volunteer rabbis, handpicked by Rabbi Amar, who "will infuse [the courts] with a more open and friendly spirit and increase the number of converts."

Despite Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's support, the plan to allow additional volunteer rabbinic judges to work in the authority was delayed because the Attorney-General's Office has still not solved the legal problems associated with employing public servants on a volunteer basis. The delay has created discord, since it is these rabbis - modern Orthodox rather than haredi-leaning - who were meant to effect the real change in the authority. Some have suggested that delaying their appointment is a political, not strictly legal, move.

The prime minister gave his blessing to the new authority Wednesday, and said that it would ease the absorption process for olim who wish to tie their fate with the Jewish people and Israel.

"The state of Israel is the national home of the Jewish people and to our great pleasure Jews from all corners of the globe continue to arrive in Israel. We must not pile up more difficulties then they have already encountered on their way here," Olmert said. "The objective of the committee was to examine ways to make it easier for those people who came here by virtue of their being Jewish and wish to become fully integrated among us."

"Over the years many unnecessary impediments were added to the conversion process," the prime minister said.

"Converting the non-Jews is a national, strategic mission with vital importance to the future of the state of Israel," Immigrant Absorption Minister Ya'acov Edri said. "Today we embark on a new new path and allow olim who are interested [in doing so] to become fully integrated in with the Jewish people and Israeli society."

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